W hen Kenneth Polk and Robert Ross met at a mutual friend’s birthday celebration in 2015, body art served as the icebreaker.
As Polk and Ross discussed the similar Gemini tattoos on their upper arms, they discovered that the tag lines represented each other’s personal journeys.
Polk’s tattoo, which was fairly new at the time, sports the tag line “Conqueror,” which alludes to the many obstacles he has overcome. Ross’ tattoo features the tag line “I and I,” which is a Rastafarian saying about the internal spiritual connection with one’s creator, equality, and the oneness of all humanity.
“I thought it was pretty interesting to have met someone in such a random and organic way,” Ross recalls. “We started with our tattoos, each having been in a previous relationship of more than 10 years, and both relating to the experience of the untimely loss of a parent to illness.”
After their conversation, Polk wanted to get know Ross better, so he did something he had sworn never to do—chase after a guy. They exchanged phone numbers, and Polk asked if they could keep in touch.
“I didn’t think it would take a month for him to call me back, and almost counted it as a loss,” Polk recalls.
When the couple chatted by phone a month after they first met, Polk explained that he’d enjoyed talking with Ross at the party and that he had missed every clue that Ross might have been interested in a date. Ross had not seriously dated since his last breakup, even though he had been single for nearly six years.
Their first official date was to Hermann Park’s McGovern Centennial Gardens. “We spent the day strolling through the garden, listening to the waterfall and giggling like two kids,” Polk says. “Robert has a goofy sense of humor that I don’t think many people get to see.” They also had an honest discussion about finances, religion, pet peeves, and habits.
“I was a smoker trying to quit, and had literally just smoked my last cigarette the night he called,” Ross recalls. “I didn’t know [that Kenneth considered smoking to be] a deal-breaker.” Ross has now been smoke-free for three years.
They decided to take things slowly, and keep the fact that they were dating secret so that they could get to know each other without the influence of their overprotective friends and family.
“I really enjoyed getting to know Robert, but ‘slow’ is not the word to describe the pace we were going,” Polk says. “He was like a turtle, and I was beginning to lose patience.”
They continued to have lengthy, deep, and exciting conversations about their past, present, and hopes for the future. Strong feelings began to develop, but Ross was still hesitant to put any kind of label on their relationship. Polk, on the other hand, wanted answers.
“I knew deep down Kenneth might be ‘the one,’ so I wanted to be very intentional in every step as we got to know each other better,” Ross says. “I explained to Kenneth that dating was more than a game or a shot in the dark for me, and that when I dated, my intention was to have a partner for the long haul.”
Ross says when they finally moved in together, the transition was “very scary for me.”
“I had recently purchased my first home before we began dating, and I barely had time to give it my own decorating touches when Kenneth came in like a hurricane with his décor, suggestions, and critiques,” Ross says. “My desire to have him around and to make space for him led me to be a lot more considerate and compromising. I would say that to get to this point takes courage and an open mind.”
Ross proposed to Polk on his 39th birthday—June 10, 2017—at Hamburger Mary’s, a restaurant in Houston’s Montrose gayborhood known for its festive drag shows. What started out as a low-key party for eight quickly ballooned to 50 people after Polk’s friends and family clamored to join the celebration.
With help from drag performers Bubblicious and Alex’yeus Paris, Ross asked for everyone’s attention so he could make a toast.
“Kenneth, you deserve to be celebrated every day, not just on your birthday,” Ross said. “And babe, I want to be the one to celebrate you every day for the rest of your life.”
Ross then got down on one knee and held up a ring. Polk was so nervous that he grabbed the ring and almost forgot to say yes.
“When we hugged, I could feel him trembling, and when I saw the first tear, together we melted into each other,” Ross says.
Polk, 40, is a community manager for Asset Plus and a Houston Community College graduate. Ross, 44, is a media specialist for the Houston Health Department and a Texas Southern University alumnus.
They were married on July 7, 2018, by Dr. Rashaan Nowell at 5226 Elm Street, a special-events venue in Bellaire.
“My eldest sister was my best woman, and in her toast she shared her worries about my future happiness and the significance that marriage equality played in giving her ease in knowing I could have my own happily-ever-after and marry the man of my dreams,” Ross says.
The ceremony also included “jumping the broom,” which served as both an African-American tradition signifying a time when marriage was not legally sanctioned among slaves, as well as a “sweeping away” of their single lives and an entrance into commitment.
The grooms relied on a small army of LGBTQ vendors, including D’Concierge Wedding Planning and Events, For All Occasions florist, Unique 4u Photography & Graphics, photographer Dalton DeHart (their dear friend and LGBTQ community archivist), as well as community-ally vendors Wedding Cakes by Tammy Allen, Elegant Statements, Design on a Dime, and videographer Hott Houston Media Solutions.
The newlyweds will visit Hawaii to celebrate their nuptials on their one-year anniversary. They reside in Houston.
This article appears in the December 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.