There Goes The Neighborhood, 2010
In the years directly before the AIDS crisis, urban centers exploded with large populations of politicized gay men engaged in radical forms of open sexuality. In 1979, the year I was born, the AIDS crisis had not yet reached it’s full devastation and the largely gay and Latino neighborhood of Silver Lake—an artist’s enclave adjacent to Downtown Los Angeles—boasted over 10 exclusively gay bathhouses. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s contributed to the slow (and on going) liberation of gay men to openly (some what) express their same-sex gender choice. Prior to this ‘revolution’, closeted gay men met in clandestine spaces, fearful for their life given the open hostility that the culture in general, and the authorities specifically, thrust onto their same-sex desire. During this era of forbidden desire, bathhouses became popular meeting grounds for gay men, and even after the progress of the sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960’s, bathhouses became the safest spaces for gay men to openly express their sexual desires.
In his book, “Beyond Shame: Reclaiming The Abandoned History Of Radical Gay Sexuality” Patrick Moore chronicles the history of bath houses and sex clubs, aligning it with the history of the radical left, feminism, and the counter-cultural revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. Speaking about the ‘radical’ aspect of sex clubs and bath houses, Moore writes:
“In the 1970’s, gay men initiated an astonishing experiment in radically restructuring existing relationships, concepts of beauty, and the use of sex as a revolutionary tool.”
AIDS of course, changed all of that. By 1981 AIDS would become a full-blown epidemic that was shrouded in mystery and misinformation. Major cities shut down legal bathhouses and an entire generation of gay men fell victim to the disease. We will never know what would have become of their ‘experimentation’. All we are left with is a gap in the lineage of elder gay men.