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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I have a confession to make. I am a pedophobe. Few things fill me with fear faster than the sight of kids.

It's not that I hate kids or would ever actively encourage discrimination against them, but being a gay man who lives in a part of the world where a sizeable part of the population believes the words "homosexual" and "pedophile" are interchangeable, I steer as far away from kids as possible.

That's not always easy to do. A couple of weekends ago I was with some friends who wanted to stop at a suburban Wal-Mart. I quickly tired of following them around the aisles and told them I'd meet them out front by the garden center.

On my way out, I stopped by the men's room. Inside, there was a boy of about 4 or 5 at the urinal. So I bypassed the urinals in favor of one of the stalls. As I was standing there attending to my business, I heard a young voice say, "Hey, what's your name?" Hoping he was talking to someone else, I ignored him. The next thing I knew the stall door rattled as his hands pushed against it. "What's your name? ... What's your name? ... What's your name?" he asked in a sing-song voice.

I flushed and headed over to the sink only to find him waiting there, waiting me to help him reach the soap. This was every gay man's worst nightmare. I considered asking him where his parents were, but quickly censored myself. What if someone walked in at that moment? Would it sound like I was making sure his parents weren't around before I abducted him? It was easier to not speak to him at all ... just hit the soap button so he could wash his hands and I could make my escape.

"Aren't you gonna wash your hands?" he asked as I headed out the door.

I considered stopping at the customer service desk to have the store send someone in to check on the kid and summon his parents. In the end I didn't even do that much, giving into paranoia and convincing myself that if the child did get abducted, some store clerk would remember "that guy who stopped by the desk about a kid." They'd review the store's surveillance tape and there I'd be at the desk. Suddenly I'd become a "person of interest" in the case and my image would be on the evening news.

No, it was better to do nothing and hope that the kid was tucked into his own bed safe and sound by that time.

But I did watch the evening news with interest, flipping back and forth between channels for any news of a child abduction. Fortunately there were no such reports.

That sense of relief I felt when it became apparent the boy had been abducted to turned into yet another gruesome statistic about raped or murdered children has been replaced by a slow smoldering anger.

I'm angry that the boy's parents couldn't be bothered to make sure he was accompanied to the restroom. I suppose they believe that because the Wal-Mart was in the sprawling, affluent suburbs that he'd be safe. After all, child molesters were an urban phenomenon, right? It doesn't happen here where the lawns are mowed and the hedges kept trimmed, right? Besides, little Johnny (or whatever his name) was only going to be gone a couple of minutes. Nothing can happen in that short of a time, right?

Honestly, I'm beginning to think people should be licensed in order to reproduce.

Then there's my anger at society itself for having long perpetuated the stereotype that gay men were child molesters ready to "recruit" young boys into their "lifestyle." I know many gay men who live in fear of encountering a situation such as the one I found. We want to help, but there's that deep-seated fear that any action we take could be misinterpreted, even if it's as simple as boosting a child to reach the faucet and soap. That makes it so much easier to look after our own self-interest than to worry about a child's safety.

And finally there's the anger I feel at myself for letting false stereotypes stand in the way of coming to the aid of another human being.

"Aren't you gonna wash your hands?" the young boy asked as I all but sprinted out of the restroom.

In a figurative way, I had already washed them.