Growing homophobic "grooming" fantasies are not evidence of paedophilia — they are a tactic used to target working-class queer people, writes Tom Tanuki.
*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses sexual abuse
IF YOU'VE ONLY recently noticed the habit many laypeople have developed of accusing each other of "enabling paedophilia" or "grooming", you’d be alarmed, no doubt. You’d have to wonder how these nefarious paedophiles have apparently started to enjoy such substantial representation.
Cards on the table: I reckon nobody likes paedophiles. But paedophilia is the ultimate angle for tactical deployment in aid of moral panic, so now, even I am forced to open my writing by stating the bleeding obvious. Because it’s now standard behaviour for people to make up paedophiles.
What apparently constitutes paedophilia at the moment can require significant lateral thinking. For example, take a Scottie Marsh mural of a bloke in a bit of leather. Why? Well. You see, apparently, the bloke in the leather was painted up in public as part of an orchestrated effort to make children more comfortable with gay kink stuff.
And, of course, all gay kink stuff must be paedophilia because we’re all being homophobes now. So, this mural is supposed to ease kids into kink stuff for the benefit of marauding gangs of paedophiles. Which in effect makes that mural "grooming". Which in turn makes it all paedophilia.
This makes no sense at all unless you’ve been exposed to the grim ultra-conservative and ultra-orthodox Christian moral panic around so-called grooming — a grim conspiracist worldview which fixates on a supposed coordinated effort by schools, governments and drag performers to expose good Christian children to queer life in order to "make them queer", or pliant victims of abuse.
There are various brands of paedophile fantasy which are deployed to settle political scores. This one is the tried-and-tested fundamentalist religious, homophobic kind, not like that of "VIP paedophile ring" flavour, which had a renaissance during the pandemic.
Nakedly homophobic garbage was shared over the recent Sydney World Pride festival by public figures like YouTuber and lad rapper Spanian, who brought his sizeable audience along for the ride.
He thought the Marsh mural was grooming. Spanian also said that teaching your kids about gender fluidity in school is grooming, for that matter. He shared a video or two of one U.S. family-oriented drag event and thus was satisfied he’d provided "all the evidence" for "paedophiles hiding behind a gay pride...".
Not long afterward, a pack of Maronite Christian men gathered to roam around Newtown, reciting the 'Lord’s Prayer' and intimidating people.
Offcuts from the dead "freedom" movement, like Youssra Rose, are working with Charlie Bakhos of Christian Lives Matter, a Maronite-dominated fundamentalist Christian group that runs stunts to intimidate progressive Christians and the LGBTQ+ community.
They’ve organised rallies in Melbourne and Sydney. Their Melbourne flyer quite literally bills itself as being a protest against 'moral decay'. (They ought to just call them "moral panic rallies".)
Queer people have always copped this kind of intimidation from bigots and homophobes. But there’s an energetic streak to this organisation that’s out of the ordinary. Much of the reason lies with the "grooming/indoctrination" conspiracies peddled by popular far-Right influencers like Matt Walsh — but the past few years of paedophile fantasy in Australia offer some more context.
Throughout the pandemic, the number of people willing to go down various rabbit holes and come back out blaming various movie stars and politicians for being part of a VIP paedo ring ballooned. I documented this trend where I could do so.
Behind every political conspiracy theory – feasible or not – lies latent sociopolitical anxiety. Inventing a star cast of institutionally powerful or celebrity paedophiles doesn’t serve a practical use, but it does play to latent anxieties about the knowledge of real-world elite organised paedophilia: if Jeffrey Epstein could do it, so could these other 400 movie stars.
Against the backdrop of an increasing class alienation against the rich and powerful, conspiracies creep in to distract people.
Instead of discovering political figures who speak with confidence and clarity about real class distinctions that lay like a boot on the neck of poor people – increased casualisation of the workforce, instability of the rental market, rising food prices, or fear of being overwhelmed by climate catastrophe – many scared Australians ran instead into the kind of quacks and charlatans who were better than the Left at locating them on social media.
Figures like Fiona Barnett made a name for themselves, if not quite a career, in telling audiences whatever lurid shit she could invent about a cabal of VIP paedophiles.
It doesn’t help real child abuse victims to invent new ones just so you can accuse Tom Hanks of drinking the blood of children. So, I've always found paedophile fantasists to be horrific, offensive liars. And yet I acknowledge that their targets were often so powerful as to escape unscathed from their accusations.
In 2019, one UK man was gaoled for 18 years for this type of behaviour. In Australia, paedophile fantasist Karen Brewer was sued by a politician and was ordered to pay $875,000 in damages.
Reputational damage from liars is one thing, but if you have millions of dollars, you’ll survive. Occasionally, conspiracist child abduction rings constructed by groups of paranoid paedophile fantasists have actively endangered children — but these were rare.
For the most part, the victims were the disenchanted paedophile fantasists themselves: the lost opportunity to form an understanding of the gap between them and the rich (the difference being capital, opportunity and protection from climate disasters and food shortages). It isn’t about their access to satanic VIP pedophile parties. That’s just a grim fairytale.
But these sentiments helped widen the road for the current wave of anti-LGBTQ+ paedophile fantasy. That’s a much older trend — that queer people have faced for many years. Here, the targets aren’t "the elite", who are largely shielded from the consequences of hate. They are working-class gay and transgender people. They can face consequences in the street, like in Newtown.
A complete unfocusing of what paedophilia actually is has taken place over the past several years. Because the subject has become so tactically useful to the Right, many people cannot discern a deliberately hazy mess of "indoctrination in our schools" and "grooming" from what constitutes actual child abuse. More people are accusing each other of paedophilia to settle political or religious scores.
A formation of paedophile fantasists from the remains of the "freedom" movement has aligned with redpilled people and bigoted religious fanatics. We need to stand up to them and we must respond with clarity.
To state the obvious, only paedophiles are paedophiles.
Homophobic "grooming" fantasies are not evidence of paedophilia. They are a political tactic and they target working-class queer people. We need to defend each other from these lies.
If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.
Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.
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