This week, a group of us on Facebook have been dealing with the news that the moderator of our online support community has been unmasked as a fraud. In fact, not only he, but also a couple other men who he brought into the circle, were essentially made up profiles. I’m not so naive not to realize that many people present a contrived version of themselves online, sometimes rewriting some of their personal narrative to white wash those things they’d rather forget.
But this guy was the moderator of a group of gay dads who were there to talk about their unique challenges and triumphs around gay parenting. And while we’ve only been able to piece together parts of the ruse, it appears the guy may be; not only straight, and not living where he claimed, but also likely not even a dad. Hell, for all we know, he could be some middle-aged woman sitting at a computer in a call center in Mumbai. You just don’t know. And It’s troubling on so many levels, including the fact that many of us posted photos of our families, and we talk quite frankly about some personal issues. Because it is classified as a secret and closed group, it’s always felt to be a safe place for candid discussions. Several of the guys recalled long and personal heartfelt one-on-one online and voiced conversations with the moderator over the course of months, and in some cases, years. So for them, it’s been a terrible blow.
The whole thing started to unravel as he added individuals to the group who had apparent close ties with him, and we started to see some inconsistencies and similarities in those members. For many of us, we had questions about this grandiose wealthy life he lived, his multiple bouts with cancer, and the numerous kids he had allegedly taken in. A couple of the more tech savvy guys followed the IP addresses of some of his posted photos and it all came to an abrupt end. As far as we can see, they’ve now simply disappeared from FB.
The big question for all of us has been why he would do this? Why would some straight guy pose as a fellow gay dad and moderate their support group? There is no monetary gain from the position and really no access to financial or personal data. He was a brash and funny story teller, good looking, seemed like a devoted dad and husband, and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind in a very colorful manner, so we found some of his posts rather entertaining.
So what was his motive? What did he get out of this game? And a part of me worries whether he’s still out there hiding behind yet another profile.
This reminds me of a similar situation that happened to a group of us in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, before Facebook and about the time Mark Zuckerberg was born.
In Sioux Falls we had one gay bar that all of us frequented. One night my roommate and I met a guy named “Craig.” He was young and a fresh face in a city where not a lot of new gays moved to town. We hung out with him and eventually we invited him back to our place. Over the next couple of weeks we started to hang out, and we learned that he lived a few counties to the west but was commuting to Sioux Falls for school.
One day he showed up at our house, his face red from crying and he told us that his mom and dad had been involved in a terrible automobile accident outside his hometown. His dad had been killed instantly and his mother, severely injured, was lying in the hospital in a coma. He didn’t need anything, but asked if he could stay with us a few days while they were making arrangements for the funeral and dealing with his mom’s injuries. I went with him to a music store to find sheet music for the service soloist. He talked about plans for his dad ‘s casket being pulled by their team of horses on an antique carriage his dad owned.
Then a day or two later, we got the surprising news that while running tests on his mom, they discovered that she was pregnant and that they needed to decide wether to keep her in life support so she could carry it to term. While most would find the idea of a 50 year old woman pregnant absurd, my own mom was a surprise birth to her 48 year old parents, so for me his story was a real possibility.
Sometime in the midst of this madness his sisters had a large chocolate chip cookie from Mrs Field’s delivered to our apartment. It was inscribed in blue frosting: “Thank you for taking care of Craig” with a card signed by his sisters. That same evening, he cried on my shoulder while he talked about ordering the funeral flowers and how much his mom loved daisies.
I remember calling my mom back in Wisconsin and literally breaking into tears as I recalled the sad story of my friend Craig. And unlike how my normally kind and loving mom would have reacted, she cautioned me: “Honey, I’m sorry for your friend, but it sounds too far fetched to be true.” I was dumb founded by what she said, because it was beyond my comprehension that someone could make up such a tale about their own mom and dad.
But then on the day of his dad’s funeral, I was working at Dayton’s and spied Craig walking across the food court in his jeans and t-shirt. I called to him and as he approached I asked why he wasn’t at the funeral which was scheduled to happen within the hour in his hometown, which was a good half hour away. He replied that he realized he didn’t have a suit to wear and ran to the mall to find one.
That was the moment I knew we’d all been taken by this guy.
My friend and co-worker Mary, who has always been fearless, found the phone number of the family and boldly called to offer them her condolences. She made certain that they did indeed have a son named Craig, which they did, and of course there had been no accident, no death, no coma, no chocolate chip thank you cookie sent by them, and certainly no miracle pregnancy.
Craig must have gotten word that we called, because he disappeared.
Years later I ran into him at some cowboy bar in St Paul. I never had the balls to confront him about his lies, mostly because I was probably more embarrassed about being emotionally taken by him than he would have been in explaining the lies. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. But sadly every time it happens I mourn the loss of trusting people, and I question the motivation of those who I know only online. But hey, it also happened with someone who lived with us. I’m lucky in this latest incident that I didn’t have much emotional energy invested in the moderator. I just don’t get it. And I feel terrible for those who thought they had a friend, instead of a fraud.