Montreal's many bathhouses (and there are a lot, 13 in total) are places of mystery for many. To hetero-folks, a bathhouse, at least the gay ones, stand as sketchy monuments to random sex with strangers. And in all honesty, they're not that wrong.
Even a gay guy like myself has a highly sexualized conception of "the bathhouse." Personally, I've never been, but I've heard and seen enough (read: porn) to have a general, if not misinformed idea of what goes on.
But what most Montrealers are entirely unaware of is exactly what goes down in a bathhouse, or what it's like to work there.
Sure, we've all thought about what occurs in a bathhouse, maybe even going as far as contemplating heading out to one, but actually heading to Sauna Oasis, G.I. Joe, or the many others? I know I lack the gumption, so here's to reddit user nohomojustabromo for giving us all of the insights on the inner workings of a bathhouse, without having to go.
On a verified AMA, titled "I work in one of many gay bathhouses in Montreal. AMAA!" nohomojustabromo asked anyone who's "curious about visiting a bathhouse and want[s] to know how things work or have some questions about how it's like working there" to pose some questions.
I definitely was, and still am, and the information he provides is beyond interesting.
You can read the entire AMA here, but for a shorter read with all the best tidbits of info, read on.
How DO things work?
Here's how nohomojustabromo breaks things down:
- You go into the entrance which is barred until you pay the fee.
- Once you pay, they unlock the door, you walk in and you're handed a towel, condoms and a key to tie around your wrist.
- Everyone has to strip down naked and wear a towel. If they want to wear a shirt (because some clients might feel more self conscious), they can, but at the very least they have to strip down to their pants and don a towel. You can also wear leather harnesses/fetish wear, but it needs to be very sexual (you can't just wear a white power suit and say you're into suit&tie fetish, you'll have to take those pants off).
- Cruising etiquette is non verbal. It's all about body language and it's not uncalled for to suddenly be groped or to have some guy slap his shlong on your arm. You can choose to have sex right on the spot or go into each others rooms.
- Most bathhouses are generally designed to be maze like, with small rooms as big as a closet that have no more than an elevated mat for a bed and a little locker to store your stuff. Depending on the bathhouse, it can vary from 30 rooms to 200 rooms. Some places have several floors, some places have one large floor but very wide maze like design.
- Along with the maze like layout and low dimmed lights to set the cruise-y ambiance, certain sections of bathhouses are made to encourage sex in a public setting. This can be done by through sections that have glory holes, pitch black dark rooms, a room with a large flat screen TV and leather couches, a room with a sling. Some places would have slings and leather saddle benches in a wide open setting with audience seats on the side and mirrors all over the walls and ceilings.
- You identify yourself as a top/bottom from the position you put yourself if you have a room - face down : bottom, face up : top.
Some saunas have really good steam rooms (dry saunas, steam saunas, infrared saunas, etc). Some regular customers come just to relax in these saunas.
- Depending on the type of crowd and guys you're into, different bathhouses attract different clients. The more "out there" a bathhouse is (sauna oasis or gi joe), the clientele are generally better looking, but they might have the most "attitude" and a reputation for rampant drug use. Some bathhouses are designed to be more discreet, without extravagant posters on their buildings and might attract more closeted guys and married men.
Do you get clients who come just to masturbate to others having sex? Is there an area set up for this activity?
Yup. There are public play areas that are specific for the voyeuristic/exhibitionists. Every sauna has its own public play area design, whether it's through open space with mirrors, bedrooms with one way viewing windows or whatever.
But even as a voyeur you can't just go in, stay clothed and watch - you'll have to strip down to your towel and to an extent, you become a participant and you have to accept the fact that you can still get hit on. Guys will come up and grab your junk. They'll pin you against the wall. Use their dicks as a baseball bat and throw you off balance. But you're still in every right to reject advances.
You still have to respect their private space. If a party is doing stuff and they're not exactly comfortable with you staring at them and move elsewhere, don't be a dick and stalk them continuously. And usually if someone goes as far as breaking the non-verbal cruising environment and tells you to stop following them, it's a pretty big deal.
I could also say that just because you're having group sex in a public area doesn't mean you get to dictate who can watch - that's what you rent rooms for. Your room, your rules. But the public area doesn't belong to anyone.
Are certain things allowed and other things not allowed?
Pretty much anything goes. Every spot can be used for having oral or anal sex, except for areas where there's food being served or the hot tub (because accidents happen when lazy bottoms don't douche). You can choose to have sex in common areas if that's your thing.
The only times we ever interrupt sex is when there's penetration involved in the pools/hot tub.
Activities like barebacking or drug use (PNP/party-and-play) are discouraged, but for the most part, it's not enforced. It happens. We have little boxes where clients can properly dispose of their needles. In my time working here I've only come across 3 needles.
As an employee, does your job mostly revolve around reminding people of the rules and/or keeping the place clean?
Yeah. Mostly just telling people to stop fucking in the public bathing areas, telling people to respect the dress code and keeping the place clean.
Although I'd like to think we do more. There are a lot of drug users and overdoses happen. People lose consciousness, have a bad trip, don't know where they are and we do what we can to make sure they're safe before calling the ambulance. We're almost like babysitters for irresponsible grown men who take way too much drugs.
So what's it like working in such a sexually-charged atmosphere?
You know how when you start a new job and you go through a honeymoon phase that lasts a month or so? It lasted for around 2 days for me.
It's mentally taxing to some extent. For the most part you're not allowed to hook up on the job (it still happens with some employees), so while you're performing your duties, you'll can get hit on non stop. Regardless if you are attracted to the other guy, you have to have some willpower to not start sucking dick so you can get your work done. And you still have to be polite and refuse client advances, even if they get grabby.
It greatly varies from employee to employee. Some of us would get hit on 10 times a night and constantly need to interact with clients and refuse their advances. Some of us get hit on twice a week and it can be a ego bruiser knowing that you're just not that desirable. The job can be mentally draining in different ways whether you're attractive or not.
For the most part, I've become jaded working here.
Is the pay good? And do you have to be gay to work there?
Pfftttt no. You get tips but I made far more as a bartender/waiter.
And no, while it's not required to be gay, it's preferred mainly just because they would want someone who is already familiar with being in this kind of environment. We've had gay employees who couldn't even last 2 days quitting because of how intense it can be some nights.
Clients WILL hit on you. Some can be more aggressive than others and they will not always respect you, because the idea of personal space doesn't necessarily apply here.
I always picture the clientele all being really ancient while the young'ins are on their apps and whatnot, but I take it that's not the case?
I've only come across geriatric type of clients like...twice. They were so old that we had to keep an eye on them out of fear for their safety, if that's what you mean by ancient.
I would say that clientele in bathhouses are between the age of mid 20s to mid 50s average, but I've seen younger guys who are like 19. And it's funny because even though the younger generation are mostly dating through social media and apps, there are still plenty of clients who are still walking around their phones out and Grindr running.
Has it turned you off completely from bathhouses now?
Hmmm. Not really.
I find bathhouses interesting because it really gives you insight on individuals that's far more intimate (and not necessarily have to sleep with them, ha). It varies between cities and countries and every place does it differently. A lot of saunas in more conservative parts of America function more like a "Men's Club" and they're not as out there like saunas in Montreal.
And you don't necessarily have to go to have sex. Sometimes you've had too much to drink, missed your bus and it's cold and you just want to sleep it out.
My personal favourite:
Q: I've always found the sexuality of gay men interesting. In a strange way I feel that you guys get to have more freedom to explore your sexuality then straight men.
A: I guess. It comes at a hefty cost. Like our lives.