3 min

Is my gym a bathhouse? (Part 1)

Sidelong glances, slipped towels — the art of hooking up never seemed more daunting

Cruising is hard enough — doing it in my hometown gym was seeming impossible. Credit: Drasko Bogdanovic

Before I embarked on my trip to New York, I paid a visit to my folks who live in a small town just outside of Kitchener, Ontario. As usual, I was sitting at the kitchen table on my phone while they watched the news in the other room. Bored out of my skull, I began searching for cruising spots in town — mostly out of curiosity. I didn’t expect to find anything — is there even another gay person in this town? — but, to my surprise, I found gay sex listings for the rec center, the five city parks, the restroom at the mall and two of the buildings at the nearby university. I could hardly believe it. I had been convinced that cruising was dead.

I eventually came across a listing for the gym that I’d gone to as a teenager well before I came out. The listing read: “There are a lot of bi guys in the town but it is a small town so just be discreet.” Below, there were recent comments by men stating the day and time in which they were planning to cruise the gym’s sauna. Is my hometown gym a bathhouse? I wondered.

About half of the guys commenting didn’t have pictures and the other half only had shots of various body parts. There were no face pics. I often hear that cruising is dead, but it makes sense that if you’re closeted  or just being discreet, you wouldn’t be comfortable having guys from Grindr visiting you at home. Perhaps, because of the anonymity it offers, public cruising is the only viable option for these men.

I concluded that I was in need of a workout, so I went to the gym around noon the next day. The locker room was just as I remembered it — they hadn’t changed a thing, not even the carpets. It was full of guys in various stages of undress, from office workers, to jocks, to the elderly — a pretty common scene. But knowing that this place was a potential hotbed for gay sex made it much more exciting. 

As I was leaving the change room this macho muscular daddy passed by on his way to the shower. He was completely naked with a towel slung over his shoulder, and his large uncut cock was flopping between his thighs. It was nothing short of pornography. Why isn’t he wearing the towel? I wondered. Is he bi or closeted and sending a message? The listing didn’t say anything about showing your junk to let others know that you’re interested. Is that what he was doing, or was this simply what happens in straight, small town locker rooms? I was equal parts aroused and confused.

I’ve had access to actual bathhouses and the internet for my entire gay life, so I haven’t had to rely on traditional cruising to get laid. For openly gay young men in big cities, cruising is becoming a lost art. But I knew that I’d have to give it a try; it was the only way I’d find out if men were cruising at my hometown gym. If there was a guy that I liked, I’d need to stare. If he stared back, I’d smile. If he smiled back then I’d know he’s interested. That’s how it works, isn’t it?

While I was doing curls (the ultimate bait move), I caught the guy behind me staring at me between his sets on the pectoral fly machine. I found him pleasantly small town, with large arms and a bit of a paunch — he was seemingly unaware of his appeal, which only added to it. He wore plain-framed glasses, faded gym attire and had a bald spot too — very genuine looking. When I looked back at him he immediately turned away so I tried to lock eyes again and caught a few more glances. Is he interested?

When he was done on the machine he circled around the gym then sat on the bench next to mine. Is this a sign or simply a coincidence? I wasn’t sure what to do next so I went back to my original rule: make eye contact and smile. If he smiled back then he was interested.

I stared at him so intently that it would be difficult for him to ignore. When he finally looked up, I smiled at him, but he looked back down. I continued staring, waiting for him to look again but he didn’t. He kept his eyes to the floor then pulled out his cellphone.

As much as I enjoyed this game of cat and mouse, it was frustrating too. Is this what life is like in a small town if you’re not out? Was he too afraid to interact with me, or was I simply reading too much into his actions?

He finally got up and disappeared into the gym, never to be seen again. I resolved that if I wanted to discover the hook-up potential of this place, I would need to be more overt . . . 

Next: Is my hometown gym a bathhouse? (Part 2)>
<Previous: Packing up the past