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I have a confession: I love saunas. I don’t visit them all the time – not even every week. But every now and again I like to head down to the local sauna, unwind, and enjoy myself in the company of other likeminded men.
Apparently, though, the act of visiting saunas has fallen out of favour with the kids on the scene. It’s not cool to visit a sauna, they say. Only dirty old men ever do it.
Well, let me tell you: I’m 22 years old, I have a good job, I work hard, and I love saunas. I’m not unattractive to men. I’m not lonely. I’m certainly not sleazy – but I do like this very gay of traditions.
I do wonder why other young people especially seem so judgemental about my use of saunas. It’s never been an issue for me. When I first started coming out, it was a place I could meet other guys without resorting to alcohol and bars. It was safer than a cruising ground and had fewer timewasters than Grindr. So why wouldn’t I use saunas?
The gay scene works well for those who fit in. If you’re a party animal or a pretty twink, you’ll fit in. If you’re not, you either have to find a bar that caters to your needs, or you just have to do make do. But saunas are a great leveller. People of all kinds come to saunas. That’s why I love them.
I wonder if part of the problem is the ‘gentrification’ of the gay scene. In our struggle for equality, many gays now argue that we are ‘just the same as everyone else’. They want marriages, kids, mortgages and pensions – and this is all fine. But what about those of us who don’t want to be the same as everyone else?
Saunas were very important before the gay scene became trendy. They offered a safe space to be who you were and to get the sex that you wanted without getting arrested. I embrace that – and I think it should be my choice whether I use saunas or not.
It seems that in the struggle to be ‘just the same as everyone else’, we’ve tried to cover up those parts of our heritage that are uncomfortable and unpalatable. Gays like me are now a dying breed. At least, that’s what these A-gays want you to believe.
From my own experiences, saunas are still busy, and they still serve a place in the community. The saunas I visit seem busier than ever. Many of the people who’ve looked repulsed when I’ve mentioned saunas before have turned up in the hot tub early on a Sunday morning when they think no one will see them or remember.
The saunas I visit are more diverse than the gay scene itself. There are people of all age rangers. Men in the closet and men definitely out. I’ve seen people from more social and cultural backgrounds sweating it out in the steam room than I ever have on the dancefloor.
So I’m proud to love saunas. I’m also proud for those of us who just want to be married and live like everyone else. I think there’s space enough for all of us. Don’t you?