He had this incredibly gentle way of navigating the world. In retrospect, it is not surprising he was the first gay man I felt in love with. I was at a church social and I spied him speaking to someone across the loud, chaotic room in ASL. It’s just about the rudest thing you can do to a deaf person in that situation, stare like a teenage girl getting a peek at Bobby Darin. It was the first time I got a glimpse of that silent snarl of disapproval. I quickly moved on in the party, and figured I’d totally blown it with him. Not that I’ve ever had much, but particularly when I was first out of the closet, I lacked any subtlety. I’d like to think over the years I’ve turned that into a charming trait people appreciate.
I drove up to Washington DC the next weekend, it was the showing of the AIDS Quilt on the Mall. Truly, one of the single most impactful experiences of my young gay life. Frankly, it overwhelmed me. So that evening I found myself, as I’m sure others did, up against the wall of the Eagle with a scotch and soda in my hand, trying to shake it off. I looked around the bar, it was a humid evening, and I was appreciating all the barely dressed men parading by. That’s when I noticed him again, two hours from our home in Norfolk, across the patio from me. Except, this time it was him that was doing the stare down.
His presence was completely different from the night in the party in the fresh ironed dress shirt. He was beautiful. Short and muscular, and that almost unworldly dark brown beard with a hint of red. Twenty five years later and I can still remember every detail. He wore a very tight leather harness, chaps with an old fashioned well worn codpiece. Everything about his outfit showed attention to detail as well as leather that got worn a lot, comfortable leather.
He was smoking a small black english pipe. While we played the stare game, wofts of soft white smoke would leave his lips, hesitating in his whiskers before floating away.
He suddenly signed at me, flashing a pleasing smile. It took me a moment to realize what he was saying, and he repeated himself.
“Come here. Come here and get a hug.”