After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together and David exceeded.
— First Samuel 20:41
In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
— Romans 1:27
I received word this morning that Tony died. I now feel at liberty to write down his story.
The internet is the gay bar of 2004. I don’t drink (much) or smoke and am nervous wreck sitting alone on a bar stool. Gay.com affords me the luxury chatting with gay men in an environment where my ability with words can come to the fore. 90% of chat in a gay chat room is welcoming people as they come into the room and saying good-bye to them as they exit the room. 9% is an outlet for hooking up for recreational sex. 1% is making friendships that either lead to coffee, dating, and/or recreational sex. I have made some significant friends online. Tony was one of them.
When I first saw Tony’s picture in his profile the thing that caught my attention was his hair. He had the most gorgeous thick head of black, curly hair. His picture was taken while he was looking longingly out at the ocean.
I struck up an online conversation with him and discovered that he was from England. He lived in Astoria. Our first conversation centered on him teasing me about my use of American spelling and the superiority of the King’s English; colour versus color and bonnet versus hood of a car. It was good nature and not sexual in nature.
In subsequent conversations I learned that he worked in an auto parts store, that he was an atheist, a smoker, had cats. I also learned that he had a son who had serious medical problems related to childhood diabetes. He was greatly pained by his son’s illness and by the fact that his son lived in the Midwest.
My chats with Tony became more frequent and eventually I asked if I could come to Astoria and take him out to dinner. He was reluctant, but I can be persistent if not annoying. Eventually he agreed and we set a date, time and place.
On a Saturday evening I drove to Astoria and into the parking lot of the agreed upon restaurant. Tony had described his truck and I saw him sitting there waiting for me. When he got out of the truck I was reminded that pictures of people online seldom resemble them in real life. However, the one thing that remained true of Tony was that amazing head of black, curly hair. It reminded me of a lion’s mane. In fact, Tony’s screen name was T-Tiger, the name fit.
I could tell he was very nervous as we were seated at the table. I was charmed by his English accent and by his bashfulness. We occupied ourselves studying the menus and each other. Once our orders were placed we had no barriers and I tried engaging him in conversation. Online he had been playful and articulate. In person he was painfully shy. I did most of the talking and by dessert the tension had eased a bit.
We walked out to his truck. It was dark out but I suggested a ride to the beach. I got in his truck and he began to tell me of his love for the ocean. I was relieved that I had found a topic that could animate him. We drove along dark forest roads and eventually came to a clearing with a bit of sand and a large log that had drifted on the beach. We got out of the truck and stood in the cold windy night. The only way that I knew the ocean was in front of us was its sound. We both commented on loving the sound of the ocean. It was too cold and windy to do much more than stand and listen to the roar of the ocean. Eventually, we returned to the truck.
We drove back to town in silence, not awkward silence but thoughtful silence. Tony asked if I would like to see his apartment. “Tis not much, Dave. I don’t have a lot of furniture.” I told him I would like to see his place and he seemed pleased.
There was a rickety set of steps that led down to his apartment and then a wooden walkway that took us to the end of the building. Once I entered his apartment I realized that Tony was being truthful about not having much furniture. There was a dining room table, two wooden chairs (both piled with books and clothing), and the cat litter box. A small curtain stood open that revealed his small bedroom. In the bedroom was a large and unusual collection of radios and electronic gear.
I stood in his apartment and was at a loss of what to say. “Nice place,” did not seem like something either of us could believe. Instead I offered, “Thanks for inviting to see your apartment.” There was small talk about the cats and dinner.
Out of the blue Tony said, “I guess this is the awkward part, huh Dave?” Indeed much of the evening had been the awkward part. But this was now truly awkward. There was no couch and which we could sit and I could make my patented “Dave Moves.” Instead, I simply asked, “Can I kiss you, Tony?” I put my arms around his back and drew his face down toward mine. I ran my fingers through his thick black hair and then kissed him.
Tony began to shake and I stood back a bit and could see that he had begun to cry. “I’m sorry, mate. No one has ever kissed me like that.” I kissed him again and his tears and crying only increased. The tighter I held him, the more he convulsed. We sat on the edge of the small, unmade bed. He told me the story of the last time he had invited someone to his flat. The man had become violent and had forced Tony to have sex with him.
I stoked Tony’s hair and kissed him on the neck. I told him that he was a good man and that I only wanted to do what felt good and comfortable to him. He asked me to kiss him again and I did.
I had not intended to spend the night. But I felt that leaving Tony would have been the wrong thing to do. His bed was too small for the two of us, but it allowed me to hold him and allowed him to hold me. I did not sleep that night. Tony’s cats seemed jealous of my attention and one would lie down nearly on top of my head. My eyes watered much of the night, not from emotion but from allergies to the cats. Tony, however, seemed to relax in my arms and now and then would apologize for crying so much.
During that night I learned that Tony’s parents had basically disowned him for being gay. At one point Tony’s father had chased him from the house with knife threatening to kill him if he ever returned. Tony had had only brief conversations with his mother and had not seen her for quite some time. It was no surprise to me that Tony was an atheist.
I left early that next morning. Tony thanked me for dinner and spending the night. I drove home wondering what to make of my unusual evening. I had hoped that I had brought a certain amount of love and caring into Tony’s life.
I did not see Tony again for quite some time. Our online chats continued, but were more sporadic as he did not come online that often after our date. But over the next few months I learned more about Tony. His son’s illness had progress and had become life threatening. Tony went to Kansas City to be near his son. His son rallied a bit and Tony returned home. Then Tony received news that his son had died as a result of complications due to diabetes. He returned for his son’s funeral. His parents did not attend the funeral of their grandson.
Tony was in great despair over the death of his son. When Tony and I would chat online, I tried to offer comfort and would end our conversations with, “I love you, Tony.” And he would reply, “Thanks, mate, I love you too.” We both knew this was not a romantic love that would result in a relationship other than that of friends, but it was a genuine love.
In our even more sporadic conversations the next year, I learned that Tony was now experiencing physical difficulties similar to that of his son. His blood sugar would get dangerously low and he had blacked out on two occasions. There was some related nerve damage to his hand. He would be coming to Portland for surgery on his hand. Tony had never had surgery and was terrified of the prospect. I asked when and where his surgery would be and if he would allow me to be with him before he went into surgery.
Tony seemed touched that I would offer to be there. I assured him that I would.
As I walked across the hospital grounds I saw Tony seated on a bench smoking a cigarette and reading a book. He had dyed his beautiful black hair blonde! I nearly did not recognize him.
“Dave! I really didn’t think you would come. You didn’t have to do this, mate.”
I assured him that it was not a problem and sat next to him. “I’m scared, Dave.”
“I know you are, Tony.” At this point my pastoral care training was suppose to kick in and I would offer to pray with him and then leave. Instead, I watched him smoke his cigarette and we sat in silence until it was time for him to go check in. I gave him a hug and watched him walk into the hospital.
I did not hear from Tony for quite some time. His surgery, while going well, was not ultimately successful and his physical ailments increased. He returned to England for a brief time and we chatted once or twice. And then he returned to the states and I went to visit him and take him to dinner.
Early this September we chatted and Tony indicated that he wanted to go back to England. A friend had offered the airfare and he felt it would be his last opportunity. I assured him that I would miss him and that I loved him. “I love you too, mate.” We joked one last time about the superiority of the King’s English. I wished him a safe journey.
Upon going online this morning to gay.com a message appeared in the main room window. Hugs Bear asked if Rusty had had a chance to talk to me since last night. I told him that I had not been on line for a few days. Rusty wanted to let me know that a mutual friend had died. I knew immediately that it was T-Tiger. I signed off and could not even weep at the keyboard. Instead, I went out and mowed my yard and watered the plants.
Shortly after my first visit to Tony in Astoria and having had spent the night, Tony brought up something in conversation about that night. “Dave, there is something you need to know about the night you came to my place. I am embarrassed to admit this but there was a gun underneath my bed. It is the only way I felt safe. I have been hurt so many times.” I was stunned. “Thank you for what you did that night, Dave. I have never been held like that before.”
Tony, safe passages, friend. I’m glad you made it home, mate.
If you are a reader of my Haircut and Homily and live in Oregon, you will be voting on Measure 39, which would write into the Oregon Constitution that marriage can only be defined as between a man and a woman. It is primarily a legal issue and most likely will pass. I urge you to vote “NO” on Measure 39, not just because gay men and women need legal rights when entering into an ongoing, serious relationship. I urge you to vote “NO” because if and when it passes hundreds of Tonys will be pushed into the shadows one more time and be forced to live out their lives in shadowy ways … with guns under their beds and their hearts wrapped in cement.
I don’t ask for this often, but I need to hear from you in response to this Haircut and Homily. I have had a really shitty day. Tony will not be online tonight to say, “I love you, mate.” Write. Call. Drop by. Hell, send flowers … but by all means vote “NO” on Measure 39.