EAR/PANE
Two Chapters from
MEN WITH THEIR HANDS
A Deaf Gay Novel-in-Progress

By Raymond Luczak

Composed of interrelated short stories, the novel Men With Their Hands covers nearly two decades of what it means to be deaf and gay for two distinct generations—post-Stonewall and post-AIDS—in both a small town and New York City. One of its characters caught between the generations is Ted, a drop-dead gorgeous hard-of-hearing man who cannot feel comfortable among the deaf or the hearing. Two chapters are paired here to give a clearer sense of Ted's dilemma. -R.L.

EAR (1981)

After another fiasco of an interview for a temp job nearby ("You're hard-of-hearing? I see."), Ted, a clean-shaven 24-year-old graduate student, sits evenly in his three-piece business suit in the flickering darkness of the makeshift porno movie theater on 42nd Street when a young man in a pin-striped suit steps in with his eyes averted to the floor strewn with chewing gum wrappers.

The stranger glances around for an empty seat, where he does not have to sit next to anyone.

In the bright glow of the onscreen porn, Ted notices the few freckles on the back of the stranger's hands as he clasps the handle of his black leather attaché, and wonders what it must feel like to be a man of the world. How did he—and so many others—get there? There had to be some secret to it all.

As the stranger walks sideways into the row in front of him to a seat near the wall, he ignores Ted's hand stroking his own crotch, but Ted knows no such customer misses a thing. He eyes the stranger brazenly as he crosses the beam of light across his face, and notices in the flickering light that the stranger has a hearing aid in his right ear.

Ted wonders if his left ear also has one.

The stranger glances around furtively as he strokes his own crotch and checks to make sure his attaché is still leaning against his calf. Ted turns his head slightly to the right so that the light from the screen can bounce off the smooth silver of his own hearing aid.

Ted catches a slight shift in the stranger's posture. He lifts his eyebrows to ask, May I?

The stranger's jaw hardens as he stares straight ahead at the movie, nearing its usual frenzied end.

Ted watches the stranger unzip his trousers and massage himself, his steady eyes fixated on the screen. The stranger watches, almost bored, his mouth opening a little, and Ted turns up his hearing aids to hear his moans. He hears nothing but the theatrical moans of older men behind him while the stranger plucks out a white handkerchief and wipes himself clean without even looking.

When the stranger briskly picks up his attaché and tucks in the loose flaps of his shirt underneath his vest, Ted thinks of standing up and stopping him for his name, a number. As the stranger steps out into the bright lights and as the rectangle of light is swallowed up once again into the darkness, Ted wonders if he should've left his hearing aids in his pocket.

 

Photograph by Phillip Ward © 2001 by Raymond Luczak

 

PANE (1986)

Damn, Ted thinks as he scans the brightening lights of West 42nd Street. The number of sex palaces has dropped considerably since he left New York a few years ago for the less frenzied environs of Kansas City; he is in town for a weekend conference for vocational rehabilitation counselors. Even though he is hard-of-hearing and should know more sign language by now, he's kept his strict distance from the deaf community. He is tired of being judged and labeled one way or the other, and especially when deaf gay men find out that he is hard-of-hearing, as if that added a special luster to their interest in him. He knows that compared to most men his age, he is considered extremely attractive; more so since he's grown his jet-black beard. No, he prefers hearing men, period. They don't need to know how much the deaf community has hurt him with their instant expectations, and they accept him for what he is: A hearing person with slightly defective ears who happens to be hairy.

So many of the gaudy and sleazy places he once frequented have closed. He walks past the c'mon-and-check-the-girls-out catcalls and enters a peep-booth palace he remembers from his student days at NYU. As he steps down into the basement, he takes out his hearing aids and hides them in his denim jacket. The atmosphere is very different now; the easygoing men propping their bulges with an erotic randomness have been replaced by cautious customers wondering if any of the men might be a cop. The porn magazines have all been shrink-wrapped, and there are warnings everywhere about public health and safe sex and illegal sexual acts and prevention of HIV. And no drugs.

Ted exchanges the dollar bills for video tokens.

Up and down the overly-disinfected aisles of booths ajar with men waiting for appeasement of desire, he feels the stares turn more and more intense. He must be the best-looking man there, and this realization gives him a nice thrill. Back home in Kansas City he has a hearing lover, but even he is afraid of engulfing Ted's entire cock in case it drips with precome; what if it had the AIDS virus in it? The fear has numbed their desire for each other.

He enters an empty booth. He wants to see how much has changed. He drops a token into a slot next to the video screen, and notices huge panes of glass on both sides of him; they are almost like mirrors. The booths seem much smaller than he remembered, and they never had windows or shades; mostly it was glory holes. There is also a tiny grill at face height; it sort of reminds him of going to confession, when he could never quite see the face of the priest to whom he confessed his sins.

The images on the TV monitor are nothing new. Men fucking and sucking. Ted presses the channel button. They are all the same. He doesn't feel particularly turned-on. The images stop, and he steps out of the booth.

Down the aisle he catches sight of a young man with a red beard; he is slim with a pair of tight jeans that shows off his round ass. There is something peculiar about him, but he can't quite place it. He approaches the stranger slowly, and in the mirror opposite him, he catches the stranger's hearing aids from behind.

Ted has never seen him before. Is he a student here in New York? A horny tourist? A hustler newbie? Where is he from? He wants to ask, but not here. Any sort of conversation in this place would break the erotic tension between customers.

He gives the stranger a slight smile.

The stranger smiles back, perhaps a little too obviously for his comfort.

No. Ted changes his mind and moves on.

He feels the stranger following him.

He turns and sees the stranger giving him a soft it's-alright smile.

Ted is struck by the openness of his face. That's what's different about him, not even his ears or his bearing. Barely unable to restrain a smile, Ted steps into the nearest empty booth. He drops tokens into the slot. He unbuttons his shirt, licks his fingers, and tweaks his tits. He leans forward and sees through the mesh grill the stranger stepping into the booth next to his. He presses the UP button for both their window shades to lift.

He stands before the window and sees the mirror of his own furry chest; the stranger, seeing that Ted is indeed serious, drops more tokens into the slot. Ted does the same.

They grin at each other as the stranger lifts his shirt and exposes his equally hairy chest. Very nice.

Ted is enormously pleased. Until a few years ago, he had never felt proud of his hairiness; what turned him around was his hearing lover, who explained why hair was such a turn-on: "It means that you're a man, that's all."

The stranger apes Ted's motions across his chest; it is almost as if the stranger wishes to be Ted's mirror self. He combs with his fingers the fur covering his slight belly and surrounding his dark nipples, and massages his pectorals.

The stranger leans forward and says something.

"What?" He can't believe that this deaf man might be an oralist like him.

The stranger says something.

Ted shakes his head, not understanding.

Finally the stranger says, "I'm deaf." He leans to the side, whispering through the grill.

Ted stares, trying to lip-read through the mottled face grill. No such luck. He wonders whether he should show his own hearing aids, or sign. What if the deaf man is the type to gossip to his friends about who he sees in these places?

The stranger stands back and waves his hand. "Never mind." The stranger unzips and brings out his cock, gyrating his hips.

Ted bends down and stares up close at the stranger's crotch through the window dividing them. He pretends to suck the cock bobbing in front of him. But he hates opening his mouth wide and seeing himself look so silly in the pane of reflection, almost like a clown. Damn.

He stares angrily at the huge pane of glass, wishing more than ever that there was a glory hole right there, so he could swallow that beautiful cock whole. He stands up and finds the window shade shutting down from the other side.

Ted buttons up his shirt as quickly as he can, tucks himself in, and steps out of his booth.

He walks up and down the aisles. Damn. Where can he be now?

Doors open and close down the aisles, but the stranger has gone. Stepping outside on West 42nd Street, Ted heaves a sigh of relief. He should really stop hoping for a deaf man who'd truly understand his frustrations with the hearing world, and who'd use sign language with him and make him feel completely at home.

.

Raymond Luczak is the editor of Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader (1993, Alyson) and the author of St. Michael's Fall: Poems (1996, Deaf Life Press). He lives in New York City where he is editing his debut feature, Ghosted, which he wrote and directed. His new play on deaf people and AIDS, Interpretations: A Language of Loss, will open this month at the Illuminations Theatre with the Deaf in Houston, Texas. Remaining copies of the out-of-print Eyes of Desire can be found at his web site, www.raymondluczak.com, together with more information about the author and his work.

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/November 2001