I HEAR A SYMPHONY
He was a local Maryland politician and we were introduced by mutual friends. Larry Young was a big man -- tall, heavy-set and light-skinned, with a deep, resonating voice. He was the first person I ever met with the skin condition vitiligo. It was the first thing he explained to me when we met, that he was slowly losing pigment to his skin. He placed my hands in his and let me examine them; he brushed his hands to my face and explained that his condition was not contagious. It never bothered me. In fact, I found it strangely fascinating.
Before Larry, I had never experienced a lover who treated me with the kind of romance he did. He would call me from the Maryland State Capitol Building in Annapolis when he would have to be away at work.
“Hey, pardner,” he would say, like a cowboy might greet a passing horseman.
“I have to get ready to go, but I need you to do something for me.”
“I want you to lick your finger and run it across your nipple, then place it under your heart.” He lowered his voice in a more inviting tone.
“Just do what I ask, pardner.”
Larry pleaded and I obeyed. He continued, “Do you feel me, baby? That’s my heart beating for you. Now go to bed and dream about me.”
And I always did. Larry Young was magnetic and charismatic -- who could help but dream about him? It’s the little things that leave lasting impressions. He would have a driver pick me up, just to go grocery shopping. He eventually paid for an instructor to teach me how to drive. I was in my twenties, way past the age when my friends had gotten their drivers licenses. Larry was the first man in my life to step up and offer me a sense of my own freedom and self-worth. And I loved him for it.
During one of our many visits to New York City, Larry took me to see the original cast of Dreamgirls. I did not tell him that I had already seen the show with my best friend. I loved that production and could have seen it a hundred times. Besides Dreamgirls, on that trip we also saw the musicals Timbuktu! and A Chorus Line. On a different occasion while in New York, we saw James Earl Jones in the play “MASTER HAROLD”…and the boys. I was so close to the front of the stage that I felt James Earl Jones spit on me! I liked going to New York with Larry. There we could get lost in the crowd, unlike in Baltimore where people knew him wherever we went, and he had to stop, talk to them, and be a politician.
Larry was not an out of the closet politician, but it wasn’t like we lived a life of exclusive secrecy in Baltimore. He did not have a “beard,” meaning there was no wife or girlfriend to give the illusion of heterosexuality. However, rumors did persist throughout his career. He had a staff of very handsome men, and my close friends were suspicious that perhaps he was cheating on me with some of them. But their speculations did not bother me; everyone on his staff always treated me with respect and professionalism. A girlfriend of one of his assistants did try to blame their break up on the long hours that her boyfriend spent with Larry. There was even a verbal confrontation that made the evening news. An angry woman, (the girlfriend), shouting at Larry to leave her front yard was the teaser that seemed to blow everything out of proportion.
“See what I told you?” my good friend Kay said. She had called to let me know that she had seen the news broadcast.
“See what, Kay?” I responded in defense.
“I never trusted that Larry Young. The news said there was some kind of scuffle out in the front yard over a man.”
“Kay, don’t believe everything you see on the news. There are two sides to this and I will wait ‘till I hear Larry’s side.”
I learned early on how to stand by my man in the face of the public and my friends. Not for a moment did I doubt Larry’s fidelity.
We never sneaked in gay bars through a back door. We never went to any gay bars except one, in Baltimore. It was an old gay bar, not far from where he lived off Eutaw Street, and we dropped in from time to time. But it was only because Larry felt he had a “legitimate” reason for being there.
“This bar is a business located in my district,” he would explain, as he sipped his cranberry juice. “I have an obligation to represent and support all the people in my district.”
So that was the limit of his gay social life with me in Baltimore. There would be no dancing in clubs until the wee hours of the morning, although he did take me dancing once at the Nickel Bar in New York.
Larry tried as much as he could, and within limits that were comfortable, to expose me to his professional life. He worked hard to explain the importance of what he did for the community of Baltimore. He took me to the opening of the General Assembly and showed me first hand how the state legislature works. I attended the opening day ceremonies and, although I could not be his date for the cocktail party, I accompanied his aides and was allowed to blend in.
Larry was the first man I was involved with who was an exclusive “top.” He took that role seriously. Emotionally and sexually, he had to be the one in control. That’s where we had problems. He wanted me to be a quiet, passive lover who stayed in the background. But my personality was too “out there” to settle for being quiet. I loved our trips and our Sunday ritual of massaging his scalp with Sulfur 8 ointment. He used to let me go through his closets and select a tie for each of his suits; I would pre-tie each in a Windsor knot so they were ready to pull over his head. He was romantic and sweet and kind to me, as long as I stayed in my place. But I could not just stay in place and fill that role. Besides -- I enjoyed playing the dominant role, sexually. It was one of the things I relished about gay life. You could be a top one night and flip the script and be a bottom the next. There was no such flipping with Larry. I was very proud of being gay and could not accept my life in a closet, yet I was also very much in love with him and proud to have such a good man in my life. It didn’t matter if it came with conditions.
Larry was a very spiritual man. If he had not been in politics, I am sure he would have been a preacher. On Sundays, he would take his mom and my mom with us to church. He always seemed to connect with the message. My mother adored him. She liked anybody who would pick her up and take her to church.
I enjoyed the music but was always turned off by the fire and brimstone sermons against gays. Over the years, I had been hit upon by some of the same Baptist ministers who denounced gays. I saw so much hypocrisy in the church and it all seemed so theatrical to me, but I went anyway to make Larry happy.
When Larry and I saw A Chorus Line, he explained to me that he could no more stop being in politics than those dancers could stop dancing. As I watched that story of passion, competition, and sacrifice play out on stage, I couldn’t truly appreciate what it meant to sacrifice for a dream. Larry knew his sacrifice. And part of it would be me. I was a free spirit, way too edgy for the conservative dreams of 1980’s politics. Larry was seeking a seat as a state senator, which was more prestigious than his seat in the State House of Representatives. His life was very public and he was under a lot of scrutiny. He could not afford a risk like me; I was becoming a liability to his career.
I could not understand it then. When he broke up with me, I found it very hard to accept. I had finally found a man who was good to me, did not abuse me, did not destroy my credit, and now he was dumping me for being gay!
One afternoon, he was attending an important political meeting at the hotel where I worked, the Hyatt Regency. I was still in the pain of rejection when I bumped into him in the hotel lobby.
“I am not a toy to be discarded because it is too hard to figure out how to play with me!” I blurted out, in front of everyone present. He stopped in his tracks. One of his political supporters, Billy Murphy, turned to him very quickly and said, “You need to handle this.”
When I think of how Marilyn Monroe threatened the Kennedys after she was dumped by JFK, I am grateful that I did not end up like her. Fortunately, I knew no political secrets. Larry was calm and never raised his voice. It could have been ugly. He asked me to go outside with him for a walk. We took a tense stroll along the crosswalk bridge of the Hyatt Regency, looking out over the Inner Harbor. He consoled me and explained again how important his career was to him and said that the things he wanted to do for his community far outweighed the risks he was willing to take to maintain a relationship with me. He loved me, but he had to leave me. When I returned to the hotel, although I felt embarrassed, I felt I had stood up for myself and stayed true to myself, no matter what the cost.
Larry continued to help me throughout the years, giving me advice and encouragement. He used to sit on various health committees and I will never forget the day he called to warn me about a new threat running rampant in the community, particularly in the gay community.
“Hey, pardner,” he said, in that familiar, mock drawl. “There is a disease out there that the children [gay people] can’t get a shot to get rid of. You be careful, okay?” A year later, the Surgeon General announced the AIDS crisis.
Years later, in 1998, Larry would have his Senate seat taken from him in a scandal. I breathed a sigh of relief that it was not a gay scandal, but I felt his pain because I knew how much he loved serving the people of Maryland. The Senate expelled him for allegedly using his position to profit his private business, a health-consulting firm called the LY Group, and for accepting and soliciting gifts in violation of ethics laws. Even though he was eventually acquitted of criminal bribery, he lost the thing he so cherished.
He rebounded by becoming a radio talk personality. The following year in 1999, I was a guest on his program, promoting my one-man show, FREEda Slave: Mask of a Diva, just as I was preparing to leave for California. He greeted me in the offices of Radio One with a big hug. The years had passed for both of us. He was thicker, his hair was grey, and I could see that the vitiligo had spread further across his body. But the smile and the voice that made me melt were still there.
When I first saw you I never imagined a feeling could grow so much inside me How we nurtured that growth The careful pains we took to make the foundation strong This world says our love cannot be discovered All affections must be hidden My soul begs to be touched But my hands must not be felt Because I am loving you at a distance Touching you with my heart But not with my hands Soar on free spirit That is the life you must lead I can’t hold you back from reaching those stars above They belong to you It was wrong for me to detour your flight There are so many heights you have yet to reach Thank you for letting me go and soar The years have come and gone I see now what you meant Soar on free spirit I know the life you have led For I have lived it too You touched my soul with your heart And it’s just like I feel your hands.
© dale guy madison
“Be true to yourself, even if it means you lose the love you want"