I was reading Tony's blog today, Hoshaw
. He has a post about a pretty famous bathhouse, SteamWorks, which is in Chicago (there's a couple actually, but he's referring to the Chicago one). I'm suprised that a guy who goes to seminary would be comfortable using a church metaphor to describe a bathhouse (I think he's just repeating a common euphemism, but still). He goes on to describe the bathhouse, but I think he leaves a few things out. I'm going to add my own thoughts here, based on what I've experienced (not only to work through it, but to offer a slightly different interpretation).
Tony's physical description pretty much matches what almost every bathhouse across the country looks like (I've found a few that are pretty "high class" -- but for the most part, they're pretty dingy). A plain facade, a secured entryway and a little man behind a glass booth (but even the pizza place down the street from me is covered in bullet-proof glass).
The worst one I've ever been to is here in DC. It's wholly unsecured, located in a horrible part of town (not that there are "great" parts of DC) and extremely run down. I went once and decided that getting mugged on my way up the street was not a happy thing.
But there's more to these places than just how they look.
That atmosphere is oppressive. There's rarely any talking (except, maybe the common, or non-sex, areas); communication is handled non-verbally, mainly with the eyes. If you like a guy, you make eye contact. Mistaken eye contact is best avoided, as it could send the wrong guy the wrong signal.
Then the chase beings. You generally follow each other around, until you find a place that you can meet up (with an easy out, in case of that mistaken eye contact thing I mentioned). Depending on the guy, it's usually a public place, like the sauna or steam room or hot tub or showers or whatever. Most bathhouses have private rooms, but there are usually lots of public areas designated for sex.
There are some guys who don't wait for eye signals, though. They move in without "permission" and don't really know how to take no for an answer. I've had to physically pull a guy's hands off of me more than once.
I have been in some bathhouses that restrict sexual activitiy to certain areas (or certain areas at certain times), but most are basically open free for alls -- any place, any time.
I had invited one guy to my "private room" one night, and quickly regretted the decision. He was a little too rough and though I told him to stop, he really didn't seem to care. I ended up kicking him through the door just to get him off me. The owners were sympathetic and he ended up paying to fix the broken door jam.
But that's the extreme it's rarely violent. Most of the guys were nice enough (you kind of have to be, especially if you're hoping for sex) and I've never felt awkward or embarrassed while inside.
But drug use, very public and group sex, little to no condom use -- those are not the extremes, they've been the norm in every bathhouse I've been in across the country.
I normally went on weekends, so the places were always packed -- hundreds of guys, usually. They almost always had dress codes (a towel, basically) and some had rules as to where nudity was permitted, but not all.
The staff varied from place to place. I always wondered what they'd tell people when asked what they did for a living. I'm pretty sure most places have a strict no sex on the job policy, but I've had a couple of workers ask me to wait for them until their shifts ended. I couldn't imagine working in a bathhouse.
So, despite all that. I still went. I went a lot. And I've said before, I miss it sometimes. I don't know why -- it's not like there was ever any real connection with anyone. But sometimes I'll hear music or smell something that reminds me of some bathhouse I've been in.
And the strongest temptations for me right now, are these places. I know they're there, ready and waiting. And they'll always be there. Always. I pray I never see the inside of one again.
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