Saturday, 10 March 2018

Catfisher of the Day

Okay, this turned into more of a lecture than I'd intended, but now isn't the time to be polite. When do we talk about it?

Do you know this Onion headline about school shootings?

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

Why did I think of this headline? Because the M/M Romance genre has its own version. Every few months another catfisher is exposed. We could have an entire Catfish series on our genre alone.

I'm a cynic at heart. I've not been surprised by any of our past exposures. Maybe the first one I remember, but once upon a time I was naive to the games people play online. In fact one of the earliest times I'd suspected a 'family' were catfishers, but they'd faded away over the years. When the perpetrator was exposed as a middle-aged woman, most reactions were "Who?" Only the old-timers could remember them, and they'd all guessed anyway. I'm damn sure there are more catfishers operating and they will be exposed in due course.

Having said all that, the exposure of Santino Hassell as a husband and wife scam team shocked the hell out of me. I thought he was just a toxic arsehole - yes, I've had my issues. Because 'he' blocked me on social media, I had no idea 'he' was manipulating, gaslighting, ghosting, and scamming people out of thousands of dollars per month.Sometimes being blocked is a really good thing. My respect and sympathy to the legion of people affected by this pair over many years.

These are links if you want to read more.

Read here for accounts from victims.
Read here for proof of 'his' assholishness
Read here for a WTF thread from many of his victims
His publishers have withdrawn his books. You can find their statements on these links.

Let me say that I believe whoever wrote the books was a talented author. Shame they couldn't have been moral with it.

Let's go back to the M/M romance genre as a whole. Why are we so susceptible to catfishing? Like the Onion headline, I've been thinking about this a lot. I'm going to write mainly at the women here, and leave the guys to do their own talking.

We write about gay men, we write about romance, we write about happy ever afters and men who've had/have trauma in their lives. And we as authors and readers are primarily (middle-aged) women. The last I think is what makes us so vulnerable.

This next section is harsh. I'm sorry, but I think it need to be said. We think with our hearts, and not our heads.

We're in the business of romance and that's what scammers sell us.

We want to believe we're talking to two young men blissfully in love, a gay couple adopting vulnerable teens, a cute bi dude with a serious illness who needs help. We don't see photos or any evidence but we accept the increasingly bizarre stories they feed us because we want to believe happy ever afters can be real with a bit of help from us, being it online friendship, gifts and/or cold hard cash.

This is not friendship.This is cold business and we are the marks.

It doesn't mean you shouldn't help people. I do, as often as I can. But maybe look at where your money is going. Do you know it to be real?

We listen to the authoritative male voice of the catfishers because that's what women are supposed to do; gay male authors telling women where we're getting it wrong, be books or allyship. They are men with lived experience after all. Yes, this is true, we should listen. But who are we listening to, the voices of gay/bi/trans men, or catfishers?

I don't believe we are 'owed' photos and there are many good reasons for not putting yourself out on social media, be it family, social, work etc. But I also think these days it's increasingly rare not to find one or two photos, or people who have met them. Of course the Hassell scammers had the 'meeting the cute dude' thing sorted, as they were husband and wife. Dear God, that's a cold one.

In the recent case of Hassell, GBT men were also sucked in and used abominably (see Noah's account). The way I see it, they used men as weapons in the campaign to suck money out their target audience, to be discarded when they had finished with them. Let me say this again, the men were used for their lived experiences, for what they could get out of them.

I don't know what I'm asking for here. Maybe a bit of caution in future? The old saying 'if it looks too good to be true it probably is' is true. The illness, the tragic deaths, even the overwhelming happiness - does it look like real life?

If you see a friend acting like a toxic arsehole and isolating others, think about it carefully. Don't take everything they say at face value. It's not easy to tell but please think about it. Gaslighting seems to be like breathing to some people.

Finally, each and every time this happens someone starts ranting about women writing M/M. Women get naturally defensive. Men get frustrated because their valid concerns are being drowned out. This is destroying us.

Each time another fake is exposed, it hurts our genre, it hurts our authors and readers, and it damn well hurts our sales. We are a small genre and we deserve better, but we can only change it ourselves.


  1. We tell our children time and again that people online aren't who they claim to be. That these people will try to make you do things you don't want to do. We tell children to be wary and not trust people unless you absolutely know they're who they say they are.

    And then we adults ignore that advice.

    1. My kids have given *me* the lecture. I'm less trusting now than when I started. Experience has battered my trust that people are who they say they are.

  2. Having been catfished very thoroughly (emotionally rather than financially, I'm glad to say) back in the days when the internet was in its nascency, I'm trebly sceptical these days of anything that seems too tragic for its own good.
    I only donate to people I actually know in real life, or through people that I trust. I know it's not a foolproof defense but so far it's worked for me.
    So sad for those who have been gulled by this deception.

    1. I'm a lot more careful about donating now than I was in the beginning. I was very naive about the games people play. I'll be honest, if Hassell had been a friend, I would have been caught out by this one too.

  3. I think a lot of writers are vulnerable because we`re stuck in the double-bind created by social misogyny. If we admit to being women we get the shit from misogynistic gay men who don`t think we should write this genre at all. If we don`t, we get shit for not being `open with our readers.` We also know that many people can be fired from their day jobs if the genre in which we write became known. I never post pics of my wife because at one time she had such a job; I don`t post clear pictures of myself because I don`t want my face showing up somewhere else, which happened not long ago to a writer who had his handsome face appear on somebody else`s FB page. This sort of thing tends to make us sympathetic toward those who protect our identities.

    I`ve been wary of donating online because I ran across a world-class catfisher early in my internet experience. She called herself `victoria bitter` at the time; you may have heard of her as the person who organized the middle-earth convention in New Zealand that never happened because the money somehow disappeared. I guess for people with no sense of honesty, it seems like a good way to make a lot of $ fast.

    It`s sad because there *are* people who are hit by series of disasters and can`t recover--who are homeless and facing worse as corporate government cuts the last safety nets.

    What`s worst about this current mess, I think, is that instead of being an honest writer, this piece of vermin took a strong talent and turned it to scam. I can almost see how a crap writer could turn to making up soap opera to cadge money. A pity a good writer can also be a lousy human being.

    I`m Lee Rowan. Don`t know why Blogger won`t take my ID, but it never has.

    1. "What`s worst about this current mess, I think, is that instead of being an honest writer, this piece of vermin took a strong talent and turned it to scam."

      They had the potential for so much more than scamming people. Instead they've left a wide trail of destruction behind them.

  4. Sue, can I share this? I think you hit the nail in the head.

    1. Yes of course, Taylor, feel free to share.