Oct 7, 2005
Volume 33
Issue 40

Tuesday, Sep 24, 2019 01:55

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Tour De Life by Beau Burriola
Bathhouse Etiquette
"It's bathhouse etiquette," Lim said in response to my question about why men at the bathhouse bother with the little towel at all. The whole conversation was a big taboo, but more than that, it seemed contradictory. "Bathhouse etiquette?" I asked in disbelief. "Are you serious? Sure, why not?"

It seemed bizarre to me that a place where men grope in the darkness for borrowed affection would have much use for etiquette of any kind, but then who was I to say? I stared out the window of Cafe Vita and tried to contemplate Miss Manners giving tips on Bathhouse Etiquette: Always neatly fold your little towel and make your rubber bed. Always ask permission before you stare lecherously. Always say please and thank you, daddy, daddy.

"Even the armpit" of the Gay community needs rules," Lim said, looking amused at my expression. As a four year veteran bathhouse worker and regular, Lim was unquestionably the expert to talk to about the story I'm writing involving a young Seattle guy who regularly visits a bathhouse. Even without the story, Lim's stories and observations are very entertaining.

"I didn't mean to say it was the armpit," I started to say, but was cut off. "Mmm-hmm. No, hon, that's exactly what you said. Well, I didn't mean it like that," I said, turning red, but of course I had meant it just like that. As a Gay man, I've always tried to keep my mind open to things I don't know or understand. If I don't appreciate every part of our community, I'm not convinced I don't at least have something to learn from it.

So I try to learn - mostly through stories of other people - and try to keep from closing judgment. That's not always easy to do, especially when I run into something so contrary to my belief that Gay men can (and maybe one day will) be happier when we treat each other more like people than sex partners.

"You see the bathhouse as a place where people with no self esteem go to be high and unhappy," he said, reading my face, "but you don't understand the draw. Years ago, that's how Gay men met. They met in bathrooms, cinemas, gyms and alleys. This is the same sort of thing. Some men still look for that and a lot of us are used to it."

When Lim speaks, it's with an air of confidence and intelligence that I don't tie to men who romp bathhouses. I always imagined that people who go to bathhouses are broken and unintelligent or unenlightened people who can't get on normally like the rest of us, who are trying to put a bandage on a much bigger wound. They aren't happy enough with themselves. They just want something to fill the nothing. They need the validation. Of all the reasons I guessed people went, I always considered them to be because something was missing, never giving it much more thought. Lim really didn't seem to be missing that much.

"Oh I've seen things I wish I hadn't seen," he said, staring off for a moment and chuckling at some memory that gave me creepy chills, "but that happens everywhere." By the time I'd heard all the bathhouse stories and etiquette I could bear for one Sunday morning, I thanked him for his input and time. "You're welcome to visit sometime if you like," he said in the same way that Robbie Wilmington invited me to Sunday school in the eighth grade.

"Thanks," I said smiling and wrapping my jacket up tight, "but I can't be bothered to learn all that etiquette."

"Suit yourself," he answered, walking in a different direction. I suppose that's it exactly. For all that I don't think suits me about the Gay community, from bathhouses to cracked-out circuit parties, in the end the only thing that matters is that I've made my own choices and tried to pass as little judgment off on other people as I can. That's just good etiquette, whatever you believe and wherever you happen to spend your nights.

Beau Burriola is a local writer whose column, 'Tour de Life,' will soon be coming to a podcast near you. Keep your eyes peeled. E-mail him at:

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October 15- 23, 2005

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