It just occurred to me that this month (August 2001) I would be celebrating ten years of going to the baths - my tenth anniversary. Wow, I cannot believe it. The past ten years have really flown by. I realized at age 31, I have spent one third of my life at the baths. From the years 1991 to 2001, I have spent ten years walking the halls of a bathhouse. That is longer than being in high school and university, combined. That is longer than some of the jobs I have had. Ten years is definitely longer than some relationships. Just think, there is a ten-year-old child running around somewhere. That is how long I have been at it.
Going to the baths has been the one constant in my life for the past ten years. Come rain or shine, snow or sleet, summer or winter, a week has not gone by that I have not spent some time at the baths. Why have I spent so much time at a place with drugs, prostitution, narcissism, and sleaze? Well, I think I explained my reasons in the story, Why Gay Men Go To The Baths. You should re-read that essay again to understand my reasoning for going.
It does not even feel like it has been ten years. It just seems like yesterday that I was a trembling 21 year old that walked through those bathhouse doors. To tell you about my first bathhouse experience, I need to take you back a few years. As an 18 year-old, I was experiencing all of those feelings towards guys, and trying to deny it. I spent a lot of time in the shower area at a local pool to watch guys. However, the shower area turned out to be a major cruising spot for gay men. I used to stand under the hard pounding of the water for hours and hours watching the action, but never participating. Curious about that pool, I wondered if there were anymore like it. So, I opened up the yellow pages and tried to find some. It was in the phone book where I stumbled across the word "Bathhouse".
I went to one (which wound up being the one that I talk about in all of these stories), but did not have the guts to go in. I was so naive about being gay, that I had no clue what this place was. For three years, I used to stand outside and watch various men come in and out. Finally I found the courage to go in. I went in and was amazed at what I saw. Rooms everywhere, men walking around only wearing towels, and here I was not knowing what to do. I went to my room, undressed, and sat on my bed. Sure enough, someone came into my room and we kissed and cuddled for an hour. This was the first time I had ever kissed anyone, man or woman. Considering my lack of experience and knowledge of sex and STDs, I was damn lucky that this guy only wanted to cuddle. I have no idea who this person was, but I am grateful he was so gentle and that he was my first.
After showering I left, vowing never to return. But of course as all Bathhouse addicts know, we keep coming back for more and more. For the first five years, I kept up a vicious cycle. I would run out of the baths, berating myself for going, and thinking this time would be the last time. Then the next day, I could not get to the baths fast enough. It has only been recently, in the past four years that I have grown comfortable with the idea of going to the baths. Through therapy, I have realized that sex is not a dirty word. Sex is a beautiful experience between two people that should be wonderful and enjoyable. Why should I apologize for going to a venue where sex may take place? We are all consenting adults, if we want sex, then we should have it.
Going to the baths has taught me so much about life and being gay. All you have to do is re-read my stories to know what I have learned and observed. By going to the baths, I feel like I have gone to gay university for ten years. And the conversations I have had with men I've met at the baths, from all over the world, have been experiences I will treasure forever.
Being 31 has now put me in a different age bracket. I used to be slotted in the newbie category. I was the naïve little kid trying to make sense of the whole bathhouse experience. Now that I am somewhat more confident about my sexuality, I have been slotted into the category of regular bathhouse patron. Friendships at the baths are on a superficial level. However, I am on a first name basis with some of the other bathhouse regulars. As well as the bathhouse staff. But with life being cyclical, I see so many newbie's, who used to be just like me. A few times, I have approached some of these guys, and offered some advice on the whole Bathhouse scene. But unfortunately, most of these guys are so scared to be in a bathhouse. To hide their insecurity, they act with a lot of bravado, so they are very hard to approach.
Recently I struck up a conversation with a newbie I have seen on and off at the baths. We chatted for a bit and then he left. Afterwards I talked to the desk clerk, saying he was so cute. The desk clerk said yes, but that he is a regular coming in at lunchtime almost every day! In fact, he checked his receipt and it showed he checked in at 12:00 noon and left 6 hours later!
I guess he is inching out of the closet more and more. He seems just like me ten years ago: Going to the baths at all hours of the day and learning everything about gay life in that environment.
Like I said, it is all cyclical.
Update – 2011
It has ten years since I wrote this story. I'm a lot older and wiser now. This past August it has been 20 years I have been going to the baths. Where has the time gone? At the baths of course! Thanks for reading all these years, and see you in the showers.