I don’t usually review books but Marcel Wiel’s non-fiction, Find Love In A Gay Bathhouse, is so relevant to gay men and their happiness I’ve made an exception. The book’s sub-title is An Eight Step Guide to Finding Mr Right In a Gay Bathhouse & Then Making the Relationship Work. Before we start, make sure to go all the way to the bottom of the article as there is an exclusive interview with Marcel plus a chance to win a copy of his book by telling us about your best bathhouse experience.
What I love about Wiel’s book is the way it tackles sex head on and in plain language. To some, a gay bathhouse seems rather dirty and seedy, yet Wiel presents it as quite the opposite, showing how such establishments are as vital to the gay world as garden centres are to the straight. In so doing he further breaks down the barriers between the two worlds, and deserves a pat on the back for it.
There is a risk with this kind of book of descending into the world of pornography. Wiel comes out with some pretty unambiguous advice, such as:
- If you’re going to approach someone in a cubicle, make sure you’re aroused.
- Average size and standing to attention will normally do the trick.
- Embrace the idea of multiple contacts in a single bathhouse visit.
- …because the heat is wet, towels are left on hooks by the door and, as anyone will tell you, it’s not hard to guess what someone wants when his cock is pointing at you.
Yet he avoids porno. The book provides advice on how to hook up with men, what equipment (other than the obvious) to take with you, etiquette, avoiding STIs and looks at the difference between sex and love (an old favourite of mine, as you may recall). But more than this it goes on to examine how to find and keep Mr Right, giving sober and valuable advice for a lasting relationship – advice that’s as valid for straight relationships as gay. He’s even included some prompts for the reader, and spaces to jot down personal ideas to help identify what’s important to the individual.
Wiel, as you’d expect from an editor at The Guardian, writes with conviction and clarity. Personally, I’d like to think all young gay men – and those of any age who still have to find true love - will read this book; it will help them find happiness and build a healthy future. It should be available on the NHS.
To buy a copy, click on the book cover below:
I was so impressed by Marcel’s book, I asked him if he’d agree to an interview. I know he is very busy with his day job and was therefore thrilled when he said ‘yes’. He’s also giving away a free copy of Find Love In A Gay Bathhouse, so when you’ve read the interview have a look at the instructions How To Win at the end.
Tris: Marcel, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. When I read your book I just knew that my readers and followers would want to know more about the guy who wrote it. Would you mind starting off by telling us a bit about Marcel Wiel the man? Where did you grow up, your background, and that exciting job of yours?
Marcel: I’m 47 and a native Londoner, with a British mum and a French dad. I’ve been with my partner Pierre since we met in the steam room of a 24-hour gay sauna back in 2005. Politics-wise, I’m definitely a leftie, and workwise, I started off as an auditor, which I was abysmal at, switching to journalism in 1997. Since 2000, I’ve been working at The Guardian, currently as deputy editor of its syndicated news service, which involves selecting about 30 Guardian articles for 50 or so newspapers around the world on a daily basis.
What else? Thing most likely to say: dick, dick, dick … enough dick already! There’s more to life than dick. There’s tits and ass as well.
Tris: I didn’t come out until I was nearly forty years old by which time I had a garage full of baggage; the entire affair was quite traumatic – though I must add it was worth it! How was yours?
Marcel: Very different. On New Year’s Eve 1981 when I was 17, three months before my 18th birthday, I was watching Top Of The Pops review of the year, salivating over Sting singing Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. And suddenly I thought: ‘I am not going to live like this anymore.’ So I called Gay Switchboard, who gave me the number of a coming out support collective called Gay Icebreakers. This was the best thing I ever did. The guys that ran it organised Sunday tea parties for callers to meet other gay men outside of the commercial gay scene, as well as a weekly Friday night disco in a pub in north London and a fortnightly discussion group in Gay’s The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury. Through Icebreakers, I learned about the gay scene, gay politics and made many friends. I also (inevitably) ended up sleeping with almost all of them, which was really cool, because that gave me oodles of confidence when I started clubbing & pubbing on my own. I also had no probs coming out to my family (who totally freaked, but I handled it). It also meant that in my first month of uni, I felt ok about standing up at a student union meeting and talking about an issue of gay discrimination by a local council (in Rugby).
I’ve always been an out gay man and I think coming out is the single most important thing a gay man can do. That said, I too have baggage: memories of homophobic bullying at school have left me with a very short fuse when it comes to anti-gay hate speak.
Tris: As you say yourself in the book, most people won’t imagine that you can find a happy-ever-after in a gay sauna. You did. Now, I have a confession to make. I’ve been with my partner for fourteen years and we are more in love every day, and I met him somewhere equally ‘unimaginable’ – a public cruising area (incidentally, before me he’d been in an eight year relationship with someone he met in…a gay bathhouse!). So, we know it happens. What I’d like are your thoughts on whether, with greater equality for the glbt community, the need for such venues will dwindle?
Marcel: I don’t think that’ll happen. Although being gay is much more accepted today than in the 20th century, what hasn’t changed is many gay men’s voracious appetite for sexual partners. Granted, originally such sex clubs were very much underground because of anti-gay laws. But what hasn’t changed is the nature of sexuality, that hunger to be intimate with another person, that need to connect, to hold and/or be held, and for some (like me) to clock up large numbers.
Also, gay men behave very differently to heterosexual men and women in terms of no-strings sex, so they need their own space where they can operate free from judgment. For straight people, my impression is that the swinger scene is quite niche; gay saunas and other gay sex clubs on the other hand operate in most towns and cities in the western world.
On the site selling my book
, I created a Sauna Finder guide linked to a Google map, where I plotted saunas in North America, Oz, New Zealand and Europe, which have websites. In total my list runs to 400. And I didn’t include the many more that only had a phone number.
Gay men like an uncomplicated shag. Freedom and equal opps won’t change anything about this. The only thing that will though is that it’ll happen in a more open way.
Tris: What inspired you to write the book?
Marcel: Most importantly, it was meeting my partner and making our relationship work.
Another reason is that, like most journalists, I am a frustrated writer. Generally with professional writing, the more time you spend on production (eg editing), the less head space you have to be creative. That said, most people go into journalism because they enjoy writing, but they end up doing production work because it pays the bills. Anyway, so when a very good friend suggested I write an eBook about how I met Pierre, it got me thinking and one day when I was on hols in France a month later, I sat down with a note pad and started writing a plan for the book.
Politically, I also wanted to make a very positive statement about gay saunas, which I feel often get a very bad press, even from people who use them. I think they’re just great and I’ll defend them to the hilt. That you and I can nip down, day or night, to a sauna and have some fun without fear of being hassled by the police or roving thugs is a very important freedom that says a lot about the maturity of our democracy.
Take the Arab Spring for instance: I predict that lasting, positive, social and political change will only happen when two out gay men can sit unmolested in a street cafe in Cairo, Damascus or Jeddah. GLBT rights are a barometer for a country’s long-term social stability and even economic growth. All nations, which have state-sponsored homophobia, are characterised by endemic corruption, political repression and/or mass poverty. Think Zimbabwe, Tchad, Mauritania and Sudan in Africa; all of the Middle East except Israel; and Russia and the nations of the Caucauses to name but a few. Notwithstanding the pain and anguish caused by these countries’ anti-gay laws, being in the closet, which virtually all gay people there must be, really fucks them up mentally and emotionally.
Gay saunas are symbolic of much more than just an easy shag.
Tris: How has the book been received? Have you suffered any backlash from any quarter?
Marcel: It’s been well received. I’ve had a few reviews and none has been negative and as far as I know to date no one has said anything bad about me or the book.
I did quite consciously make sure I included a very strong safer sex message. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that a place where you have sex with lots of different people, who themselves are having sex with lots of different people, is the ideal environment for catching an STI.
Tris: A recurring theme in my fiction is the difference between sex and love. I was interested to read your thoughts on this in Find Love In A Gay Bathhouse. Do you think that gay men find it easier to make that distinction than heterosexuals?
Marcel: I don’t think the distinction is gay-straight but rather man-woman. For sure there are some men who wouldn’t dream of having sex with complete strangers, just as there are some women who’d not think twice before getting it on with someone who turned them on, but generally speaking from what I’ve observed I think men find it easier not to be emotionally invested in the people they have sex with. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, rather that this is how I’ve seen human sexuality play out.
That said, if you accept this and you’re a sexually active gay man, I think you can save yourself a lot of heartache by not constantly giving your heart away every time you have a great shag.
Tris: I’d like now to turn to the prickly issue of – and dare I use the word – promiscuity. You suggest that the idea of gay men being promiscuous is incorrect, that men have a built-in need to sow their seed as widely as they can. Later in the book you say that ejaculation releases a chemical which makes us inclined to monogamy. How do you see these two opposites fitting into our lives? – and, please, if I’ve misunderstood your explanation in the book feel free to put me right.
Marcel: These two ideas – men’s relatively greater emotional and physical ability to have many sexual partners and that the hormone Vasopressin, which makes humans want to be monogamous and is released into the bloodstream upon ejaculation (ie that post-orgasm inclination to cuddle up and afterwards to be together) – are outlined in the book at different stages in my eight-step guide to meeting Mr Right in a gay bathhouse and then making the relationship work.
The first idea around an ability to have many sexual encounters is very much linked to the sauna part of the book and is all about fully exploiting this aspect of the male sexuality in the sauna environment where experiences with many men are available. It’s about matching a side of maleness with an appropriate context. Indeed, the first chapter of my book is called Making The Statistics (of saunas) Work For You.
The second idea on the other hand is towards the end of the book once the reader has met someone, who they feel a significant connection with, and is about ‘feeding the green shoots of love’. At this stage, I suggest that part of this process is how when these two men are having sex, they really are ‘making’ love by the production of all the different hormones that happen at this time (when there is some kind of reciprocal emotional investment).
Although both these types of experiences can – and are – felt by the same person, what I’m suggesting is that they cannot be experienced at the same time if love is to truly blossom. In other words, starting off in a sauna and ending in the bedroom, the first leads to the second.
Tris: What next, Marcel? Is there another book somewhere in the pipeline? Do you see yourself writing fiction?
Marcel: Definitely. I have several book ideas in my in-tray at the mo. Non-fiction projects include one about HIV post-effective ARVs and another will be a pastry cookbook. And of my fiction ideas, one will be about marital infidelity from a woman’s point of view and another will be a historical novel about a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci.
Tris: What’s your view of the huge increase in demand for gay or M/M fiction, such as I write?
Marcel: This can only be a good thing and will make for an important contribution to the onward march towards equal GLBT rights, in the same way as gay plotlines on Eastenders and Coronation Street helped change mainstream attitudes towards gay and lesbian people.
Also, in 1970s gay fiction, the gay characters always ended up committing suicide. Thank fuck we’re over that kind of shit. I can’t imagine a worse type of role model for the young gay man who’s struggling to come to terms with coming out.
My starting point is that in the movies for instance, I want to see Brad Pitt giving it to a grateful – and happy – Arnie (makes for a nice cross-generational, non-ageist statement as well), and in fiction, I’d like to read that post-Cathy, Heathcliff found happiness with the local vicar.
I want total and complete equal GLBT rights – no exception, no compromise, in fiction as well as in real life.
And if anyone who reads this interview comes across someone who says otherwise (eg around gay marriage), my recommendation is that this homophobe should be spurned as one would a rabid dog.
Tris: What or who has most influenced your life?
Marcel: Counterintuitively, I think it has to be the homophobes and racists I had the misfortune of coming across, especially when I was much younger and there was much less acceptance of gay people than today. They taught me that I could only truly be happy with myself if I stood my ground and challenged their attempts to put me down. Through them, I came to understand that at the end of the day I shouldn’t give two hoots what they thought as long as they didn’t try to bully or intimidate me.
I’m a firm believer that it only through hard times and difficult and challenging lessons (where we often fall on our faces) that we truly learn about life. Moreover, just as birth is a messy, bloody affair, through each of these difficult trials, a new, stronger version of ourselves is reborn. But the birthing chamber will never be a pretty place.
It’s just like yoga: it’s easy to be all Zen-like sitting on the beach in a tropical paradise a stone’s throw from a five-star resort. The challenge is to be like this in a shitty flat in Peckham opposite a noisy building site.
We humans only truly learn and evolve when we’re staring at the abyss. Anything less will only lead to superficial change. That’s why challenges – and to a certain extent, but not masochistically so, shitheads – must be welcomed.
Tris: How would you like to be remembered?
Marcel: As an honourable man by people who don’t know me personally, and for my Pierre, as the person who’ll be waiting for him the other side of the field of dreams so we can be together, laughing and loving each other for all eternity.
Tris: Thanks again, Marcel. I think you’ve spoken not just for gay men but all fair and decent people. And I’ll definitely be reading those new books!
Remember, you can buy Marcel’s book here
but he’s also got that bathhouse finder on there and other useful information.
How To Win
Win A Copy of Marcel’s book, Find Love In A Gay Bathhouse.
What we are asking you to do is tell us about your best bathhouse experience. It doesn’t have to be long, average will do (wink), just make sure you convey what made it so special. Post your entry in the comment box below. If you can’t see the comment box, go to the beginning of the post and click in the speech balloon on the right. Closing date is 31st October 2011, midnight GMT. Marcel will read all submissions and choose a winner, so make sure you check back early November as he’ll need the winner’s email in order to arrange your free copy (can be either e-book or print copy). Go on, get writing!