Vancouver
3 min

Down & dirty at the baths

How about a women's bathhouse night?

Credit: Xtra West files

“I’ll meet you in the sling room at 10!” Will the day ever come when lesbians shout that out to each other at the end of a soccer game? Dream on sisters; not likely in this town!



Last summer, Ann, always up for a bit of comparative research, joined the mostly gay male West End Softball league. Wait! Don’t stop reading. This column isn’t about softball (again), but rather about steambaths. You see, Ann played for the team sponsored by one of the more upscale local tubs, and in the Miss Wesa Contest (another sociological study) she and the boys on the team presented a bathhouse scenario to the general acclaim of drag king aficionados and bathhouse mavens throughout the Lower Mainland.



But that was as far as she could go. Try as she might, she was never invited to go for the ritual post-game soak. According to her, she even had the biggest dick but that seemed to count for nothing at the front desk. Why, we want to know? Of course, some women objected to even considering our question.



“We took all these years to get away from men, and now you want to be right next to their hairy smelly bodies; you know, those dangly bits and . . . stuff.”



On the other hand, one lesbian reported going into the make-shift steam room at a gay campground: “It was one of the most erotic experiences of my life. Here was this guy, who looked like Superman, standing beside me while another man dropped to his knees and started blowing him. I mean, hubba hubba.”



Fag opinion varied from looks of horror at having cock and pussy in the same room to excitement over sharing fisting techniques. As one fag explained the culture of the baths: “You don’t just fuck anyone who’s there; you select on the basis of mutual interest, so nothing would change if dykes came. If you weren’t into having sex with them and they weren’t into having sex with you, no problem.”



A local steambath owner put it bluntly: “You lesbians should open your own steam bath!” Alas, we fear that Vancouver lacks a sufficient population of lesbian steam-bath goers; heck we can’t even keep a lesbian bar open! We could probably pull off one successful women’s night at the baths, though.



But this would be an extraordinary act of generosity on the part of ownership. Bathhouses are not community centres where equality of access for all is a principle; they sell safe sex-space to men for profit. Bathhouses are typical of businesses where 90 percent of revenues come from 10 percent of the customers and it’s these regulars who would be some pissed off if they were denied access for even an hour. Sheesh!



It’s not that we women want to have sex with the men in the bathhouse. (Okay, maybe some of you do, but we’ll discuss that later.) We’d just like to see dykes be able to pair up with their gay buddies to go in search of love in all the wrong places. If the bathhouses provide a safe space for gay sex, is it too much to think it could provide a safe space for all queers? Perhaps so.



Owners have legitimate fears about the need for increased security if dykes were admitted to fag spaces. Apparently, in San Francisco some dykes decided to start cruising in Golden Gate Park. Straight men got wind of it and started following them there, which put everyone at risk of bashing. It seems that wherever women go, straight men tend to follow, so that, dear readers, is at least one reason why fags are hesitant to share their sex spaces with dykes.



But wait. According to quite a few of our informants, many of the men at the steam baths are straight, or at least this is what they tell their wives and co-workers. The ugly secret of gay-boy sex spaces is that they are harbouring those straight men.



If you can’t count on fags in a steam bath not to be straight, you also can’t can on them not to have once been women. In this brave new world of transsexuality and transgender activism, we can’t really assume that anyone is in a fixed category, or remains in any strict division of male versus female and gay versus straight.



The queer community has really changed since the 1970s when the differences between lesbians and gay men seemed obvious and insurmountable. Today many queer youth tell anyone who tries to categorize them to fuck off and the increasing visibility of transgendered persons raises questions about why we try to pigeon-hole people into slots called “men” and “women.”



Even mainstream television-Ally McBeal for crying out loud-featured a unisex washroom. And yet in the down and dirty environs of the gay steambath scene (no offence steambath owners-we know your facilities are spotless enough to impress a fleet of Dutch house-maids), biology-as-destiny rules. But if sex differences do break down, what does it mean to identify as a dyke or a fag? That’s a darn queer question! What the fuck!



* In our next column we spend a queer day at the beach.