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Whore Next Door: Catfish Hunter - By - March 2, 2016 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Whore Next Door: Catfish Hunter

“Good Evening. How are you doing? How was your weekend?”

The message hit my OkCupid inbox around 10 p.m. last Sunday, as I was brushing my teeth before bed.

It was bland, not the sort of thing that would usually catch my attention, but I smiled through my toothpaste as I thumbed through his photos — he was seriously hot.

The term “catfish,” popularized by the film and MTV documentary series of the same name, refers to people who create fake online identities in order to pursue romance through elaborate, long-form deception.

In hindsight, I should have seen the warning signs from the very first message.

He allegedly lived in San Diego — just far enough away to be inconvenient to meet up immediately — and his profile copy was generic, citing craft beer and “meeting new people” among his interests.

He had an English accent, which at one point may have counted in his favor — but in this case, it was another red flag. I couldn't help but wonder if it was real, because there was something about his voice that didn't feel like it matched up with his photos. But the fantasy he wove of a successful, attractive, dominant man with abs for days was too tempting not to entertain, even though my gut told me the truth from the get-go.

We talked on the phone twice before I suggested moving to Skype; when he logged on, he kept “having trouble with his webcam,” so I couldn't see a clear image coming from his end.

That's when I had the sinking feeling that I was about to give a free cam show to a creepy old British man.

I had to put my foot down, so I bravely fought the compulsive urge to be accommodating to men who show romantic interest in me, and insisted he send me a selfie with my name written on a piece of paper — or his dick — to prove he was who he claimed to be. That's when he logged off.

The last message I received from my Catfish Prince was a panicked voicemail telling me that he had just dropped his only pen down the back of his desk and accidentally shut off his computer in the process, but he'd be right back. Then he disappeared back into the abyss of Internet, just as quickly as he came.

Once I started asking around, I discovered that a close encounter with a catfish has almost become a rite of passage for the Internet age. My friend “Joey” says he's encountered catfish in the world of online dating at least four times.

“I thought I was in a legit queer relationship throughout all four years of high school,” another friend, “Ace” told me. Ace was a young, closeted queer living in Florida when she started visiting AOL chat rooms to talk to her peers about anime.

Although most of her life was plagued by scrutiny about her queer identity, she says, “There was a lot of safety online. I could be dirty and queer and then go to school and be a straight-A student. Some girls got drunk; I talked to strangers on the Internet.”

Ace formed a strong bond with a “19-year-old woman from San Francisco” who called herself Lex. They spoke nearly every day, collaborated on writing projects, and even said, “I love you.”

As high school graduation approached, Ace started making plans to fly out West and finally meet her online girlfriend, but Lex got squirrelly and said they had to talk.

Lex then revealed that she was not who she had claimed to be, but rather a 35-year-old lesbian named Joy Potter who was living in a sexless marriage in Portland, Ore.

“I used to have a lot of shame about it,” Ace says now, “but I realized I was just a kid.”

Ace stopped speaking to Lex/Joy soon after the revelation, and years later tried to follow up with a Facebook search, but “Joy” was nowhere to be found.

“I never even saw a real photo of her,” says Ace, “There was no real closure.”

Not every catfish victim gets a teachable TV moment; most are just left with ghosts and unanswered questions.

I tried to reach out to my own catfish one more time to let him know I wasn't mad, and to ask if he'd be willing to let me interview him in exchange for some naked selfies.

Sadly, there was still no response at the time of publication.