I’m always up for an adventure. And I rarely say no to an experience that will provide good material for my blog or YouTube channel. So when my friend Matt suggested that we “lose our bathhouse virginity” in New York City, I was sold.
Bathhouses, like libraries and newspapers, are a dying breed in this part of the world. The Internet is killing them. It’s not a quick and easy death; instead, it’s slow, painful and drawn out. Indeed, it’s much easier to browse profiles of eligible men from the comfort of your own home—or even on your iPhone or iPad. And so, as more and more gay men turn to the Internet for dating and fun, time is running out for the bathhouses.
When Matt and I arrived at the bathhouse, we were quite certain that the address must be wrong. From the outside, the building was unassuming. But that’s the whole point; discretion is key. A security officer guarded the front entrance and directed us to the elevator.
From behind bulletproof glass, the shadowy bathhouse attendant asked us for the $40 cover charge. As it turns out, visiting the bathhouse can be an expensive habit. We emptied our belongings into tin trays for safekeeping, and were directed down a dark hallway to our lockers.
After disrobing at the lockers, we adorned ourselves in traditional bathhouse attire: a sole white towel wrapped around the waist. And thus, we nervously set out to explore the facility.
When walking the dim halls of the bathhouse, one can’t help but feel like they’re visiting a haunted house at some low-budget amusement park. You’re never sure what you’ll see around the next corner. And in either situation, one is equally likely to be accosted by groping hands with sinister intent.
While walking through the snaking hallways, we came across a number of men. Some were sitting in small rooms. Some were just standing and waiting. A few, mostly behind closed (or half-opened) doors, were in the throws of passion. Most of the men were in their 60s, and almost all of them were married.
Matt and I talked with a few of the men. They told us about their lives—their jobs, their wives and children. For them, being open about their sexuality wasn’t an option. And so, they did what was expected of them and started families. Visiting the bathhouse, for many of these men, was their escape. “When I’m here, I’m free,” one man told me.
Being 28, it’s easy to forget that only 30 or 40 years separate me from these men. And it’s equally easy to forget that today’s more accepting world has come on the backs, sacrifices, blood, sweat and tears of the generations before us. All of us are indebted to the men and women that have made our journeys easier.
More than a bang, I lost my bathhouse virginity with a whimper. Though not nearly as tantalizing as I had hoped, visiting the bathhouse was a learning experience. And, as it is part of our culture, I’d encourage every gay man to make at least one pilgrimage.
But the clock is ticking, so you better hurry.
Want to share your bathhouse story? Leave us a comment below, and let's remember to keep it clean :)