the practice of brushing and cleaning the coat of a horse, dog, or other animal.
“regular grooming is essential to the well-being of your dog”
- The practice by an animal of cleaning its own or another animal’s fur or skin.
- “mutual grooming expresses the friendly relationship between cats”
- the practice of keeping a neat and tidy appearance.
- “she pays great attention to grooming and clothes”
the action by a pedophile of preparing a child for a meeting, especially via an internet chat room, with the intention of committing a sexual offense.
“online grooming has become a growing cause for concern”
As both a zoo and a bisexual, I see the term “grooming” thrown around a lot. On good days, it’s in a sentence kinda like this.
“Hey, I just took my partner to the groomer and I’ve just been smelling them all day!”
or, on a slightly less good day
“My partner just got groomed and I’ve taken about a million pictures and I want to show you every single one on repeat with commentary!”
A lot of the times though, it’s unfortunately being used in context of the second defintion. Things like
“Oh you’re a zoo? You were probably groomed as a child weren’t you?”
“Don’t you know that you’re replying to a minor? Are you trying to groom them into a (bad word) like you??”
This is something that’s been happening for ages. I’ve certainly seen it as long as I’ve been a part of the zoo community. But recently, something’s happened in real life that’s made me realize that this is something that I want to talk about. On November 21st 2022, 5 people were shot and killed in Colorado Springs at a gay club. Most of the nation reacted with shock and disgust, angry that LGBT people were once again being attacked for being themselves. Unfortunately, however, there were some people with a slightly different take on the matter. To quote prominent right wing voice Tim Pool,
“We shouldn’t tolerate pedophiles grooming kids, Club Q had a grooming event.”
In a video called “Why The Left Is So Desperate To Expose Children To Drag Queens” Matt Walsh, another right wing figure, had this to say
“Is it that hard to not crossdress in front of kids? Is the compulsion that overwhelming? If it’s causing this much chaos and violence, why do you insist on continuing to do it?”
They mention grooming here because of an event that the club was hosting. An all ages drag show. For those not familiar, “drag” is a style typically found in gay culture that involves men taking on costumes and personalities that could be considered “extremely feminine”. To quote Wikipedia
“A drag queen is a person, usually male, who uses drag clothing and makeup to imitate and often exaggerate female gender signifiers and gender roles for entertainment purposes. In modern times, drag queens are associated with gay men and gay culture, but people of other genders and sexual identities also perform as drag queens.
People partake in the activity of doing drag for reasons ranging from self-expression to mainstream performance. Drag shows frequently include lip-syncing, live singing, and dancing. They occur at events like gay pride parades, carnivals and drag pageants and in venues such as cabarets and nightclubs. Drag queens vary by type, culture, and dedication, from professionals who star in films to people who do drag only occasionally. “
To break it down simply for those who may still not understand, drag is putting on a costume and having fun being someone else for a while. In a lot of ways, you could think of it like dressing up in a jersey to go watch your favorite sports team, wearing cosplay to attend an anime convention, or even wearing a fursuit at a furry convention. It’s a means of giving yourself self-expression in a way that allows you to take on another persona, and be someone else for a while. And so, when you hear the term “all ages drag show”, if you can’t picture what that looks like in your head, you can imagine a furry talent show, where someone in a fursuit goes on stage, dances, sings a song maybe, and then everyone claps.
I’m not normally an angry person. I like to pride myself on my patience and thick skin. But when I read about these pieces of actual scum trying to use this drag show as some kind of culture war justification for someone taking the lives of 5 innocent people, I can feel my blood start to boil. As someone that’s been a member of the LGBT community for a long time, I want to scream. We’ve been fighting for our rights for so long, and for a while it really did seem like things were getting better. But lately, it’s been a really hard time for us. And I’m sick and tired of hearing people just lie about us in order to pander to an audience that hates us for being something that we’re not.
Before going on, I want to make something very absolutely one hundred percent clear. I know that the struggles that the LGBT community faces and the struggles that zoos face are different things. I’m a zoo advocate first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean that’s all I am. And so I just want to say, fuck Matt Walsh, fuck Tim Pool, and fuck anyone else that’s trying to spin this narrative politically to try and push their agenda. Especially when it’s an agenda of hate. And so, while it’s a little bit out of the realm of what we normally talk about, I want to talk a little bit about my own experiences with “grooming”. This is going to be a little personal, and a little bit messy, but I want to get this off my chest.
I started developing a sense of sexuality around the time I was 11 or 12. Like most kids, it started off really slowly. I started to get interested in what other people had under their clothes, what different parts of the body were for, and what kinds of things adults got up to. Unlike the vast majority of kids though, I was interested in a lot more. I wanted to see photos of naked men, but I also wanted to see naked women. And I wanted to learn about how dogs did it too. At the time, there were no labels involved with anything. I was just a child, curious about the world around them, and eager to dive into this new wonderful thing that I was discovering. Just because I wasn’t putting labels on things though, doesn’t mean that other people weren’t still judging me. When I was 12, my mom was going through the computer and happened to stumble onto some pictures that I was looking at. They were sexually explicit, and featured a same sex pairing. She was furious. She screamed, she cried, she called my dad who drove home from work early so he could also scream and then cry.
At one point, he asked my mom to leave the room, and then he told me a story. He told me how when he was a child, about his age, he had an uncle who one evening took him into the garage, and did things to him that no child should have to go through. He told me all about how he was “sodomized”. I’ll never forget how he struggled to choke out that word through the tears. He asked me if I knew what it meant. I was 12, I didn’t. He explained it in detail. He then told me that that’s what gay people were. They were the uncles that would take you into the garage. They were the teachers that would ask students to stay after class. They were the people waiting in alleyways to try and catch kids walking by themselves late at night. He told me all of this, and then said “If you keep going down this path, don’t expect us to help you. We won’t have any child of ours end up as a pedophile.”
That was my first real “gay” experience. The first time someone had really sat me down and quantified what being “gay” even was. And coming out of it, I knew two things. One, that being gay was an awful, terrible thing. And two, that that conversation didn’t do anything to change the person that I was. It’s not like hearing about my dad’s awful experience somehow made me just not attracted to people of the same sex. Sure, it worked for a little while. I would only watch porn of people of the opposite gender. Even while looking at zoo porn, I would only look at animals of the opposite gender because as far as I was aware being “gay” was way worse than being a zoo. I was even avoiding straight porn because one person in that pairing was also the same gender as me. But eventually I started to slip. First back into straight porn, and then threesomes, just here and there introducing more gender diversity. After probably two years, I was more sure of myself and my identity, and I was watching whatever I wanted.
I also learned a lot more about what it was to be gay. I’m really lucky. While nobody locally ever talked positively about gay topics, online it was becoming more and more prevalent. And so, when I started to get to the age where I had questions, and I was thinking about maybe trying to do some stuff myself, there were resources available to me online that I could access. I was told in church, in school, by friends and family that being gay was bad. But, I could go online and access forums and chat rooms where I could talk directly to other gay people, and ask them about their experiences. I saw a term online, bisexual, and realized that that exactly described me. Attracted to both women and men.
I came to realize that how people in real life talked about being gay, and how people online talked about being gay were very different. In real life, gays were demons, rapists, pedophiles, monsters. Online, gay people were a friendly and welcoming community that made me feel good about myself and who I was. And so, I eventually stopped caring what people in real life said. I was going to be who I was, and that was that. I even got bold enough to start chatting up another person in school that I thought might be gay as well. We went on a few dates, kissed a couple of times, and even fooled around a little bit. Things were awesome. That is, until one day I got home from school and found a bag full of my clothes at the front door.
My friend that I was fooling around with had been writing about our experiences in a journal they were keeping. That was found by their parents. In a bit to spare themselves from some of the backlash, they told their parents that I had come up to them, started hitting on them, seduced them. I had shown them things and convinced them to do stuff mostly against their will, through a combination of manipulation and peer pressure. In essence, they told their parents that I had “groomed” them. For reference, we were the exact same age at the time. Same grade and everything. Their parents immediately called mine, and my parents immediately threw my things into a bag and locked the door. They made it immediately clear that I was no longer welcome in their house. With few options left, I called my grandma, who came and picked me up. She lived in another town, so I waited about two hours for her to get to my house. I spent that two hours just sitting beside the front door, hoping that my own parents would come out and we could talk about it, and I could try and explain things. Instead, they turned off their phones so they didn’t have to hear me calling.
Eventually, my grandma came and picked me up. I put my stuff in her car, and we started driving. She told me that she was “aware of the situation” and that “she wasn’t happy about it”, but she was “willing to give me some time to figure out what I was going to do from there.” During the drive, she told me a story of her childhood. Back when she was my age, there was a girl that she really liked. She was the most beautiful, popular girl in school, and my grandma really looked up to her. She was a cheerleader, the best student, just all around amazing. And so, one night when she asked my grandma if she wanted to come over to her house, my grandma had agreed readily. They spent some time doing homework, chatting, and eventually while sitting alone in the house together, the other girl kissed my grandma. At first, she said, she was shocked. But, not understanding the situation she went for it. They kissed for a while, held hands, and even touched each other a little. That girl, my grandma said, ended up getting really into drugs, partying, got a bunch of diseases, and you could now find her covered in sores trying to make money selling herself by the liquor store just looking for her next fix. That, she told me, is the fate of people that do this kind of thing.
She asked me, “Is that what you want for yourself?”
I said “No”, and she replied
“So what are you doing screwing around with this gay stuff then?”
I moved out of my grandparents’ house a few months later, and moved in with a friend. I met this friend at my new school, at a club for kids that identified as LGBT. I told them my story, and they told their parents. They had me over for dinner one night and asked where I was living. I told them. They asked if I was happy there. I said no. I wasn’t allowed a phone, unsupervised internet access, and I was always being asked about if I had found a partner of the opposite sex. They asked if I wanted to try living with them instead. They knew all about their child being gay, and were entirely supportive. They told me that it was wrong of my family to treat me like they did just because I was gay. That it was okay that I was gay, and that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. That they liked me as a person, even knowing I was same sex attracted.
I started to sob. It was the first time I had ever heard someone say that in real life. I think I probably cried harder that night than I ever had before. Maybe as hard as my dad did when he first heard I was looking at gay porn. I cried and cried and then eventually said “yes.” My grandma was more than happy to see me move out, and I stayed with that family from then until I was able to live on my own. I will forever be thankful to them. They honestly saved my life.
I’m not telling this story to try and make people feel bad for me. I’m telling it because I’m now much older than I was then, and I’m angry. This was a long time ago, and I’m still hearing the same bullshit rhetoric on the news.
I was groomed. I can see that clearly now. I was groomed by my family who tried to scare me into being straight. I was groomed by my peers, who would tell me all the time that being gay was a bad thing. I was groomed by society, which only ever told the straight perspective, and didn’t give a voice to anyone that didn’t fit. That was grooming. All of that was grooming. And none of it worked. At the end of the day, I’m still who I am.
What definitively wasn’t grooming was the friends I made online who supported me through the hardest times. The people in the community who were able to answer questions I had about how sex worked, and how to go about actually trying to figure out if other people were gay without exposing myself. It certainly wasn’t grooming when my friend’s family opened their arms to support me and welcome me. And it certainly isn’t grooming when a club in Colorado Springs has an all ages drag show where you can go and see men dressed up in costumes sing and dance.
Real world grooming does happen. There are predators out there who will try and manipulate children into situations they wouldn’t otherwise agree to. And that’s really fucked up. But what’s equally fucked up is trying to claim that gay people existing is somehow the equivalent to that, when a lot of times those kids might be begging for someone to reach out and offer them a safe space where they can be themselves. There’s nothing wrong with being gay, and claiming that openly gay events somehow “convert” more people to the LGBT just goes to show that your real problem is with gay people existing in the first place. But we do exist. We always have, and always will, and we’re not going to stop fighting for our rights.
If you’re a member of the LGBT, or an ally to the cause, the only thing I can ask of you is this. Don’t let people get away with this kind of thing. Stand up for yourself, if you can. Be loud and proud. And if someone tells you that you’re a “groomer” for trying to advocate for the rights of LGBT youth, maybe just kindly tell them to shut the fuck up.
Article written by Tarro (November 2022)
Find them on twitter at https://twitter.com/hereforthezoo
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