Judging A Book By Its Cover
Judging A Book By Its Cover

Just recently, I was waiting for public transit. Then I saw this guy. He was six feet tall, with sandy brown hair, a narrow nose, clean-shaven and clean-cut. He wore pressed jeans, a gray pullover, Dock Martins, and a varsity-type jacket. My guess is he was thirty. He had a bag flung over his shoulder and wore no jewelry. He looked like the typical boy next door. I usually don’t pay much attention to guys like that in public. But something turned my head. He was reading Advocate. My gaydar is not the greatest, so I can never tell unless it is obvious the person is gay. If he were not reading that magazine, I would assume – straight.

The gay baths are the one place you can go to where you know everyone is gay. You can’t say the same for gay bars or clubs because straight men tag along with their gay friends. So you can never be sure. The gay baths are different. You know everyone is gay, and it is a magnet for many men still in the closet. Why are gay bathhouses the go-to place for closeted men? Because it is too risky for these guys to be spotted in a gay bar or club. So the baths are where closeted guys meet other gay men, as it is behind closed doors.

Being closeted, you have a preconceived notion of how gay men look and act. All you have to go on are the stereotypes presented in the mainstream media, such as dressing like a drag queen in a designer fashion house or a flannel and leather ensemble. But the more you go to the baths, the more those stereotypes break. It is such an eye-opener. If you see someone on the street, you cannot be sure if he is gay. In a bathhouse, you know for sure that person is gay. For the closeted, it is an educational culture shock. You see all these different gay men of all nationalities, all ages, all shapes, and all sizes.

When I first started going to the baths, I was amazed at the variety of men I would see. I would sit in the bathhouse lounge for hours and hours, just amazed. I’d see some guy and say to myself, “Wow! Is he gay? He doesn’t look gay.” That’s because I only had those stereotypes to draw on. I wouldn’t guess in a million years that some of the guys I would see were gay. Some of those men looked like the average Joe, unlike the gay flamboyant caricatures you see on television.

These days, it is still fascinating to sit in the lounge and be an observer. I like watching gay men interact and cruise one another in a bathhouse setting. I see some of the same men weekly, and eventually, I’ll start to analyze their habits. Like the guy who is so picky that he never does anything with anyone. Or the guy who does nothing but touch guys in the shower. Or the guy who never leaves his room, preferring to have guys come to him.

One favorite game I liked is the marriage game (before same-sex marriage became the law). I would sit in the lounge and try to spot as many wedding bands as possible. My record is twenty! With marriage equality legal, I can’t play that game anymore. Men sporting a wedding ring could be another man’s husband. When I see a straight married man, I try to imagine his life, marriage, wife, and kids. I think, ‘How did he find out about the baths’ and ‘Is he bisexual?’ There is one young married man who I see at the baths frequently. Picture a body like Jean-Claude VanDamme, the face of a model. The wardrobe is ripped jeans and a flannel shirt with no sleeves. Yet he is married, in the closet, and goes to the baths. I once overheard a conversation he had with a guy with whom he had just finished having sex. He said if a pill existed to make him straight, he’d be the first in line. It made me think about what his life would be like if he were honest with himself. He would not be lonely and so popular in the gay community. Yet here he is in the closet and married. But if I saw him on the street, I would think – straight.

Although you see so many different gay men at the baths, everyone’s identity is anonymous because of the atmosphere’s nakedness. The only thing people are wearing is towels. So there is no class distinction at the baths (rare for a gay setting) as you have no idea what the other person does for a living. By wearing nothing but a towel, everyone is on an equal level. Truck drivers interact with corporate lawyers, and so on. There are some gay men I’ve seen every week for ten years, and I still have no idea who they are or what they do. But there are other men I’ve talked to after weeks of passing by them in the hallways, and you wouldn’t believe some of their occupations. I’ve met vice presidents of corporations, criminal lawyers, insurance adjusters, computer programmers, hairdressers, many small business owners, and so on. But the number one job occupation of many bathhouse patrons has got to be a teacher. I don’t know why there are so many gay teachers in North America. But there is always at least one teacher roaming the halls.

Because of the baths’ anonymity and nakedness, you develop preconceived notions of the other gay men you see. For instance, I once talked with a mentally challenged gay man. Looking at him, you would think of a twink and circuit queen. But the minute you talk to him, it is apparent that he isn’t like that. Appearance-wise, you would never guess that he has a disability.

Then, there’s another guy that I have seen at the baths for years. We’ve never exchanged one word, but he gives off an arrogant, macho vibe. He is muscular with many tattoos and barely speaks a word to anyone. One day Mr. Macho brought his Ex to the baths. I didn’t know they were involved, so I talked with Mr. Ex, who told me Mr. Macho wasn’t arrogant or conceited. Instead, he is very insecure. Mr. Macho is continuously unsure about what he wants at the baths. I would have never guessed that at all. All I saw was his arrogance.

After going to the baths for so long, there are some things you can tell just by looking. For instance, the couples that go to the baths together.

First up, the Twinkie and the older man. They are otherwise known as the hustler and sugar daddy. After meeting at a bar to negotiate terms, they usually arrive together. Both hurried to the room, and the hustler abruptly left first after 15 to 30 minutes. He doesn’t even take the time to shower. He is gone in a flash. The older man, however, usually leaves later after showering. This duo always leaves separately. Very rarely have I seen a hustler and a customer arrive and leave together.

Sometimes two guys come in together, and it is hard to distinguish if they are lovers or friends. If they are a couple, they could have an open relationship. If only friends, maybe they dropped by to see what was happening. It is challenging to know which category they fall into. The only way to know for sure is to ask one of them, ‘Who is your friend?’

Then you have the men who are having an affair. There are many different combinations. Both men could be straight, or both could be gay. Or one guy is straight, and the other guy is gay. Once, I saw two white guys in their mid-thirties arrive at the baths together. They came in (at 2 PM on a weekday afternoon), had wild sex, showered together, and then left together. Both were wearing wedding rings.

But back to the guy I saw on public transit. As I was still trying to figure him out, he got off in an area that doesn’t have much of a gay community. You really can’t judge a book by its cover.

6 thoughts on “Judging A Book By Its Cover”

  1. What a great site saving me ten years of experience and research. As a thirty year old just coming out I am happy to have been armed with this knowledge before my first trips to the local bath house that would be scary to say the least.

  2. I have enjoyed your stories and would like to know if you are aware of any web sites that list the cities and the bath houses. Regards, Jason

  3. WOW, I can’t believe I even spotted this on the internet. Your stories are unbelievable. I’ve always wanted to go into a bath-house, and these stories really gave me a better understanding of this. Honestly, I really thank you. I’m not a really great looking guy (but I’m not a Joe Pesci either), so this info gives me a better understanding. Sounds like you are playing your odds when you decide to go there; just a chance of luck if you get hit on. I think I might decide to go now, but it might be out of state in Cali. As a Mexican, I sometimes see White Guys around my age going after other white guys too. But the info is really informative. Believe it or not, I want to go to a bath-house now! I guess it’s not knowing not that nothing much might happen the first time I would go(but might be pushing the old guys away). But’s OK, since I would just be cruising while everyone sees my hard-one. HAHAHAHHA

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