“We are all domestic terrorists.”


Thus read a banner at the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference, illustrating a point I want to make unmistakably clear. 


“Terrorist” is one of those words that everyone feels something over. We all agree on what a terrorist is, and that terrorists are bad. 


A terrorist engages in violence in the name of some political goal. It’s simple.


But is a doctor a terrorist when she performs an abortion? Is a soldier a terrorist when he fights for his country? What about the unvaccinated people during a pandemic, or those who would mandate their vaccination?


By way of its overuse, its evocative nature, and its political utility, the word “terrorist” is rendered meaningless. A critical read of the word “terrorist,” therefore, must understand the meaning that “terrorist” is assigned by its user. For example: it’s unlikely that the biggest conference of American conservatives was proudly admitting to a crime. Instead, that terrorist line was used to launch dozens of talking points about the January 6th protests.


I propose that the word “groomer” is a lot like the word “terrorist.”


Merriam-Webster defines grooming as “to get into readiness for a specific objective.” But that’s just a definition. Its connotation—the meaning it implies—is summed up well by the Associated Press: “Its use… seeks to falsely equate it with pedophilia and other forms of child abuse.”


Perhaps the greatest bastion of queer groomer discourse is a Twitter account by the name of Libs of TikTok (a.k.a. Chaya Raichik). Libs of TikTok has over a million followers, and regularly gets views to match. Her content is signal boosted by media juggernauts from Joe Rogan to Fox News. Her format is simple: repost the content of an LGBT person or ally, frame the post with outrage bait, and move on to the next. Publicly available names and addresses are posted, and death threats tend to follow suit—always, of course, by Raichik’s fans; she can wash her hands clean. 


Some have called Raichik a stochastic terrorist. But, as we know, that word has little meaning. Either way, the effects of her rhetoric are self-evident. To see that, just read some comments under a recent post to her website:


“This is pedophilia being normalized.” 


 “Now leak the names of the teachers invited and the names of those who attended.”


That article was titled “OUTRAGE: Underage students perform in drag for staff at invite-only school event.” 


The school in question was Hunterdon Central.


Clips from our most recent BOE meeting were shared, highlighting those concerned with our PULSE Club’s invite-only drag show. Omitted were the clips of the overwhelming majority of speakers, who showed up in support of PULSE, as well as PULSE members and officers who clearly and definitively stated the nature of the event. Drag, in that BOE meeting as well as by Libs of TikTok, has been maligned as a sexually deviant art. Nevermind, of course, that drag performers typically wear more clothing than the gender they seek to imitate and exaggerate. 


I don’t know whether Libs of TikTok sincerely believes that any grooming took place here. I don’t know about any of the other anti-LGBT pundits out there, either. 


I do know that it doesn’t matter. To those so overwhelmed by disgust and bigotry, a queer person could exhale in public and draw outrage. This is a perspective on queerness that sees it as fundamentally sexual, and immoral, at its core.


To ignore the framing of drag discourse, or of recent events at our school; to argue in good faith with those who refuse to return the favor is to cede undue ground to hatred. It’s a fool’s errand. 


“Groomer” is a tool, just as much as it is a word. Something is achieved by labeling someone a groomer, just as with labeling someone a terrorist. Something more is achieved by repetition of the word “groomer.” Something more, still, is achieved by associating it with a group.


A non-story at Hunterdon Central exploded into a nationwide news scandal. Teachers and staff had their names shared and slandered across the country. The overwhelming majority of this coverage has been negatively framed. It’s not a coincidence.


It can happen here. 


My intent isn’t to stoke fear, but sobriety. I have hope yet for this country and for all the progress it has made in such a short time. But we cannot let that progress blind us. We cannot let it make us complacent.


Progress is not linear. It is a constant uphill climb, a never-ending fight against the temptation to accept calm injustice. It staggers and it stumbles, if it is allowed.


The weapons of the culture warrior are words. They are used, abused, twisted, and contorted and sold to us non-stop. They are powerful. They can do unimaginable good, and unspeakable evil.


The choice is up to us.