It is possible to be gay and old-fashioned? In fact, in the great battle for equality and acceptance, I reckon being old fashioned has been central to marketing ‘the gay life’ to the world (and maybe ourselves).
The opposite strategy has also been deployed, of course. There are plenty of people who think there is absolutely no reason for us to grovel and try to prove our similarity to straight customs. It is degrading and unbecoming and we should have more self-respect than that. These are the people on floats, in feather boas and in leather clubs.
I’ve been a pretty vocal member of both camps in my life, and settled on my particular mix of the two in my early twenties. Though I did some pretty wild things while living in the UK, I always managed so stay naÃ¯ve. I even ended up going down on someone I’d met on a bus once, in a tube station, and yet it never even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t marry one day.
So the mere idea of places like the Hot House fascinated me, in that grotesque but alluring way that road accidents mesmerise drivers and make them slow down to watch. I was both scandalised and delighted that places like that existed. These places where people go to have anonymous sex with strangers, in rooms specially designed for the purpose, just seemed so regimented and Teutonic.
They were institutionalised male urges, without any of the softening fluff of tradition or women. They were explained to me years ago by a friend and had come to be a common reference in jokes – the hyperbolic signaller of life in the gay gutter. When you were there, you knew you had taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.
They are the kinds of places you imagine are almost otherworldly they’re so depraved – where naked bodies writhe in the darkness of your glorious descent. The places that cause your friends and family to say wistfully “if only he had found a nice boy and moved to the country” as they ache from the thought of you crouching before a glory-hole, in chaps.
And then, of course, I ended up there.
But not after a steady erosion of morals and hope. It wasn’t even really because of lust. At least, not in the kind of lust that usually results in back-street sex clubs. My ex-boyfriend and I were trying to be friends. And had gotten very, very drunk in the process. And the thing with booze is that it can quite easily transform a lifetime of passive curiosity about a subject into an adventure masquerading as a great idea. Especially at 3AM.
|“The air smelt of lube and sweat and sex. And… was it hormones?”
We grabbed two of our friends that we were out with, and told them on the walk up the hill to Bronx that we were going to try the Hot House. We had the mad glint of the crazy man in our eyes, and their nervous laughter was certainly not going to stop us.
And it’s true: You do have to take off all your clothes. We handed over our R100 and our jeans and headed into the bar area. And within an instant our bravado collapsed. We clung together like four nervous teenage girls at their first dance. We had the small comfort of our towels wrapped around our wastes. Aside from that, it was exactly like that dream you have where you are giving a speech and you look down and you’re naked. Except the speech is ordering a drink at the bar. And for many others, I’m guessing, it’s a blowjob.
We decided to take a turn about the room. There were pitch-black passageways leading out of the room. We followed one, and had to feel our way in the dark. I clung to my ex like clam to a rock as we walked past rooms on either side of the passage. Each was dark, with the sound of slapping; as crotch slammed against pelvis. The air smelt of lube and sweat and sex. And… was it hormones? There was a primal feeling rising up in me that, I hate to admit it, was probably arousal. And adrenaline.
But right then I stood on something cold and squishy and ran out of the passageway. I rinsed my foot in the Jacuzzi, and decided to settle down into it. It was warm and reassuring. And slowly the other three came back to join me. They had lingered. The four of us had stopped finding it funny at some point, and were quietly catching other people’s eyes.
The men in those places aren’t hideous, as the rumours say they are. And I think we were all secretly hoping that someone would proposition us. We were hoping to be tested, to see if we would default to conservatism or take the leap. Would we follow someone into a blackened room and bend over? And would we do it so openly, leave right there in front of each other?
I never got to find out. No stranger could penetrate our circle, and so we eventually turned on each other with our nervous lust. I mustered all the drunken courage I had, leaned over, and began making out with my ex. I saw a thought flash through his eyes – we were both thinking about getting a room. But it was a terrible decision. I still loved him and he felt nothing for me. And that realisation, more than anything else in the Hot House, was what made me feel so dirty the next day.
Is it inevitable that each of us will one day end up in a notorious steam room?
If even an old-fashioned gay boy such as myself ended up naked and kissing some boy there, do the others stand any chance? Maybe not. But that’s not the worst thing in the world. Perhaps we should just enjoy the diverse spectrum of gay experience, from gay altar to darkened room. It took both kinds of gay people to get us the rights we enjoy today.
So instead of trying to pick a side to fit into, it’s quite liberating to think that there is a little bit of both inherent in all of us.