My partner and I went on a trip to Chicago a couple weeks back and while there, decided to check out the local LGBT bars and hangout places. We figured that it would be nice to experience the culture that existed in Boystown, Chicago but it was an eye-opener for a small-town Indiana local like myself. The LGBT world between a small town and the windy city is quite bizarre if you aren’t strapped in for some wild times.
First and foremost, we checked out the local bars in Boystown. Since the bars we hang out at every week are small local queer pubs, it was quite the experience to be in a place with so much dancing and shirtless men. Little did we know that this would be only the beginning of the circles of hell. Queer culture in big cities is way more tightly knitted together than it is in our smaller town. Everyone knows everyone and everyone is friendly to everyone. Even to the point of sitting outside the bars at night, we could expect for someone to hand us a cigarette or something without us even asking. It is just the type of people that are there. On a weekend, the nights are all about the life of the party. It made walking the streets of Boystown in the day odd on its own because everything was orderly. Night time was a controlled chaos of drag queens and “masc 4 masc” bros.
Out on the streets was nothing compared to what happened behinds closed doors. Since trying to experience authentic queer culture, my partner and I checked out a bath house. I have never been to a bath house before so the idea itself made me uncomfortable but after a couple drinks, I warmed up to the idea. The place we went to was almost like a real Dante’s Inferno because the deeper you went into the place, the crazier and darker it got.
The first floor of the building was lighter, there was just hot tubs and a steam room which people pretty much hung out in. The showers were there too an it was the closest thing to a peep show you would see on that floor. The second floor is when it started to get weird, not only was there steam rooms but there were private rooms with doors and men wide open. I had never seen anything like it except in top-named pornography and even then, it looked fake. The top floor was where I had to draw the line. The whole floor was dim-lit with mirrors and smoke. Triple top bunk-beds for men to lay with other men, walls with handcuffs and leather straps to tie one another up, and “The Garden”. “The Garden was a huge room with a path that you had to step up on to get to and it was walls all around it, just high enough to go to your chest, and on the other side of those walls, men trying to grab your towel. To some guys, it would be a dream come true. To me, walking through a dark room with hands coming out of holes in the wall was something where the pleasure of the room turned slightly horrific. Horrific in a pornographic way, I suppose.
The whole building was an embodiment of hedonism. No one talked, if they did it was brief, because every interaction was all about pleasure and if you were not prepared to be a part of that system, then you were left behind. Between the hot tubs, the showers, and the steam rooms, there was all types of opportunities for physical contact. Though how uncomfortable I was in on the 2nd and 3rd floors, I had to remind myself that this is just an aspect of queer culture, the darker sides of queer culture of course but culture nonetheless. I forgot just how hedonistic gay men can be.
The whole trip was a refreshing experience. I learned a lot about queer culture that I guess has been washed out with the emphasis on the queer nuclear family. Gay men do not aim for the same reality as their heterosexual counterparts, instead they aim for a life worth living. I think that those messages are lost in translation some times.