A young gay man spends 30 hours in a bathhouse or sauna.
It might be 1975 New York City.
It might have been this weekend in London.
Or it might be in Istanbul or Poland.
There might have been drugs or alcohol involved. Or not.
During these 30 hours, he experiences a variety of moments. Passing moments. Life moments.
Some... involve the best sex he’s ever had.
Some… just awful. :)
But some… really awesome. It’s possible the disinhibition of chems helped with this. But really great connection and sensuality and freedom. He’ll remember it for a long time.
He’ll seek it again.
He also spent some moments naked with other men, drinking coca-cola at the bar. It helped him appreciate that not all sexy bodies look like the ones he sees in porn. Some are very normal, imperfect, and very sexy.
He made a great friend. They chatted in a cubicle for 2 hours when the sex wasn’t really working; and so they connected differently. They’ll never see each other again, but it was a good experience of friendship and intimacy, albeit brief.
There were other moments too; moments when he was rejected cruelly by a slammed cubicle door in his face, or a phrase that hurt.
It might have been about his face, or his body which isn’t a porn star body. It might have been because he was too drunk, or too high; it might have been because he was too sober.
It might have been because of the colour of his skin, or the way his hair grows, or the shape of his eyes, or because of the 2 scars he has on his chest.
It might have had nothing to with him. It might have just been a slammed door, but he took it personally, he’s had doors slammed before. In all kinds of environments.
I'm speaking metaphorically of course.
There were those guys he shared a few hours with in a cubicle; the guys that weren’t so kind. They said all these things that made him feel good; they told him he was hot, that he was sexy. They chose him over some other hot guys who tried to join them (the door was slammed rudely in their faces), and it made him feel good to be on the nicer side of that slammed door.
They were bossy, just a bit, and that relieved him of responsibility, because he was a bit nervous with these guys really. But they were very sexy. And they rejected the ugly ones - but not him, not this time.
So he stayed and smiled, and made all the right sex noises when in fact, it hurt a bit, and they were a bit bossy.
When they used those slurs that were offensive and unacceptable in normal life, but completely normal on Grindr, he stayed. He stayed then, because it’s ok to say those things during sex, right? There were no rules here, right?
He stayed, he participated, he performed; because it was kind of fun, kind of sexy, even if it was offensive and a bit bullyish. It was kinda fun (and better than being on the other side of that slammed door.)
This was his sauna weekend. This was how it worked.
He hadn’t ever had any LGBTQ-inclusive sex & relationship education in school. Or at home. He’d learnt most of his gay sex life stuff from people in saunas, from his mates (who didn’t know a great deal themselves) and from porn. From a lot of one night stands. A lot of these one night stands were on chems, but a lot weren’t.
Some people believe that LGBTQ-inclusive sex and relationship education is a human right.
Some believe it is a public health issue, a public health right.
Some believe that access to free healthcare for all, is a human right.
But what kind of free healthcare am I talking about?
Sexual health testing, vaccinations, medicine?
Sex education? Sex and relationship education? LGBTQ inclusive?
Testing that comes with conversations about our wellbeing - including our sexual wellbeing?
Or just testing kits ordered online?
This guy, this young friend of ours in the sauna did not get a gay inclusive sex and relationship education in school. No matter what country he was in. No matter what decade.
He’s been fending for himself.
And he’s very good at it. So good, you’d never notice he was vulnerable.
He had a good time in the sauna. He was treated like a sexy man, and that’s important to him. He felt included and wanted, and these are important things to any person.
There was also rejection. (But he felt he deserved that. Because of the way he looked, and because of the doors he’d had slammed in his face growing up.) There was also some unkind treatment. (But he didn’t know any better.) There were some times when he felt a little uncomfortable with what was happening, but he didn’t have the concept of self worth to apply boundaries, or any frame of reference for boundaries and appropriateness for this sexual environment.
There might have been gay elders, wise big gay brothers, who could have handed down some kindness, wisdom and experience from their own lived experiences.
But too many of them died in the AIDS epidemic.
They simply weren’t there.
A lot of the gay elders that did survive, are a little traumatised by that epidemic. Perhaps managing that trauma, perhaps not always present and available to help this younger man, this younger generation, with sex stuff, boundaries and self worth in a sexy community, a sexy environment.
It’s Monday morning.
Our guy spent most of the weekend in a bathhouse, having a myriad of experiences, good and bad.
It’s a lot to process on this lonely Monday morning.
He might be in a city that has no LGBTQ community centre.
That’s very likely in fact.
He doesn’t have that sex education experience to draw from. That’s a fact.
And some of the gay elders that might have helped him - are dead.
A generation of them.
It’s probably a good idea to get tested too, a sexual health screen. This much he does know.
What does the ‘right to free public health' mean?
Testing? Free testing? I think so.
Free PEP, if there’s been an HIV risk? I think so.
A conversation about PrEP, in case he’s unaware of it? I think so.
I’m just back from Poland, where it is very difficult to talk about sex openly, even in health centres.
PEP is not free in Poland. If our young friend was in Poland, he’d have to find the money for his PEP.
If our guy was in England, things might be better.
When he goes for his sexual health screen, he’d have a chat about sex. Gay sex.
A nurse might ask if he’d enjoyed the sex he’d had.
He’d say yes, obviously; he’d had a great time generally. Such freedom and sexyness and inclusivity in a sexy community. He’d say yes for sure.
The nurse or health care worker might probe further; they might ask if he’d felt uncomfortable at any time. Rejected. Excluded. If he’d enjoyed the chems. If he also enjoyed sex without chems.
He might not have thought about these things much.
These questions, this kind of reflection isn’t natural to him; it’s not prompted by the porn he watches, and he hasn’t had a lot of these kinds of kind questions put to him before.
Not when he’s sober.
The nurse might ask if he had felt pressured at all in the sauna cubicle, or if he had sometimes said yes to things while he was high, that he regretted a little on Monday morning.
He’d really never thought about these things before.
I hope he wouldn’t find these questions intrusive; I hope he knew that nurses care, and many nurses know that gay boys don’t get helpful sex education in school; they know that there are often not a lot of opportunities for him to reflect on his sex life in a safe space.
This is the kind of access to free healthcare that I feel is a human right.
In Poland, and many other places, young gay men, young people, do not get this.
In fact, in England right now, people without actual symptoms, are being discouraged from attending clinics by public health policy. In London, six sexual health clinics have been closed down, as part of an initiative to encourage people like our sauna guy, to order a home-testing kit online.
To save money.
Asymptomatic people are being discouraged from attending sexual health clinics, and encouraged to go online and order a home testing kit.
An awful example of public health.
This is not how we beat an HIV epidemic.
This is not how we support our vulnerable brothers and sisters who were deprived basic LGBTQ-inclusive sex & relationship education in schools, and are simply left to fend for themselves in complicated times, in chemsex times, in saunas, bedrooms on Grindr.
Without their elders.
This is not the kind of public health that I am proud of, that I consider a basic human right.
Our young sauna guy DESERVES to be tested in a place where a kind person can discuss with him, the basics; such as boundaries and self worth, and how we deserve to be treated in life, in sex, in love. About what consent means.
About how to say, “I’m a bit uncomfortable with that, can we stop?”, or “That word is a bit disrespectful to my community and culture; I know we’re just playing, but can you not use that word please?”
He needs this, he DESERVES this.
Because he wasn’t taught it in school.
Because there is no LGBTQ community centre in his city.
Because he carries the legacy of an AIDS epidemic that is present in every sexual situation he enjoys.
Or doesn't enjoy.
The legacy of an epidemic that killed his elders; elders that might otherwise be handing down the wisdoms he won’t get from mum and dad, from the school teacher. From porn.
Because he’s coping with complex needs, with an HIV epidemic, with very available chems, with online hook-up culture.
He deserves to get this care, this dialogue from a care provider, a kind human, when he accesses a sexual health screen. It’s a right.
It’s being taken away from him, and it makes me mad.
It’s one thing when this kind of healthcare never existed, for example in countries with extreme sexual stigmas.
But in England, we’ve had it for years; and it’s being taken away.
It’s being driven online.
To save money.
And there will be consequences felt by real people and communities.
I love this guy, our bathhouse guy. I've known him, I've shared forgettable moments with him, memorable moments with him. I've loved him, shagged him, I slammed a door in his face once, which I regret. I am him. He is my community and I wanna make things better for him.