So, here’s a term I didn’t know was a term until only recently: pig butchering. I mean, I know what butchering a pig is. As much as I wish one could just pluck bacon from a tree, I recognize the reality that some savory bliss must come from death.

John Oliver hosted an episode of Last Week Tonight on so-called “pig butchering” scams, the entire deep-dive of which is available on YouTube. Please note: While informative, John Oliver can also, at times, be crass.

A few minutes into Oliver’s comedic yet horrifying exploration of what I thought would be an episode of oinks and mud and blood, I realized something quite personal:

I’ve been pig butchered — or rather, someone has attempted a pig butchering scam on me, along with a couple of my friends within YOB.

In this episode, Oliver talks about people who were messaged online or on their phones “by mistake,” as if someone called or texted a wrong number. But then after some “oopsie” pleasantries of the mistake are exchanged, the scammer strikes up a conversation and even builds rapport with the other person (like fattening a pig before butchering it, to connect the term).

The other person thinks it’s an accidental-turned-whimsical exchange, when in fact it’s quite deliberate and nefarious.

This Last Week Tonight episode details people who were scammed financially because they thought they were building a legitimate, longer-term relationship with this conversational or otherwise caring person on the other line. It’s tragic how susceptible people can be to potential love.

I know I am.

Thankfully, no finances were ever requested, exchanged, or threatened in my would-be pig butchering situation. But I have to wonder if that was the trajectory, both for me and my targeted friends within YOB. Let me share more.

It can’t be coincidental that I and a bunch of my gay friends all got the same so-called accidental texts within a couple weeks of each other — different phone numbers, but written with that same “oopsie” charm.

I no longer have the text transcript saved, but I’ll provide my best recollection of that first exchange with this pig butcherer (PB) fellow . . .

PB: Hey it’s Austin, are we still good for this weekend?

Me: Sorry, think you got the wrong number.

PB: No way, really? You’re not Kevin’s friend from the bar??

Me: Nope, sorry man.

PB: What the heck, that’s crazy.

Me: Yup, sorry again.

PB: Wait are you being for real with me? You’re sure you’re not him?

Me: Haha nope, pretty sure.

PB: Haha wait, only pretty sure?

Me: Hmm…no, I’m definitely sure.

PB: Ohh. Man. That sucks.

…no reply…

PB: Dang I still can’t believe you’re not him. Why do I fall for people like this?

And, scene. Though I may have responded a bit further, that was essentially all for one day, one exchange. You can see what he was doing though: inserting lots of self-deprecating humor and playful banter, followed by a beckoning to go deeper with that “woe is me” line at the end.

I’ll admit, it was fun for a while, going back and forth with some stranger out there. Even replaying this conversation of yesteryear, I find myself smiling as I remember and reconstruct his responses. This guy on the other end, whoever he was, clearly had a way with words. As a big words-guy with an affinity for banter, gosh, I found that exchange quite appealing.

Plus, can’t life and relationships just get stale after a while? Having someone “randomly” text me, only to spark new conversation? What could go wrong in playing things out a bit?

Eventually, I just stopped responding to the guy that day. He texted me a day or two later to say “hey,” and that felt particularly odd. It’s one thing to have one snarky exchange over an accidental text message — but to follow up with that person later?

My other friends within YOB took things a little further with this pig butcherer — though none of us knew we were all being messaged around the same time. That realization came later. Each of my friends responded to his same schmoozing, texting back and forth with him for days. Eventually, an exchange of words escalated to an exchange of pictures: mirror selfies of the guy (probably not actually him), including some without a shirt.

How convenient, he had abs.

Around that juncture, my friends and I started talking to one another about this unknown person texting us. I have to wonder if things had gone any further, particularly if faces in pictures were involved, that perhaps this pig butcherer would have attempted a blackmail scheme. That had to be where it was going — unless it was just someone out there who wanted to seduce a bunch of gay men for his own jollies.

I hate to think this, but . . .

Could someone in our own YOB community have been doing the pig butchering?

It would make sense, but we also couldn’t narrow down the Venn diagram of our contacts to any one overlap of a person who had each of our numbers. The fact that we were each being texted by a different phone number added another complication to the mystery.

If it wasn’t someone within YOB, though, how did this “Austin” guy know to turn up the charm (and show the abs) as a young guy texting all these other guys attracted to guys?

I still get random texts from unknown phone numbers all these years later, probably every other month. I never respond anymore. Despite my desire for a spark in the monotony of relationships and life, I also really don’t want a pig butchering replay.

Maybe this whole story sounds silly to you — it sounds more than a little silly to me, recounting it — but it’s telling how much this person’s texts tugged on my lonely heartstrings. It’s telling how much I desired (still do) something new and exciting to fall into my lap — particularly if it’s relationally new and exciting.

I mean, what if my new best (hot, witty) guy friend is just one or two texts away?

We’re an emotionally vulnerable population, I’ve learned. I’m certainly a vulnerable population when it comes to my male relationships. I’m quite susceptible to being manipulated by another man if I’m not stopping to be self-aware of what’s happening.

With certain straight men, I want to bond so badly with them that I have sacrificed my usual rhythms and expectations for any hope of relationship; with certain fellow queer/SSA men, I have violated my emotional and physical boundaries just to experience any spark of emotional and physical connection.

With both groups of men, I struggle to stand up for myself.

I’ve balked on this blog ever since this episode of Last Week Tonight aired, wondering if anything written here even makes any sense. But I know others in our community have received similarly strange texts or messages, meant to rope people in, and I want this blog to be something that can help you put words to what happened, or could have happened, or perhaps even is happening to you right now.

Above all, I advise anyone reading to exercise abundant caution when interacting with anyone on the Internet, particularly someone without a live face or a live voice. As whimsical or “providential,” even, as it would be to think you’re having a genuine, happenstance encounter with this person, particularly in a faith community like YOB with a fellow follower of Jesus . . . it’s also possible that you’re not.

Please exercise caution on the Internet, dear friends. And, yes, that includes people in our YOBBERS community.

Have you received random texts or messages that escalated into a deeper conversation? Does this “pig butchering” scam resonate as something you’ve also experienced? How do you feel susceptible to other men?

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