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To those who keep calling us "groomers"

Two weeks ago I was the guest preacher at Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida. Last Sunday the church was protested by right-wing fundamentalists who don't appreciate the messages of love and social justice the church posts on their street-side sign. In the week between these two Sundays, Rev. Andy Oliver was bombarded by accusations of pedophilia and "grooming" in tirades across social media platforms and other venues.

The hurling of the term "groomer" got me thinking. The word has been used for a few decades to refer to the process of acclimating children to sexual abuse, and the uber-right drinkers of Florida Gov. Desantis' presidential-campaign-flavored Kool-Aid have echo-chambered his speech writer's appropriation of the term to refer to anyone who supports LGBTQIA+ rights. But the word has plenty of good, useful, healthy meaning, and I'm going to step up and take it back.

We all groom kids. Anyone who has a beloved child in their life is a groomer. Everything we do has the power to influence young people and instruct them on what it means to be human. Every action of love or hate, every lesson of generosity or greed, every spoken instruction about privilege or superiority. The people yelling and waving hateful signs at Allendale UMC groom the kids around them, hoping to shape and form them in their own angry images and likeness. They were actively grooming.

As for me and my house, we try to groom the kids in our life to be:

  • Accepting of themselves and others.

  • Autonomous thinkers.

  • Cognizant of the critical importance of consent.

  • Believers in the power of faith, hope, and love, with the greatest of these being love.

This past weekend showed me the potential power of this kind of grooming. Our eldest grandchild went to their senior prom wearing a handsome blue suit with a vest and tie. She hates dresses. Makeup and glamor are definitely not her thing. The confidence and joy in her expression at being simply a dressed-up version of herself was wonderful to see.

The following evening there was an award banquet at her school, which we were invited to attend. One of her friends is transfeminine with only partial support from her family. The girl wasn't able to express her gender authentically at the event, and our grandchild recognized her discomfort. She took several friends to the girl's table and sat with her for the remainder of the evening, so she wouldn't feel as alone, uncomfortable, and unrecognized.

Our grandchild is an awesome person, and would be without our brazenly queer presence in her life. But if there's a chance that our love and advocacy has played a tiny role in her freedom to be herself, and her deep compassion and solidarity for those who struggle to be themselves, then we are proud, and honored.

Yes, I'm a groomer. At least, I strive to be.


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