He meant eight miles from the hinterland of Queens, by car, without traffic.
When I arrived, I discovered that the gay neighborhoods of Manhattan were thirty miles away, two hours by train!
Cut off from the usual venues for meeting people, I started hanging out in online chatrooms -- you waited there until someone attractive showed up, then started an Instant Message conversation.
But you had to be careful. Profile pictures might be ten years old, or of someone else entirely. Guys dropped 20 pounds, added a few inches, and changed their age. Sometimes they were really much older. Sometimes much younger.
Once I had made the date and was getting ready to go out the door when the guy said "By the way, I'm not really 25. I'm 15."
Soon I learned some strategies to weed out the underaged:
1. They didn't want to talk about their jobs or school.
2. They talked about their parents a lot.
3. They wanted to "hang out," not go out on a date.
4. They wanted to know "what it's like" to have sex with a guy.
Of course, some older guys who were closeted might be eliminated, too, but it didn't matter. There were lots of choices in the chatrooms.
I immediately crossed him off the list of potential boyfriends, but we continued to chat. We had a lot in common. He was from a working-class household: his dad was a truck driver, and his older brother was an auto mechanic. He wasn't out to anyone. He liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Pokemon, and the Harry Potter books, and he was taking piano and judo lessons.
We didn't talk about sex -- that was my #1 rule in chatrooms, regardless of age -- but we talked about cute guys, dating, coming out, and gay culture. I heard about his crushes on his judo sensei and his English teacher, and encouraged him to come out to his best friend. He heard about my research projects and my romances with Blake and his roommate Joe.
"Oh, and my brother wants to meet you, too."
In that case, fine.
Liam turned out to be a little shorter than me, firm but not muscular, with sandy blond hair and blue eyes and a warm handshake. His brother, Ozzie, had massive biceps and a ready smile.
We browsed at the Different Light and went to a Japanese restaurant, and once Ozzie took me aside and said "Thanks for being such a good friend to my brother. You really helped him."
I did that?
"None of us knew anything about being...you know, gay. You really helped."
I did that?
"And it was so great that you haven't put any pressure on him to have sex. You could have really taken advantage of him."
"Well...you know, I can restrain myself."
Liam decided to attend NYU, and in August 2000, he moved into the Goddard Residence Hall on Washington Square East, about a mile from my apartment.
"Only a mile away!" he emailed me. "We should definitely hang out. Guess what -- my 18th birthday is coming up on Friday!"
"Nothing really. It's too soon to go home for the weekend, and I don't really know anybody on campus yet."
"You're in the biggest party town in the world. We'll figure something out. I'll invite Yuri."
But Yuri couldn't make it, so Liam and I went out alone, to a barbeque place in the West Village, then for frozen yogurt, then for a walk along Christopher Street, where Gay Liberation began.
"You're old enough for a 18+ dance club," I said. "Do you want to go?"
"Maybe later. Right now I'd like to see your apartment."
Did he mean....?
"I want to look at your books on gay history."
A little disappointed, I said "Ok, fine."
We returned to the apartment I shared with Edward the Art Appraiser. He was camped out in the living room, so after saying hello, we went into the bedroom. I sat on the desk chair, and Liam looked through my bookcase. Eventually he took down the massive 1978 edition of Gay American History and sat down on the bed to leaf through it.
"You can sit next to me, if you want."
"Well, it's a little warm in here."
"Yeah. We should take our shirts off."
We sat on the bed, side by side, shirtless, thighs and arms touching. I wasn't going to push myself on Liam, not after his brother's vote of confidence, not without a clearer signal. But there weren't any clear signals. We were two friends leafing through a book.
I checked my clock. "A little after 11:00. Why?"
He put the book aside, leaned over my lap, and started kissing and groping me. I responded.
The next morning we had another session, then got up and went out to breakfast. "I had no idea that you were interested," I said.
"Well, I don't think we should be like boyfriends, but I wanted to thank you for being so nice. Sort of a birthday present." He laughed.
Ok, I was a little disappointed, but who can complain about a night with a hot guy? "Why did you ask the time before making a move?"
"I didn't want to get you in trouble, so I waited until it was legal for us to be together. I was born at 10:36 pm, so technically I wasn't 18 until 10:36 pm last night."
"Well -- thanks for being cautious."
I didn't have the heart to tell him that the legal age of consent in New York is 17, not 18.
See also: My Date with the Teenage Model and The High School Bodybuilder.; Yuri and the Penis Size Contest