Fear of People

Two nights ago Sam and I ended up going on a walk in the evening to pick Nina up from a birthday party. We had waited for the bus for ten minutes, but traffic was moving so slowly that we gave up and set off by foot. It was dark, and it was the Friday of fireworks weekend. We crossed the Thames via Richmond Bridge. Sam was delighted to see the moon reflected in the water. In East Twickenham, we passed a storefront offering ruffa fish pedicures. These seem to be all the rage at the moment. The customer sits in a comfortable chair and immerses his or her feet into a tank of water full of ruffa fish, unattractive fish about two inches long each. The fish are apparently quite fond of eating dead skin, so the customer’s feet come out of the tank much smoother than when they went in.
“Look at that!” Sam exclaimed.
“I know, isn’t that crazy?”
“Look at the fish!  They’re swarming around her feet!”
“It’s amazing the things people do, isn’t it?  I love people, they are so funny,” I laughed.
Sam looked serious.  “Some people are afraid of other people,” he pointed out.
“That’s true,” I said, “But I think most people are really wonderful.  I don’t think there’s any reason to be scared of most people.”
“But some people are,” he insisted.  “That’s called homophobia.  Homo– people, and phobia– fear.  Fear of people.”
I instantly paid more attention.  “Have you seen that word somewhere?”
“Yes, on the bus,” Sam replied.
“Ah.  Well, that’s not exactly what that word means,” I said slowly.
“What does it mean then?” Sam asked.
I took a deep breath and tried to offer a suitable explanation.  “Well, there are some boys who would prefer to have boyfriends, and there are some girls who would rather have girlfriends.  That’s called being homosexual, and homophobia is fear of homosexuals.  It’s a little bit like racism, but different.”
Suddenly there was a loud boom behind us, and the sky lit up back on the Richmond side of the bridge.
“Fireworks!” Sam yelled.
“Yep, fireworks!  Are you excited to see the fireworks display tomorrow?”  Sam’s school hosts an annual fireworks evening.
“Yes, I’m going to get a flashing light saber if they have them this year.”
Homophobia was not mentioned again.  One of my goals as a parent is to raise children who will not judge people on the basis of their sexual orientation, or their race, or their religion.  I realize that I myself am not always able to see people without prejudice, but tolerance is something I strive towards.  I hoped that my explanation to Sam had been in keeping with this ideal.  It also struck me that in a way, maybe Sam was right to define the word the way he did.  Maybe one could say that, when you get right down to it, homophobia is a fear of people.  

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