Two Chapters from
WITH THEIR HANDS
A Deaf Gay Novel-in-Progress
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 generationspost-Stonewall
and post-AIDSin 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.
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
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 heand so many othersget 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
The stranger's jaw hardens
as he stares straight ahead at the movie, nearing its usual frenzied
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
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
He gives the stranger
a slight smile.
The stranger smiles back,
perhaps a little too obviously for his comfort.
Ted changes his mind and moves on.
He feels the stranger
He turns and sees the
stranger giving him a soft it's-alright
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.
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,
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
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,
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
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.
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