“Sex is good, sex is healthy,” pornducer and former Vancouverite André Tardif is fond of saying.
In this month’s column, Tardif reminisces about his first days in Vancouver and about a particular form of sexual activity whose popularity, he feels, is dwindling: T-room or toilet sex.
Tardif was born and raised in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Although his first sexual experiences were precocious — he was nicknamed “long hands” at the strict Roman Catholic boarding schools he attended in the ’60s — like many young men of his generation, Tardif did not have many opportunities to meet other men until the day he picked up a supermarket checkout tabloid and read about men cruising public washrooms.
“I got the proof of it after taking the bus to Quebec City, at the bus terminal,” Tardif recalls. “I ended up hitchhiking to Quebec City malls and the bus depot often to meet guys. Life was never the same afterwards.”
In 1973 Tardif moved to Toronto, and a year later, hitchhiked to Vancouver with two other Francophones, heeding the era’s mantra to “go West, young man.”
That’s when he really hit his stride. His very first day in town he went straight to the Taurus Spa (later known as the Gardens bathhouse). “That place was buzzing with oversexed and underfed men. Loved it!” Tardif enthuses.
“You could rent a room by the week [for] $22, but it had to be vacated Friday and Saturday night,” he remembers. “I went back for more quite often and really missed it later after it burned down to the ground.”
For a newcomer like Tardif, Vancouver in the ’70s was a city brimful with hot men who could be found anywhere, including the 616 bar on Robson where he soon got a job as a waiter.
“I was shocked to find out that customers had to fork 25 cents per song from a jukebox to dance, instead of having a DJ. ‘Ring my Bell’ was a hit then,” Tardif recollects.
“I have memories of the manager Chuck/Charlie Brown, a butch lesbian that would take no shit from anyone. A heart of gold under that manly look. Still have photos of her wedding to another woman, a stripper, I think, at the Talk of the Town on Seymour that became the Luv a Fair (aka Luv a Fairy) later.
“There were after-hours bars — Champagne Charlie’s, the Music Room and the Dance Machine, Playpen South with its backroom. Some bathhouses, Stanley Park and, of course, the T-rooms,” he continues.
Tardif has particularly fond memories of a long list of favourite T-rooms.
“The most famous was probably the one at English Bay. And Second Beach,” he says. “Then there were the ones in the downtown stores. The Bay comes to mind. It had them on three different floors. Guys would go from the basement to the second or the third and then to the fifth floor and then back down again. A real exercise à la Stairmaster.
“When Sears was on Hastings St, it also was a busy place,” Tardif says. “Across the street, on Cordova, the train station had a good one before the renovations. Pacific Centre also had a very popular one by the underground parking.”
Then there were the suburbs: Woodwards in West Vancouver and New Westminster. The Bay and Zellers at Lougheed Mall. Most malls, in fact, featured T-rooms somewhere on the premises.
For those readers for whom a toilet is just a toilet, Tardif gives us a glimpse of what went on inside.
“You usually had to walk through two noisy, creaking doors to enter the premises. Guys would do the ‘tapping foot’ dance while sitting in a cubicle to see if the guy next to them was also cruising. If so, he would tap his foot too. As to not look conspicuous, guys would use the urinal, wash their hands, dry them and repeat the process over and over.”
T-rooms had their own etiquette, Tardif explains.
“Some men would sit for a very long time, hogging the middle stall, infuriating other cruisers-in-waiting. I heard of one guy throwing rolls of wet toilet paper over the stall to dislodge another T-Room queen. If one guy would walk in and see an acquaintance, he would refrain from staying.”
T-rooms had their own aficionados, he recalls. “T-room queens would often see the same cruisers in different locations. The same applied to bathhouse queens as well. All types of men would do it, from suits to flaming queens to married/in the closet types. You could meet real hot guys that were not on the scene.”
Thanks to errant American public figures like Republican senator Larry Craig of Idaho — who “did some tap dancing at the airport,” as Tardif puts it — T-rooms are in the news again.
Too late in the game, he feels.
“With chat rooms and sex surfing, that era has faded away,” Tardif laments. But in the days before the internet or communal Pride celebrations, T-rooms were an important feature of Vancouver’s sexual landscape.