I received an e-mail from 'a long-time Chicagoan' about his experiences in local bathhouses. This is Part 1.
'A few months ago you ran some memories of the baths, and I wanted to add my memories of the baths and, perhaps at another time, of some of the gay cruising areas that used to exist. These places were popular before there were as many gay bars as there are now, as well as GLBT religious groups, athletic groups, musical groups, writing groups, places to volunteer, etc., where one can meet people.
'I think the first bathhouse I went to was the Devon Baths which was on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park, a couple blocks west of Broadway and on the north side of the street. This would have been around 1973. I was 27 and had been out about 3 years, but was still very new to 'the scene.' I had just moved to Rogers Park and overheard someone talking about this place, so I tried them out once. There weren't too many people there, which was fine with me. There were a few people in the shower and steam room, some of them eyeing each other, but nothing 'special' going on. Somehow I hooked up with someone and we ended up in one of the small rooms. He seemed to be about my age and was a little bigger and more muscular than I was. He wanted to screw me but I was not interested in doing that. However, he was quite insistent and started to get a little rough with me—twisting my arm and trying to force himself on me. At that point, my only interest was in getting out of the room as soon as I could without agitating the guy but certainly without letting him get what he wanted. (I was so tight anyway I don't think he could have gotten in with a crowbar.) I considered calling out, but decided if I played it cool I could achieve my goal in less dramatic fashion. I managed to placate him and maneuver myself towards the door, and then told him I really did not want to continue and quickly got out. I dressed quickly and never went back.
'About a year after that, I made my way to the Club Baths, which were on LaSalle Street around 600 north. It was the only big bathhouse in town at the time and was part of a national chain. I went there twice within a year or so. I went around midnight after having been at a bar or two, and there were lots of people there. They had an orgy room, and I remember hearing one guy talking about being on his knees and 'doing' a bunch of guys. I was in the orgy room for awhile but did not partake of any of the action—I was still not comfortable with that kind of scene. I also did not hook up with anyone in any of the rooms. No one that I was attracted to seemed interested in me, and I also did not know how to act in this environment. I remember thinking after I left my second visit, that I had had two unsatisfying visits to this place, and if it happened again it would be the last time I would go to the baths—'three strikes and you're out.''
More bathhouse stories from 'a long-time Chicagoan' next week.
If you have memories to share, contact Sukie de la Croix at Windy City Times. You can leave a message on his voicemail at (773) 871-7610. He collects memories and interviews over the phone, in person, or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .