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Tour de Life: Gorillas in the mist
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Tour de Life: Gorillas in the mist

by Beau Burriola - SGN European Correspondent

There is a sauna at our gym where a whole load of men seem to spend their day. It's as if they were born there, built right into that room and never leave, because although they go to the gym to sit in the sauna, I don't really see any of them go out into the gym itself. If you're Gay, you might find that intriguing, but I don't find it much fun to be cooking in a six-foot by six-foot room with a bunch of sweaty men who don't talk. It seems kind of bizarre to me, like a joke I don't quite get the punchline to.

I know the sauna because I pass it every day between my locker and the shower. There's a glass door and occasionally someone will come or go, or there will be a sort of ghoulish face hovering in the mist and looking out. It occurred to me during the second week I was going to this gym that there might be something other than cooking going on in there because I saw some guys giving one another sideways glances before they both headed over to it, opened the door, and disappeared into the mist. A couple of days later, I was on my way back from the shower and one of the same guys was just arriving when another guy went into the sauna, and the first guy seemed to hurry up his changing so he could race in.

All that makes me want to avoid the place at all costs. I get that people like public sex because there's danger to it, a kind of verboten excitement that people don't get being normal and having sex behind closed doors in - God forbid - a bed, but I don't get why it's still so popular. Like in the 1920s, I might understand why a guy would get his kicks at the local park, especially in a society of people who just don't get it. But today? It seems strange to me that after all the years of taking steps to get society to treat Gay folks like everybody else, there's this whole group of people who race into the shadows to be dark and shady about sex. But hey, live and let live. Nobody is harmed by it, so what do I care? It's strange to me, but so are people who like mustard on their French fries. So long as I don't slip on anything on the way to and from the shower, it's all just kind of part of the gym experience I know exists but have never been a part of - at least it was until yesterday.

When I arrived at the gym yesterday, one of the usual gorillas had just left the sauna to go to his locker, wearing his tiny sauna towel. Nobody else was in the locker room and I guess maybe he was hunting, at least that's the feeling I got from the electric expectation he was leering around the room with. I've learned not to look at the gorillas at all when this happens, because if you don't speak the language of sexual intrigue, you don't really want to chance saying something you don't mean to say. It's their habitat, and I'm just hoping to visit long enough to get changed and get out of there, so I try my hardest not to even slightly send any signals.

After a while of receiving no response, he moved very suddenly. When I turned, I saw him sitting there right on the bench not two feet away from me. I didn't know what to do, but I could sense he was paying close attention. I glanced up and saw that he was pretending to do something on his cell phone, maybe sending a text message, but I discovered rather quickly that what he was actually doing was resting his arm on his leg so that he could flash his bits at me.

Not wanting to move too suddenly as to frighten him or to move too slowly as to become prey, I decided the best thing to do was just to continue as if nothing at all had happened. Here was a man who clearly had his own ideas about what was going to happen. This was his habitat, and the way things worked. If it ever occurred to him that some folks preferred a bit of subtlety, he didn't show any signs he cared much.

Gradually, I got my gym clothes on - all the while humming something to myself so that my annoyed and nervous energy wouldn't be so apparent. He didn't budge from his spot and I could feel him waiting for me to respond somehow. When I didn't, he gave himself a little rub.

I got my shoes on and locked up my locker, getting away quickly and quietly.

I've been an openly Gay man for 12 years now, and I've come to a sort of peace (albeit sometimes delicate) with the awkward encounters I have with Gay men I have nothing in common with. I won't flatter myself to say these encounters happen all the time, but when they do, I feel kind of sad and lost. I find that the older I get, the more I wish we would all collectively evolve into something less & carnal.

But then, if this is the natural order of things, is it me who is out of place? Will I eventually become one of those Gay men who chooses to live outside the Gay community because being in the middle of it just seems too Gay? And if I do that, aren't I becoming just a little bit jaded? Maybe if you are a Gay man, you've just got to be okay with everything because any rejection of any sexuality - however tasteless you find it - is capitulation to inner homophobia.

Beau Burriola is a Brussels-based writer with a big, modesty-protecting towel and very strict locker room etiquette. beaubrent@gmail.com

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