I sift through a lot of internet for you people. Because I love you.
Earlier this week I found the story of a 24 year old woman who pretended to be a 17 year old boy in order to have sex with a 15 year old girl. The highlights: they met online (naturally), dated long distance for nearly a year and a half, the young girl’s mother drove her daughter to meet her boyfriend in person and paid for a separate motel room for him to stay in, on two separate occasions there was sexual activity: some fingering action and intercourse with a flesh-colored dildo. Needless to say, the 24 year old is facing serious prison time and the teenage girl is wildly upset.
The articles, of course, carry the nuance and sensitivity we can expect from popular journalism. But for those of us who are genuinely curious about the situation, and not just excited to recoil in horror and quickly turn back for more lurid details, it’s tough to sort out what REALLY happened. I mean, we know a 24 year old masqueraded as a teen boy, wearing a back brace to cover her breasts, deceiving multiple people for the purposes of sex with a minor. But what we don’t know is really why.
And this brings me to Jill Dodge.
I had nearly forgotten about Jill Dodge. She was a “bad kid” in my tiny hometown: and not the kind that gets that title simply for being from the wrong side of the tracks or not putting all her gumption into math homework. Nope, she was a legit bad kid, with that aura of unfettered chaos radiating from her being. I had no beef with her or anything, but I knew of her and steered clear. Around the time I was about to move away from our small town, I read that she had been arrested.
Jill, at the age of 19, had gone by the name Anthony Smith, posing as a young teen in order to have sex with a 13 year old girl. When I read that, I was floored. But I was also suddenly incredibly sympathetic to Jill, who clearly had been fighting (and losing) some kind of battle with her sense of identity. And all those years of “bad kid”-ness now looked like the collateral damage of a person who was (very unsuccessfully) dealing with much bigger demons.
The question remains: why did they do it?
We take it almost for granted that if a man pretends to be someone he’s not online for the purposes of sex that it’s because: well, he wanted sex. And, yes, it seems weird and twisted when a grown man pretends to be someone he’s not to get underage tail, but, at the core, it seems strangely understandable. Because, thanks to our gender norms, we expect men to be willing to do stupid, dangerous and even illegal things to acquire sex at some point. It’s really quite patronizing to men.
But “James Wilson” and “Anthony Smith” are far from alone.
- There’s 31 year old Ohioan Patricia Dye aka Matt Abrams who pretended to be a 14 year old boy to get with a 16 year old girl, and who is still getting into trouble.
- There’s 19 year old Gemma Barker, a girl who pretended to be several different males in order to dupe several girls. These girls, it’s worth noting, KNEW her as Gemma and have sold their stories to tabloids, saying the experience ruined their lives.
- 30 year old Lorelei Josephine Corpuz who lived as a teenage boy for over a year, residing with her 14 year old girlfriend’s family, claiming to be an orphan.
So, again, what is at the heart of this behavior? Are these transmen who, wracked by an inability to accept their gender identity suffer some kind of dissociation, invent entirely different personas? Are they hebophiles (attracted to post-pubescent kids, as opposed to pedophiles) who consider this the easiest route to accessing young females? Are these lesbian adults who regress because they can’t deal with age-appropriate relationships? Are the victims young because their youth is the attraction or because their lack of experience will make it easier to deceive them?
Again, if an adult male has a sexual relationship with a teenage female, our questions aren’t “why did you want that?” it’s “why did you think you’d get away with it?” And in many ways, we ridicule their stupidity, rather than searching for explanations.
Not the Same as Simple Cross-Dressing
I doubt we’ll ever know why these female-bodied offenders decided that elaborate deception was a good route to sex- or maybe even love. And for the young “girlfriends,” we can only imagine how it feels to find out your first sexual experience was a sham. Add external and internal homophobia into the mix, and we have a recipe for incredible trauma.
What Do We Do?
If they are transmen who felt entirely alone in their search for self and acted out of fear and desperation, it makes me all the more ardent about allowing young folks to express their gender freely, without fear of reproach. They could have dated age appropriate women and not had to pretend to be years younger. It’s when we make things taboo and illicit that they are driven underground and tossed around with things that are genuinely bad. If the problem is simply that these are offenders with personality disorders, then we might consider redoubling our efforts to teach young people about internet safety and negotiating safer sex.
If you roll a condom onto a penis, you’ll notice if it’s made of silicone.