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Catfish: someone who pretends online to be someone they are not, to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.

Towards the end of the 2010 documentary Catfish, Nev Schulman finally meets the woman with whom he’s carried on a long-term online relationship. She is, he discovers, not young and single, but in her 40s and married. By way of metaphorical explanation, the woman’s husband, Vince Pierce, recounts the following story, which inspired the name of the film:

They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin. (Source: Slate.com)

nev-max-camera-stairsSetting aside the adorableness of hosts Yaniv (Nev) Schulman and Max Joseph for a moment, the Catfish franchise added the word “catfish” to the English lexicon but the phenomenon has been around forever.

I was intrigued by the documentary Catfish years ago, and I regularly watch Catfish: The TV Show now.

If you haven’t seen either the show or the movie, they both follow the perspective of the catfish’s victims: people who have gotten swept up in an online relationship, but have never met their virtual significant other for one reason or another.

In the vast majority of these cases, they’ve never met in person because the Catfish isn’t who he is presenting himself to be (or she). The catfish has something to hide. Sometimes that “something” is relatively insignificant… he doesn’t work where he says he does, or she doesn’t live where she says she does.

But more often than not, the hidden fact is something juicy … It’s a woman pretending to be a man or vice versa, or someone extremely overweight pretending to be a model, or an average Joe pretending to be someone famous, or even a secret admirer of the victim that is already within her circle of friends or acquaintances.

gay catfish

The thing is that it usually doesn’t matter to the victim. Small issue or huge issue, the fact that she has been emotionally intimate with someone who has lied to her about something…ANYTHING… is almost always a deal breaker. One minute she is divulging her deep, passionate connection to a virtual guy she met via an online social network, and the next minute they’re done. Even in cases where the relationship could continue as-is, virtually, it often doesn’t.

In the best episodes, we’re given a glimpse into the motivation of the catfish. Sometimes a false identity starts out as a fun distraction  and only escalates once he starts actually connecting to a sincere human being on the other end. By the time an actual relationship exists, it’s too late. The deceit has taken hold. It already went where he didn’t intend it to go.

At other times it’s  a blatant intent to deceive from the very start; they can end up being very mean people.

The show has gotten me thinking about my own catfishing. I was a catfish before catfishing was invented.

I’m not proud of it. I’m ashamed really; A gay man marrying a straight woman.

What were MY motivations? When did I find myself in too deep to turn back? Does it matter?

I suppose the case of the overweight catfish is the best comparison. Those people are indeed who they say they are on the inside, but they imagine they will be able to lose the weight before the inevitable reveal happens. They can’t, or they don’t. They are lying to themselves as much as to the other person. For their part, they just want to give and receive love and I so understand that desperation.catfish

I also thought I could change, and that the essential part of ME was the same regardless. I lied to myself as much as to my ex-wife. I wanted love, from anyone really, but I desperately wanted it from God. I wanted the full Celestial package.

Unfortunately in my day and age, catfishing your way through was the encouraged path to Celestial Glory. I imagine there were thousand who suffered silently before me. Millions in human history. There’s a whole dead society of gay catfish.

I really couldn’t conceive of handling it any other way, even in today’s more open and accepting age, in the age of North Star (a second class of gay married Mormons) where the facts aren’t hidden, they’re just raw.

Even today, the default setting of young Mormon boys and girls must lean heavily towards catfishing unsuspecting straight Mormon counterparts. One can’t expect complete honesty and self awareness in an environment where such revelations create second class citizens.

The Mormon church IS the Internet for these gay men and women; it’s the structure they hide behind in order to catfish unsuspecting (or even knowing) eternal companions.


I feel for the catfished.