Then? Then he gave me the look.
I was sitting in the airport. It was the usual whirling dervish of people moving in every direction. I stared down at my boarding pass with dismay. 6pm flight the day before Thanksgiving, what the hell was I thinking? I was already regretting not stopping at the bar for a beer before reporting to the gate.
“A Cardinal fan, eh? I’m more of a Bears guy.” said someone suddenly, referring to my Stanford jacket.
I looked up to a man in his 40s, a man of Indian descent, with that impossibly thick mustache and the beard stubble he’d probably grown after breaking the razor on his whiskers that very morning. More incredible was his soft, Cheshire cat smile. He stood incredibly close to me in the crowded terminal, close enough I could imagine what he might be like in a less stressful environment with less strict dress codes. He was really solid – this was a man that didn’t miss the gym.
“Did you play?,” he continued, excitedly, leaning in so I could hear him over all the commotion at the gate.
“Oh this old jacket, shit, I haven’t seen a football field in nearly 25 years. I played for them when they sucked. I mean like they really sucked hard.”, gulping and grimacing both from the embarrassingly involuntary double entendre and his enthusiasm.
“Yeah – that Luck is one hell of a quarterback. He knows how to handle the ball.”
At this point I was totally lost in looking up at him, when a female voice called to him in Hindi from behind me. I looked around to see a Indian woman unsuccessfully wrangling four kids of various ages. It was the kind of domestic situation with kids in a public place that made me surer everyday that was not the path for me. I turned around to face the man again, and his demeanor had complete changed, you could see the happiness rinse away from his face.
“Well I should go take care of this. Maybe the Bears’ll beat the Cardinal this year,” he said with a half-hearted jeer and a playful wink. As he turned to return to his family, you could see all of the kids immediately snap too, knowing that the Bear was returning to keep the cubs in their place.
I shook off the whole thing, giving away all my thoughts of having met a new guy to flights of fancy. I returned to my boring book and my thoughts drifted off to the beer I’d order during beverage service. I waited, and soon my flight was called. I fell in line and was soon in my carefully selected extra leg room aisle seat. I got all settled in my seat, and waited for the boarding to continue.
It was the strangest thing, suddenly realizing you are being watched. In the boarding que was the Indian Bear. He had spoken to me softly, but his gaze upon me at this point was precise and with lack of a better description…. primal. At first, I pretended not to notice but the stare was impossible not to match. The entire length of the plane as the line pulsed forward and stopped, he kept his gaze firmly set upon me. The longer it went on the more flushed and outright swoonable I became.
His kids and wife in front of him, shuffling through impatiently trying to get to their seats. As they got closer, he raised his hands into a prayer position and bowed to me in the most intimate fashion. Again with the softness, with the demonstrative connection. Then? Then he gave me the look. The look of longing and sadness with simultaneous respect and care.
It’s always amazed me that no matter where my travels take me, every culture, every adventure on the map – men of our tribe know ‘the look.’ I laugh with my therapist that it’s a powerful gay version of namaste.
An ancient Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India, translated roughly, it means “I bow to the God within you”, or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you” – a knowing that we are all made from the same One Divine Consciousness. So my queer tribe takes that a step forward and it’s almost a genetic reflex, ‘the look.’ I recognize the beautiful person you are, the unique member of the queer tribe, and I recognize you because I am also gay.
It doesn’t need to lead to anything, it’s not always like a cruise in the park at sunset. ‘The look’ can be used as a playful way to get someone to relax in a business meeting, “oh grrl , I’m so not like these others either, you’re safe, one of your sisters is at the table.” It can be a vegetable stand owner in a far off open air market, who just gives you an extra moment of care while selecting your produce. As you hand him the awkwardly counted foreign currency, he gives you ‘the look’ to let you know it’s okay, and to take your time. It’s ‘the look’ you get across a subway car in what you thought was the “straight” neighborhood, nodding, even smiling to let you know that even there, your tribe is there to look out for you.
In this case, my Indian friend was simply acknowledging that no matter how different we might seem to others, he and I knew what the score was. The look that said he knew who I was and what I was, and valued it like a precious jewel, because he was one too.