The right-wing's use of 'groomer' as a substitute for 'bigot' is a dangerous 'false equivalency'

The right-wing's use of 'groomer' as a substitute for 'bigot' is a dangerous 'false equivalency'
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) (Shutterstock).

Some right-wingers have taken to using “groomer” to describe those who are sensitive to the concerns of LGBT-plus people.

A spokesperson for Florida Governor Ron Desantis tweeted: Don’t Say Gay “would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill.”

US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted: “Anyone who opposes anti-grooming laws like the one in Florida is pro-child predator.”

Fox’s Laura Ingraham did a segment called “Doom and Groom.”

I agree with progressives. This is a transparent ploy having little to do with protecting children. Some argue, including Lindsay Beyerstein, that the discourse is an attempt to spread QAnon ideology. A key takeaway from John Stoehr’s interview with Gabriel Rosenberg was that “groomer speech” is being used to harden the line between real conservatives (anti-pedophile) and those who are not (pro-pedophile).

I’m interested in why the typical conservative – not the thought leader or political elite – might use the term. A more interesting reason the right uses “groomer speech” is it’s the equivalent of “bigot” on the left.

The logic appears to be this: if the left can call me a racist for all these things I don’t see as racist, I’m justified in calling the left “groomers” because they want to teach gender and sexual identity to children.

Let’s dig in.

The function of a slur

When someone hears the word “slur,” they are likely thinking of racial slurs referring to racial or ethnic groups in a dehumanizing manner.

The n-word is the paradigmatic example.

But slurs can be defined more broadly as “an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo,” or words having “a shaming or degrading effect.”

In this sense, we use slurs quite often.

Consider the charge of being a “bigot” - a racist, sexist, homophobe or transphobe. This can be solely a descriptor of behaviors. But usually, the charge of bigotry is infused with a moral evaluation.

The identified bigot is a bad person who does not live according to what “correct-thinking people” believe is appropriate.

The identified bigot is insulted, shamed and degraded.

But slurs serve a purpose.

The French sociologist Émile Durkheim said deviant behavior has a useful function in society. I can simplify it in three bullet points.

1. When we see deviance and call it out, we clarify right and wrong.

What do you do when you discover that your male coworker thinks women are too emotional to lead a company? Call him out as a sexist! He may see this as slurring his good name, but it can be the catalyst for a positive chain of events. By calling him out, you let him know you think those ideas are morally wrong and damaging to women.

2. When people react to deviant behavior, it strengthens social bonds.

Other people learn the man is a sexist. They come together in a collective denunciation of the man and sexism.

3. After coming together against deviance, they can enact social change.

The collective agreement that sexism is wrong can lead to collective political action and the passing of legislation against sexism.

In this way, a slur can be a small catalyst for social change.

This is one reason why I vacillate between the social niceties necessary for productive exchanges. Slurring someone can end a conversation. But slurring someone can also spark positive social change.

False equivalencies

Although we don’t usually think of them as slurs, calling someone racist, sexist or transphobe is indeed a type of slur.

However.

These slurs are grounded in the link between action or idea.

They are grounded in the fact of the harm done to people.

It’s easy to chart the consequences of someone who believes women are too emotional for leadership positions. They may not hire a qualified woman for a leadership position or listen to women who are in leadership roles. And so calling that out has justification.

Similarly, we are aware of higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts among transgender youth and adults. Efforts to suppress healthy conversations around trans identity in public settings can exacerbate the problem. A trans activist is wholly justified in calling someone who’s suppressing these conversations “transphobic.”

People on the right complaining about the left hurling accusations of bigotry at them without basis are usually quite wrong.

But what is the link between discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools and grooming? There is none.

Obviously.

There is no link between discussing sexual orientation and gender identity and setting out to abuse children sexually, or grooming.

There is no link between learning about sexual orientation and gender identity in school and being vulnerable to sexual advances in school.

(Learning does not make kids vulnerable. It makes them powerful).

Claiming that “bigot” is the same as calling someone a “groomer” is a false equivalency. The former alerts us to actual attitudes and behaviors that can lead to harming populations. The former draw spurious links between education and sexual behavior and, in the process, diminish the actual crime of child sexual abuse.

“Groomer,” far from leading to good social change, harms two groups. It introduces noise into pedophilia discourse, making it harder for people to tune into real evidence signaling child sexual abuse. It also prevents discussions about gender and sexual identity. That may increase rates of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts among LGBT-plus people.

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