Can We Make Gay Bathhouses Cool Again?
Business has not been good lately for bathhouses, the urban meeting places for gay men who enjoy using steam rooms and saunas or getting blowjobs from complete strangers in them. The Hollywood Spa, a long-time haunt in LA, closed its doors this year after decades in business, and the Associated Press recently looked at the decline in the importance of these fabled sex dens.
Now the North American Bathhouse Association (NABA) is using a combination of awareness-building, steep discounts, and social media outreach to entice a new generation of young dudes to put down Grindr and Scruff (the apps that are basically a bathhouse in every gay’s pocket), pick up a towel, and channel the 70s spirit of cavorting with the hottest bods in town. It might be an uphill battle, but it’s one that Dennis Holding, NABA’s 75-year-old president, says that they’re winning.
I recently chatted with Holding, who has invested in bathhouses all over the country since he opened his first club in 1972, about the past, present, and future of the industry.
VICE: How did you end up in the bathhouse business?
Dennis Holding: I worked in the automotive industry at the time on the racing side, selling parts. I was in Indianapolis for the qualifying for the [Indy] 500, and it was raining, so I went out and met somebody. We went to a brunch the next day with his friends, and they got talking about how Indy needed a gay bathhouse. I looked at the demographics and realized there wasn’t one for 100 miles in any direction. And that’s how it came to be. A couple weeks later, I met the principals of the Club Baths chain [which had 42 bathhouses in its prime]. At that time, six or eight guys would throw in some money, and one guy agreed to go build it, and that’s how they were built. It was the 70s, so things were going great guns.
Tinder and Grindr Users See Some Crazy Shit
Too Good to Be True
It was November of last year, so it was at the very beginning of my Tinder experience, and I had found a guy who seemed incredible. Perhaps too good to be true. He was a pro golfer, born and raised in Switzerland, he came over to Canada and went to school on a full scholarship, and was just killing it running his own business. He was incredibly ambitious and really good-looking, and we hit it off right away.
We ended up meeting up on a Thursday night for some drinks and dinner. That Wednesday I had actually gotten into a pretty serious car accident. I’m fine but the car was totaled. I was really shook up that day but thought maybe the date would cheer me up.
While we were on our way to the restaurant I started explaining to him that I had been in a car accident, so he starts trying to relate to me with his car issues. He tells me he’s had 19 speeding tickets, he’s been arrested twice, and he pays over $900 a month in insurance. I knew right off the bat this was a red flag.
While we were out at a sushi restaurant he just suddenly looked up from his food and said, “You’re so pretty, you’re probably the prettiest Filipino I’ve ever met.” I actually spit out my drink, because I am the farthest thing from Filipino. I’m very white, and probably look more Italian or Jewish, but certainly not Filipino. I actually had to Google “Filipino” on my phone and show it to him so he could understand how wrong he was.
At this point I was just enjoying the entertainment value of the date, so I agreed to a drink after dinner, and we headed over to an Irish Pub downtown. While we were having a drink he started talking about religion, which is a subject I try to avoid on first dates whenever possible, but he brought it up, so I told him I was pretty much an atheist and don’t really practice anything. He said, “That’s interesting, I’m part of the Illuminati.” He goes on to tell me about how his grandfather has all the secrets of the world and all these conspiracy theories that he’s aware of.
It became pretty obvious at this point that this guy was a pathological liar and that most of his profile was made up. I doubt he’s a pro golfer or a small business owner or that he’s ever lived in Switzerland.
So I told him I was really tired and needed to go home, and he dropped me off back at my place. At the end of the date he went in for the kiss, and I went for a hug. I’ve never heard from him since.
More Tinder/Grindr nightmares
Turkey Really Doesn’t Want Gay Men to Have Sex
In Turkey, it just got harder to enjoy a good old-fashioned no-strings-attached hook-up—at least if you’re a gay or bisexual man. Last month the Turkish government banned Grindr, the app that advertises itself as a way to “find gay, bi and curious guys near you” and had 125,000 users in the country.
If you try to access the app now—in the name of research, I tried—a message will appear stating that the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB, by its Turkish acronym) has banned the site “as a protection measure.” Protection, presumably, against men having sex with each other.
How to Make Friends and Influence Dudes Into Sleeping with You
Like any good homosexual with an iPhone and a propensity for indiscretion, I spend plenty of time on Grindr, the app that shows you other gay dudes in your immediate vicinity who are also looking for dick. In fact, if we’re being honest, I’m in that bathhouse in your pocket 90 percent of the day. That said, familiarity breeds contempt, and there are a whole host of things about the way people behave on Grindr that make me angrier than that meth head I asked to use a condom that one time.
Here are ten abysmally common things I hope to never see again.
There is no bigger woodkill than looking at a picture of a sexy queer with some sweaty drunk girl draped over him like some fleshy poncho. I love my lady friends and have taken many fine photos with them, but I know they don’t want to be involved in my trying to find some cheap ass in the neighborhood. In fact, unless you are part of a couple looking to explore, there really shouldn’t be anyone else in any of the pictures you send out to strangers, even guys (especially if the guys are hotter than you).
Should We Panic About the Deadly Strain of Meningitis Hitting the Gay Community?
Last December, my friend Michael stopped me before we left his apartment in Paris. He was moving back to Brooklyn the following week and had received an urgent message from his friend who lived there: some gay men had died from a new strain of meningitis, a nasty bug that invades your brain and spinal cord and causes headaches, neck stiffness, bouts of vomiting, and, occasionally, death. In San Francisco, the government waswarning gay men to get vaccinated if they planned to travel to New York City, especially Brooklyn.
We weren’t too worried—this wasn’t the 80s, when the authorities turned a blind eye to the AIDS epidemic and dismissed it as a “gay disease.” If the New York City Department of Health knew there was a potentially deadly plague sweeping the city, they’d surely shoot the bugger in the butt before it grew into a gay-killing monster.
Months later, the monster is still alive. Four more men have fallen ill in New York City, bringing the number of infections to 22 and death toll to seven since 2010, and similar cases have appeared in West Hollywood, California. Just last Saturday, Brett Shaad, a 33-year-old lawyer, died of meningitis after slipping into a coma—he’s one of 13 men in LA who’ve been killed by the disease in the past 15 months. (It’s unknown how many of these men were gay.)
Why Are All These Gays Taking Grindr Photos at a Holocaust Memorial Site? We Spoke with the Guys Behind the Website Grindr Remembers
VICE: How did you guys start this site?
Lewkowicz: It wasn’t started with an idea. It was actually pretty spontaneous; I saw this one picture and I sent it to Ariel. Then we started exchanging more and more pictures and wherever we went, we found a gallery of photos that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves. It was just too outrageous. We had a lot of fun making this blog, and then it started rolling over the internet and getting more and more pictures.
When did it become so popular?
Ashbel: Only a few days ago. Before it was just friends of ours who would send it to friends of theirs, and we just got pictures that way. I think someone on Twitter found it. I believe it was related to International Holocaust Day. It’s quite old, though. It’s really old news.
Lewkowicz: When it reached the mainstream media and the backlash came, Grindr changed their stance on the site.
Ashbel: There’s a righteous backlash not only from mainstream sources, but the gay community as well.
Lewkowicz: I think it’s really bullshit. I don’t see it.
Ashbel: I don’t think the pictures are problematic. It’s a prudish approach to assume that anything that has to do with sex is immediately disrespectful or obscene. I just think it’s really sad that people are so old-fashioned.
Read the whole thing
Helping the Malaysian Government Find Gay Dudes on Grindr
The Malaysian government has a throbbing, vein-popping hard-on for gay guys. In fact, they’re so concerned about the homosexual population’s “rampant” activities that they’ve sent 66 “effeminate boys” to be straightened out in the most macho, testosterone-driven pastime known to man: paintballing. Better that, I suppose, than the other prospect for gay men in a country where homosexuality is illegal: a prison sentence or the totally un-homoerotic punishment of being bare-bottom caned in public by another guy.
Besides the government’s foolproof scheme of sending a bunch of gay teenagers to spend time with each other in an effort to make them not gay, the education minister has also just published a handy guide on how to “spot a gay.” That guide suggests looking out for stuff like a “Muscular body and a fondness for showing off the body,” “A fondness for V-neck T-shirts,” “A tendency to carry large handbags,” and (shocker) “An inclination to be attracted to men”—so the general public of Malaysia can join in, too.
I spoke to Jerome Kugan of Malaysian LGBT rights group Seksualiti Merdeka to find out how many homophobic vigilante citizens are following the guide and rounding up hordes of muscular men in V-neck T-shirts.
VICE: Hi Jerome. So, is anyone actually taking this guide seriously in Malaysia?
Jerome Kugan: Discussions about sexuality are still very taboo in mainstream Malaysian society, even though we’ve always had our fair share of sexual diversity. Most Malaysians don’t really want to face the issue because it’s quite personal, but this absurd guide, whether it’s taken seriously or not, is part of a growing movement within the conservative right that sees LGBTs as deprived of moralistic and religious values.
Are you concerned that, if this going to be the norm, Malaysia’s next generation is going to be raised as homophobes?
Yeah, that’s definitely a major concern. We at Seksualiti Merdeka feel like the government is practically giving people a licence to perpetrate acts of vigilante bullying against innocent Malaysian LGBTs. Also, the majority of Malaysians are Muslim, so the influential local religious bodies already view being gay as a symptom of moral degradation, like a social sickness that needs to be rehabilitated. A lot of religious Malaysians buy into that idea, but as long as there are voices of resistance, I think there’s still hope.
Is there a particular reason it’s been brought up again like this?
Some of us think that the government is fuelling anti-LGBT sentiments to turn it into a moral and political scapegoat issue. There’s an upcoming general election, so they’re trying to link the issue with other parties as some kind of smear campaign.
Wow, that sucks. Lastly, settle this for me: Every single gay guy in Malaysia wears a V-neck the whole time, right?
[Laughs] No, but they are quite popular in chic urban enclaves. I have a few in my closet, but I reckon, after this official guide, they’re going to get a whole lot more popular.
How Grindr Can Get You Everything You Need (Except Butt Sex)
One of the greatest things smart phones have done for the swinging gay lifestyle is picking up the old school bathhouse and dropping it in the pocket of every homosexual with an iPhone and a libido—which is to say, every homosexual. Yes, Grindr (and its imitators like Scruff, Mister, and other macho-sounding apps that haven’t even been invented yet) is a way for gays to get laid whenever they want, so long as other people within a one-mile radius have their phones on. It uses fancy GPS technology to locate queers on the prowl close to you and track their distance from your current location (0 feet away means he’s actually inside you right now).
But there is more to life than getting laid (well, kinda). There is also stuff! And drugs! And favors! All of these things are possible to score on Grindr if you know a few simple tricks. Here are some good ones I learned from a few of my friends.
According to Sean, an expert in using Grindr to get all sorts of things other than head, getting things out of people is a lot easier when you’re outside the city. “In New York, all the conversations are very sexual,” he says, which is good if all you’re looking for is some slap and tickle. “Even when you come to New Jersey, people are a little more chatty here.” Once you get them talking, that’s when you reel them in and milk them (surprisingly not a sexual reference here) for all they’re worth, and it appears hospitality isn’t an urban virtue.
RELY ON THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
When Steve’s job sent him to Denmark for a year, he was not only all alone, but stuck with a washing machine whose knobs and buttons he couldn’t decipher, thanks to their being labeled by Vikings. “I found the closest guy who was acceptably cute and chatted him up. ‘I’m new to the neighborhood. Strange question—how the hell do I work this thing?’” Steve sent the guy a photo (of the washer, not his dick), and his mark happened to have the same machine. He came by a short while later to show this dirty boy how to get clean.
CASE THE JOINT
The longer you talk to someone, the more information you can get out of them, giving you a better idea of what you can scam from them. Sean’s boyfriend was chatting up a boy on the phone who mentioned he was moving. Sean and his boyfriend had just moved too, and needed some furniture. Next thing you know they had scored themselves a dining room table and chairs for $70. Even if it’s IKEA and breaks in a year, that’s a whole lot longer than a BJ will last you.