Public bath houses are one of the oldest communal traditions that date back to the Indus Valley Civilization (present day Pakistan & western India) 3300-1300 BCE.
Continuing through the height of both the Ancient Greek and Roman Empires (but not limited to), this was a place for people to bathe, relax and socialize with others in the community.
And through the years Public Bathhouses have managed to maintain it’s popularity through various subcultures.
But when you think of Bathhouses, or it’s more mainstream term, the Saunas- your mind tends to rewind and play those infamous scenes of Brian Kinney in Queer as Folk. And as sensationalized Queer as Folk may have been on particular subjects, I have to agree that the director of the show had to have experienced the Saunas- because it’s depiction and accuracy of the Baths was undeniably true.
Walking into one of Central London’s biggest- yet somehow underground sauna, I couldn’t help but be a bit nervous as I walked through the entrance and paid 15pounds. (For those back in the US- thats roughly 25.00 USD)
Though this wasn’t my first time going to a sauna in London, this particular one was intriguing to me because of its size. Oh and, let me not forget, I was going on a Saturday night at 4am. (It’s location is in that of a london club district that is known for its heavy drug use and 24hr raving- on the weekends)
After stripping down until the only thing left was a thing towel around my waist, I turned to my friend and proceeded to leave the changing room and vicariously live those exciting days of being gay in the 70s (New York & San Francisco).
The entire Sauna was dark. Unless you have perfect vision, you could hardly see the end of the hallway- but that added to the atmosphere.
As we turned corners we decided to sit in the actual heat/sweat room. Not only five minutes into the room, was a boy summoned by another, sitting in the corner. The two started giving oral sex as everyone else sat, sweated, and looked around checking each other out.
We decided to leave the heatroom shortly after, unveiling a much more darker room than the one previously mentioend. It was in the dark room where beds were lined up across both sides of the wall, with the only lighting shimmering from flat screen televisions showing gay porn.
In the dark room men were laying on their stomachs and backs. Some were sleep and some weren’t. Some were having oral sex, while some were dreaming about it.
As we watched, we saw one guy actually in a deep sleep- snoring. Now, I’ve heard stories about guys who check into the saunas on a Friday night and not coming out until Sunday or even Monday mornings- but I just assumed the story was embelleshed. Now it seemed believable.
After leaving the room, we heard a bit of commotion, in which one of the cleaners asked everyone to step aside so that he could clean up the “blood” which was on the floor.
We decided to turn the corner, walking past small closet spaces with doors- some closed, and some opened with men standing in the doorway. “This is where you pick up a guy,” I said to my friend. Young and old, men of all ages, at least of legal age, they checked our ids, were standing in the doorways.
If someone was interested, the unwritten rule is to make a “pass,” which is generally a light touch to your arm or your waist.
We decided to make a conversation with boy who made a pass at us. He was standing in one of the doorways, and seemed to be of around the same age (mid 20s). He was very attractive; tall, tan skin, black hair and nice eyes. We asked him what he was doing there and through answering- he asked us the same thing. We couldn’t really give a reason, except, “we thought we’d check this place out.”
After a short lived conversation, we walked away for a few minutes. We came back and his door was shut. Curiously wanting to see what was going on, we knocked on his door several times. After no answer, we realized it was a private shag.
We spent the next hour walking around back and forth between the various rooms. After deciding it was time to go, we headed toward the showers to help restore our sanity. The showers were in a community room, with no seperation or division of clear space. No longer a surprise, were men hooking up.
After my experience at the Sauna, I spoke to a man about the concept in its entirey. He explained, that the mere reason for their existence and popularity in gay sub culture is that the surrounding communities would rather have it confined in one space- as opposed to being out in the open.
What do you all think? Have you been to a sauna, and if not, would you go?