Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Today, the headlines read “Bathhouse Blaze”, early Sunday morning a fire broke out in one of Winnipeg’s two bathhouses. Aquarius, a two floor bathhouse, was a low light place to connect with other men for the sole purpose of having sex. The facility also hosted co-ed nights for women to also come and “hook up” or go there for a date night, as one female patron said, a safe place to go.
Having graced the rooms of Aquarius, I know full well what went on behind the entry way. Bathhouses were at one point my friend. A place to have as many encounters with other men as possible, to explore different avenues of sexual pleasure and it played into the excitement of voyeurism. Aquarius was no exception to this fact. The basement of the facility was the dungeon so to speak, with a round bed in a large dark room where I saw men in bondage. Opposite that room was a maze of chain link and a blackened maze of corners, small rooms where one could go and have sex and not see the other person.
Realizing the destructive behavior of the facility, especially in the degrading acts being played out on men as well as women, it became evident that Aquarius was a glorified whore house, only money was not exchanged apart from the entry fee, and the availability of poppers (a drug which induces a person to put aside all inhibition, placing that person in a position of potentially dangerous activity).
I write as a writer who has been to some pretty rough places to get the high of a sexual encounter. What is sad today is that two men died in this fire. One of these men a 23 year old aspiring drag queen, wanted to go into the entertainment biz. When I saw his face, I saw the face of a clean cut male, young and pretty, yet deeply masculine. A face with hope in his eyes. Yet his hope won’t amount to anything, as his life was taken far too early. But the deeper issue with his death is the correlation between his life as a drag queen and his issue with the bathhouse. A drag queen often is one to do fundraising, is looked upon as someone who lives in the public realm. Is often the voice of those in need. Today that voice is no longer speaking, singing or entertaining.
This brings me to the issue of pride. Pride is the big quintessential word of gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered people. The Pride Parade is all about being proud of who you are, and yet, there is a deep seeded, dark issue of sexual addiction in our midst, that is being normalized in our culture today.
“We are proud of who we are, we want rights…we demand them, and we will take down every voice that is against us. Because being against us means you are full of hate.”
Are words that at one time, I used, and heard other gay people speak out loud, and full of force.
Yet having been to bathhouses and having to look at the destructive behavior of my own sexual addiction, I wonder, what kind of pride that was? I wasn’t loving myself, I was actually feeding my addiction and couldn’t see past not getting a sexual fix, the next guy who would turn me on. It was all about sex. Not pride. Pride would be taking care of myself, honoring and respecting myself and others, not using them, for the sake of my own pleasure. Pride is not taking away my inhibitions with poppers and putting myself at risk of disease, or injury. Pride is learning what the roots of sexual addiction are, that are causing us to go to all lengths to get off. Pride is looking at our behavior and or allowing someone in to speak life to us, rather than encourage us in behavior that is hurtful to both ourselves and to others. When did we first come to understand that multiple sex partners are okay, good or healthy? Why isn’t the gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered community standing up in Pride and shouting enough is enough? Treating each other as objects, as sexual toys, as a way to get our needs met, is exactly what Pride isn’t. When will the community that demands respect and pride and the “same” rights as everyone else realize they have a long way to go to “get there”, if they continue to applaud sexual addictions, drug use, and criminal activity.
It is a quiet secret regarding the realm of sexual exploits and the areas of town these exploits happen in our city, where gay men hang out, late at night or during the day, all in the hopes of having sex. Men congregate in bathrooms across the city, to meet someone to have an orgasm. Putting at risk, young children, teens and others who would rather not see what is going on. Sure, you can be as safe as you think you are, but you never know who will walk in, who will see. Why do we sugar coat the issue of sexual addiction?
It is easier to turn a blind eye, to stay silent rather than speak the truth. Maybe it has to be someone who has been there, done it, who has received help regarding his sexual addiction, who needs to stand and speak. So today I speak. I say, “when is enough, going to be enough.” How many lives are we risking when we stay silent? To disease, to injury, to death? How many souls are we actually killing when we don’t say anything? Lives of men and women, struggling with sexual addiction, not knowing their worth apart from the buzz of the moment, only to wake up, empty and alone or empty in the arms of a stranger they just met a couple of hours before.
I know that I have pride in who I am as a man, who I am as a husband, who I am as a father. Would I want my child to grow up desperately hungry for love and affirmation and a sense of worth, so much so they have sex in a bathhouse, in a dark, dingy, smelly cage, inhibitions gone, not knowing how many people are having sex with them? Hardly, the thought of that actually makes me feel sad. So why would we want our friends, our co-workers, our family members, our loved ones to go to those lengths? When will we say enough is enough and stand for human rights, respected and honored?
Bobby Rogers, President and Acting Manager of Gio’s stated…
“Thank you to everyone who came out tonight to help start our community's grieving process. As part of this process, CJOB 680 AM Richard Cloutier respectfully invited members of our community to discuss some aspects of our culture. After consulting with some community members, Chris Vogel was asked to help us out. Chris Vogel , one of the founders of Gio's (The Oscar Wilde Memorial Society Inc.) and leader in Manitoba and Canada with LGBT rights will discuss some of the unique aspects of our community with Richard, Tuesday at 9am. This is such a sensitive topic and troublesome time for us all - please trust that Richard and Chris will help sort through the stereotypes and homophobia that have been drifting in and out of media comments as a result of this tragedy.”
Key words used here are:
Unique aspect of our community
This is a sensitive matter. Two men died, in a senseless fire.
But what are the bigger issues here? Is there one? What about the reasoning of Pride, and the oversexualized…unique aspect of the gay community?
What about sexual addiction? What about respecting oneself and others? This is rather troublesome.
I listened to the interview with Chris Vogel who stated a few misinterpreted fact.
1. He stated that Aquarius was renovated and was a great establishment. Unless it was renovated in the last 5 years, it was a pretty dark and dingy place.
2. He stated that drugs and alcohol were not used on the facility, and it is a known fact that Poppers are sold and drugs and alcohol are ingested on site (brought in by patrons).
3. He did however say that they needed to have installed fire detectors.
I found that an odd statement, “no fire detectors?”, is that not mandatory at all licensed established businesses. Yet, in the radio broadcast, it was stated that bathhouses do not need a license to operate? So a tragic event took place, 2 men died in an establishment that was not regulated by regular fire and health inspections. So regarding the establishment being a great place to meet and greet, it really was an accident ready to happen. It was irresponsible for the owner as well as the city to allow the establishment to open and operate.
In our city, our motto is “Take Pride Winnipeg.” How is this taking pride? How is this being committed in raising citizen responsibility?
In the end it comes down to citizens making a stand to what is allowed in their neighborhoods, parks, businesses. We live in a free country in which we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion and the right to say “enough is enough.”
Today, I have had enough.
A concerned citizen of Winnipeg.