[EDITOR'S NOTE]: The following is a guest post by Allen J. Lopp. He is one of bilerico.com's most prolific commentors, so when he submitted this piece we jumped at the chance to run it. Allen lives in rural southern Indiana in the area close to Louisville, Kentucky. Caught between competing urban areas in two states, he ruminates on the differences in how the areas politically oppress our sexual expression. Allen maintains his own blog at ajlopp.com.
Yesterday I was sitting at the bar at Tryangles waiting for the various floats and other elements of Louisville's Gay & Lesbian Pride Parade to arrange themselves into formation outside. Another bar patron about ten feet away, apparently new to the bar, asked the friendly bartender what was behind the double doors, then leaned in and asked him a further question I couldn't hear.
"No! No! That's a dance floor back there! If we had that sort of thing goin' on in here, the city would come down on us like a ton of bricks!"
I immediately surmised what the patron's whispered supposition was.
"If you want that sort of thing, you have to go to Indianapolis!" I said in an mock almost-hollering voice.
"Yeah, they have private clubs up there where you can run around naked and do anything you want," he agreed. "But you cross that river, and you're in the Deep South!"
That river, indeed! Once the Ohio River meant the difference between slavery and freedom for black people, and now it means a difference in the level of freedom for gay men.
What an eye-opening revelation to make as we bring together a gay pride weekend! We in Louisville are free to march, but we are not free to establish a business where men can enjoy each other's company in ways that "the people out there" object to!
But I can get in my car, and depending which way I drive, I can find such a business in Indianapolis (2 hours), St. Louis (4 hours), Columbus, Ohio (5 hours) or, if I happen to be stupid enough to go farther south, Atlanta (8 hours).
This situation does not exist because there aren't enough gay men in Louisville, the surrounding Kentucky area, and southern Indiana to economically support a bathhouse. Why, then, does this situation exist? Because of the political oppression of our sexuality.
Hey, wait a minute ...
What is one of the things we are marching to fight today? The political oppression of our sexuality!
So, if I am isolated on a farm in southern Indiana (hey, guess what, I am!) and I want to get laid, my options are as follows (and I must admit, the options are slowly getting better): (1) find someone on the Internet, (2) put a personal ad in a gay paper, (3) drive to Indianapolis or Louisville, or (4) go to the dirty bookstore (more about this option in a minute).
Unfortunately, I hear that some men who want to have sex with other men (I will call them MSM's because they are hardly gay) are going to the city or county parks and find men there. Then instead of going to someone's home, which would be perfectly legal but possibly dangerous and usually inconvenient, they proceed to find a relatively isolated location in the bushes and have sex there. They think they are going unobserved... but the nosey, Bible-enforcing family people apparently like to take their children along when they go try to solve the nosey children's question, "What are those two men doing in the bushes?" For too many parents, the answer is, "Well, let's all get up, follow them, and find out!" So now you know why parents around here are submitting complaints about "lewd behavior" in the parks to the county sheriff's department. (Of course, occasionally someone is a true exhibitionist, and they get arrested too, as they should.)
(In years gone by, the response to these complaints would be for the sheriff's department to place undercover men in the park who suggest that we go into the bushes and do "lewd" things, and then arrest you for saying "OK!" You know this drill, especially if your name is George Michael. But nowadays, even the law enforcement people in rural Indiana are enlightened enough to realize that they have better things to do. But every once in a while, a genuine arrest for genuinely lewd behavior does occur. And it should, because parks are indeed for the enjoyment of the general public, not for having sex.)
... so "option (5) going to the park and finding a man to have sex with there" is not really an option that I am going to include. But I will include (6) Go to the park, find a man, bring him home or go to his home.
Now let's consider the dirty bookstore. Mostly, they sell pornographic magazines, and in a country where freedom of the press actually is supposed to mean something, I see no problem with that. They also have little booths with token-operated TV-machines in them. If I pay $5 for a handful of machine tokens, I can go into that area where the little booths are. There I find a varying mix of men loitering and mulling around. It's kinda like a gay park, without any grass and trees and birdies and mosquitos. And no sunshine either, it's rather dark, in fact. The guys individually go into the booths and close the door. Occasionally two men will go into the same booth, close the door, and luckily there are no children around to ask the nosey question, "What are those two men doing inside that booth together?" Legally, the booth is a private area, and the sex that takes place there is in a legal gray area, but most judges would say it's legal. This bookstore has been operating like this, the men tell me, for decades.
So, if the little booths have porno machines in them, and are small enough, and the men are dressed when they close and open the door, it's part of a bookstore and it's allowed. But if I were to start a similar business, where the booths are bigger and have sleeping mattresses, there are no porno machines (or the porno is shown for free), and I add showers and a steam room (just like the YMCA), and maybe even a swimming pool, all for the men to enjoy, and I let them put their clothes in lockers and walk around wrapped in towels, it's a bathhouse. And Louisville can't have such a thing in their fine city... "It will ruin our way of life!" But Indianapolis can ..."Hey, them guys in that brick building doing whatever they do... they don't bother me!"
OK. Fine. It all makes perfect sense... uh, no, it makes almost no sense at all!!
And apparently, the men near Louisville are allowed to have sex in booths --- if the booths are small enough and uncomfortable enough.
So ... what's actually going on is that the bookstore is really a bathhouse ... but politically, it is seen as a bookstore. The problem with a bathhouse is that politically it is labeled as a bathhouse. Establish a business that sells girlie magazines, and it is Constitutionally protected, and we'll allow the little booths. Establish a business where the primary purpose of the business is men being sexual with each other, and Louisville will shut it down.
Now, let's go to the Louisville Gay Pride Festival, which is on the Belvedere, a beautiful plaza along the river. (Off-topic note: If you love hunky male asses, do not miss the statue of York on the Belvedere. Look at it from below, and you will cry that it is made of brass.)
The festival is next to the Galt Hotel. The Galt Hotel rents rooms. The rooms have a sleeping mattress, showers, and a (potentially) porno machine. I go to the festival, and meet Mike. Mike and I want to have sex. So do Bill and Fred. And so do Tom and Kenny. Let's all rent a room, and have sex in the room. One couple after the other, or maybe all of us at the same time, I don't care. But don't let the hotel know what we are doing, or they will think we are operating a bathhouse.
If the gay pride festival were really about sexual freedom, about marching against sexual repression, we might rent a large area in the hotel which would legally be a private area where men who wanted to could go in and undress as they please and have their consenting ways with each other. A weekend bathhouse, if you will. Wouldn't it be great to have that amount of freedom or enjoyment of our own and each other's bodies for a whole weekend?
But we can't. We can do it together in a hotel room, but we can't do it together in a bigger room that will hold more men. Might make perfect sense - on Mars.
Right now, the city requires that we rent our room separately, and then we do the exact same thing. Doing it two-men-at-a-time is "nicer" and, after all, the hotel and the city make more money that way. If someone were to open a bathhouse, which is what I really want, and I'd get charged $20. Rent a room at the Galt House and I'll pay maybe $150 or more. And I may or may not get away with "loaning" the room to Bill and Fred and Tom and Kenny and Jerry and Don and ...
Think about it. Gay freedom, my ass! ... in fact, gay freedom does NOT include my ass!
Hey, pardner, just got in ... Where's the bathhouse?