A me-shaped blanket is bellowing instructions at three men.
“JUST GET RID OF IT,” says the blanket.
The men are trying to get rid of it, but it doesn’t seem too keen on being gotten rid of, and I think it might be winning this battle.
“JESUS,” says one of the men, “WHOAAA.”
“THERE IT IS,” says another.
This is followed by some indistinct crashing, then an unsettling period of complete silence. Has it killed the men? Probably. Only members of my family could die in a simple, textbook spider extraction. It’s probably telling though that, if my dad, brother and uncle are dead, I’m still more worried about the bus wheel-sized spider possibly on the loose in my room. If they killed it, at least they didn’t die in vain; let’s put it that way.
The silence is eventually broken by footsteps. All the while, I’ve been cowering under a blanket in the living room. Now I can hear the men leaving my room: the Spider Room. Let me explain the blanket. Convinced that, once the spider had been caught, my brother (well into his thirties, by the way) would chase me with it, I shrouded myself in a protective layer of wool. If I can’t see or feel, or hear the spider (trust me, this is the kind of spider you can hear), it doesn’t exist. Tree falling in the woods, etc.
I poke one eye out from under my blanket-bunker. My brother is holding an upside-down glass with a piece of card underneath.
“NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO,” I say to him. This is Little Sister for, “Bring that thing near me and one of us dies, and I don’t care which.”
Spider Season seems to get more intense every year. Either I’m shrinking, or the spiders are growing. The one that nearly killed three members of my family had an eerie thickness to its limbs. You could’ve carved meat off this thing. It was like one of those stacked, needlessly aggy guys you see at the gym, who you just know is on steroids. But it had eight legs. And was in my fucking room. Spider Season turns me into the Joe McCarthy of arachnophobes. Everything could be a spider. That balled up strand of black cotton, whatever just brushed against my arm, every dark, butthole-looking knot on the floorboards. Even while writing this, I’ve had three false alarms, which has made it difficult to type as my fingers have become utterly rigid and almost a bit spider-like themselves.
But if this year’s particularly extreme Spider Season has taught me one thing, it’s that “homophobia” is a ridiculous word. It’s insulting to gay people, it’s insulting to people with phobias and, quite frankly, it’s insulting to homophobes. Don’t patronise these people. Yes, they’re stupid, but don’t make out that their stupidity is a medical condition. Sure – a phobia is irrational, and as is hatred of gay people. But a phobia is also involuntary. It’s a reflex triggered by the most primitive level of human instinct. I see a spider and my brain goes, “DANGER”. A so-called “homophobe” sees a gay person and their brain goes, “This threatens my primeval notions of gender roles and morality.” Or, more realistically, “Ew, two men holding hands. How do you fit a penis into another penis? Missionary man-woman sex is the only sex. I am angry and confused.”
So doesn’t the word “phobia” almost justify hatred of gay people? After all, a phobia is deeply ingrained and extremely difficult to get rid of. Trust me, I’ve tried. Years ago, I went on one of those day-long courses for arachnophobes at London Zoo. Sure, by the evening I was holding tarantulas and laughing nervously about their erratic movements and tickly legs. But, by the next day, I was more afraid of spiders than ever. Long story short, I was peer-pressured into ditching my phobia for ten minutes, which did nothing but make it come back eleven times stronger in the long term.
What if we had similar courses for homophobes? Ones where you start by talking about how useful gays are to the environment. You move on to looking at pictures of Clare Balding and Gok Wan. Then, after some amateur hypnosis, you get the opportunity to hold a real-life gay.
“Oooh, he has tickly legs!” says the reformed homophobe, softly cradling a hairdresser called Marcel.
As a real life “phobe”, I can no longer hear the word “homophobe” without thinking of someone finding a lesbian sitting in their bath, screaming, then tentatively picking her up with a giant glass and piece of card and setting her free in the garden.
“I hope I didn’t hurt her legs,” says the lesbian remover, still trembling from the experience.