On a recent Saturday night in one of Los Angeles’ few remaining bathhouses, the crowd was pretty sparse.
“At about 10:30, when I got there, there were maybe less than a dozen guys, total, at least that I saw. Most of us were older, a couple younger dudes walking around with jockstraps on, maybe looking for daddies, maybe looking for drugs, I don’t know.”
So says “Alex,” a 51-year old gay man who tells us that he “used to go to the bathhouse a lot” when he was in his thirties, but now only goes “about 4 or 5 times a year.”
“I used to have a lot of fun, God yes. But there were drugs involved and it got really messy for me, so I stopped going for a while. I figured I was too old for it anyway. Then suddenly it seemed like daddies became a thing, so I decided to try my luck.”
He laughs, “I wasn’t as successful as I used to be, but it was fun enough to get me wanting to come back, every now and then.”
On the evening of his latest visit, “Alex” told us that things picked up later in the evening, “around closing time” for the nearby bars, and that he was able to “get what I came for and get the hell home.” That’s not always the case, though; he admits that over the last year or so, he’s noticed a definite drop in the numbers on his occasional bathhouse forays. “There just aren’t as many guys, and the ones who stopped coming are mostly the younger ones.”
His observations reveal a common thread in the narratives of the men who spoke anonymously to the Blade about their bathhouse experiences. “Bathhouse culture” is still out there, but it’s become a pale shadow of its glory days, when New York’s Continental Baths boasted entertainment from a young Bette Midler as a diversion to enjoy while waiting for the next towel-clad “Mr. Right Now” to come sauntering in. In that era, even the much-humbler clubs that dotted major cities around the country were cultural hubs for a community for whom sexual freedom required anonymity.
The reasons behind the decline of this once-revered institution are generally assumed to be one or a combination of a few basic factors.
“It was different before AIDS,” says “Tom,” 54. “Bathhouses just seem sketchy since that.”
“Ramon,” 43, says, “It used to be heaven, but the drugs have really killed it for me. Half the guys are high, or looking to get high, and they’re not there for sex at all.”
“Kevin,” 48, offers the most commonly held opinion. “It’s the apps, obviously. These kids figure, why should they go out and pay $50 or more and not even know what they’re gonna have to choose from when they can find somebody to scratch that itch without even leaving home?’”
While these men may hold varying opinions about the cause, the effect is clear to all of them: younger men are staying away from bathhouses in droves.
Jim Anzide refers to this phenomenon as the “death of the bathhouse.” Anzide, who works with The Lavender Effect, says he recognizes that – for younger gay, queer, and questioning men in the age of Grindr and Scruff – the loss of this particular cultural institution may not mean very much, but he also asserts that there’s a whole hidden history behind it, even just within this city, that should be remembered and preserved.
“Even before California was a state, there were people here,” Anzide says. “They were here for the gold rush, they were here as lumberjacks – there were all these men travelling around the country, and they needed places to bathe and sleep.”
To satisfy the demand, entrepreneurs came up with idea of a bathhouse. The original concept was that only women would be allowed to use it during the day, and only men in evening – which meant that the men could stay overnight.
“Men outnumbered the women by huge margin, and urges needed to be fulfilled,” Anzide says. “Things happened.”
As the state developed, the need grew for such facilities in densely populated areas; in Los Angeles, where the city declined to open public bathhouses, the entrepreneurs stepped in again, and the privately-run baths they opened eventually evolved to become havens for closeted gay men in search of anonymous playmates. One such club, located on 4th St. in DTLA with the eyebrow-raising name of “The Klyt,” closed its doors for the last time only last year; it was rumored that Rock Hudson once had his own key to the back door.
It was this environment which awaited today’s gay elders when they were first introduced to the secret world of the bathhouse in their younger days. “It was scary,” says Anzide, “but it was like a secret haven, where you could go and just hook up with whoever you wanted, and there was no connection – you just go in anonymously, have this, have that, and get out.”
Such places served an important role in the community, providing a safe space where gay men could freely explore their sexuality and meet the need for intimate human connection that was often hard to find in their daily lives. At the peak of their popularity, Anzide tells us, in gay hubs like Silver Lake, “it was like Starbucks, there was one on every other corner.”
“Then AIDS happened,” he continues, “and everybody scaled back, because everybody was afraid.”
Gradually, as more information became known about the virus and treatments began to be available, gay men started to reach out for the physical intimacy that was beginning to seem possible again, and the bathhouse culture started to revive. “There was a re-introduction of that world,” says Anzide, “not as wild as it was before, but because there was a need for connection again, a need for intimacy, and anonymity – and that was very important to the culture.”
Just as the bathhouse seemed to be back, however, another plague hit.
“Adam,” a former manager at one of LA’s most popular clubs who spoke to the Blade anonymously, remembers what it was like when the meth epidemic was surging through the culture during his tenure in the mid 2000s. “It was a nightmare,” he says. “I 86’d about 600 people for drug abuse during my last ten years at the club. It was very hard to deal with.”
Drugs had always been a part of bathhouse culture, but this was different. People were dying of overdoses in the clubs, and transmission rates for HIV and other STDs skyrocketed as users of meth and other drugs grew careless about condoms.
Still, “Adam,” suggests meth may have been a convenient excuse, rather than the reason, for the disappearance of the bathhouse, which he claims has been at least partly due to harassment by public officials.
“The meth is part of the culture,” he says. “It’s not just in the bathhouses, it’s in the whole community and they bring it in with them. But the health department, the city, the police – they just don’t like the idea of men having sex with men, and so they find every reason they can to fine you, to make you jump through hoops. My single biggest headache running the club was dealing with the politics around it.”
Though he says he was “never a bathhouse guy” himself, “Adam” says he grew to appreciate them during his stint within the industry, and he laments the idea of their loss. “I came to realize how important it was for so many men in the gay community – the ones who have no social circle, who are older, who may be overweight, who feel intimidated. There are a lot of gay men that just think of them as whorehouses, they’re really against them, but there’s a really huge chunk of the community that appreciate them being there.”
Echoing that sentiment is “Greg,” who says he is in a “happily committed but open” relationship and prefers the bathhouse experience to using hookup apps because, as he puts it, “a cock in your hand at the bathhouse is worth two online.” At 57, he says he feels like his “shelf life has run out” on Grindr, Scruff and the like.
“It’s a lot of work,” he says. “You can spend your fucking life on an app with people,” he elaborates, “and wonder if they’re going to hook up, or not, or just endlessly swap pictures, or you can just go to the baths and take care of business.”
Like “Alex,” “Greg” says he ran afoul of drugs in his younger years. Now sober, he says the lingering presence of meth is still an issue for him in the bathhouses.
“There’s always that conversation, you know, the whispered ‘You party?’ But I’ve had some of the best sex I’ve had in a long time, and the reality is that there I find younger guys there – and I mean younger to me, in their thirties or forties – who are great sex partners.”
“Jorge,” who at 37 just barely makes the cut for being a millennial, says “I truly believe that bath houses are somewhat a rite of passage within the LGBT community. I was introduced to them in my early twenties and once I discovered them, I would not leave. Everything was new to me, I didn’t know how to pick up on certain signals or what the proper etiquette was, but going to the bathhouse, with time I did learn.”
Though he says he would “encourage any guy to check a bathhouse at least once” in order to “truly appreciate the old way of cruising someone face to face,” it’s telling that “Jorge” says he hasn’t been to a bathhouse in “about three years.”
For Anzide, the drift of the younger generations away from bathhouses makes perfect sense.
“Kids don’t need them today. Their elders lived in a time when they had to hide themselves in the shadows, and the bathhouses were safe, private and anonymous. Today there’s no shame or very little, and they certainly don’t need the “bathing” part of either – they can say ‘come over, we’ll jump in the shower after.’
There’s a culture gap between the older and younger generations, too, he says. While many older gay men embrace the Tom of Finland motto of “keeping the ‘sex’ in ‘homosexual,’ in the new millennium there’s more of an emphasis toward love, home, and family, and many younger members of the gay community, knowing only what they’ve heard about the darker aspects of the experience and lacking the fond nostalgia of first-hand memory, attach a stigma to bathhouse culture that they have no imperative to overcome.
“Men of the older generation are at a loss how to deal with that,” he says, “but for the younger gays, it’s just the way it is.”
The attitude taken by many older men over the disappearance of one of the touchstones of their youth tends to be one of wistful resignation. Cultural historian and author Kirk Frederick sums it up succinctly with his comment, “I was a twenty-something in the ‘70s, but I visited bathhouses only occasionally. Still, I lament their loss, not just as a viable hook-up option but as a social gathering place. The advent of the digital age may have provided us with the ease of online cruising, but it seems to have made the personal touch superfluous.”
Still, as Anzide is eager to remind us, it would be unwise to count the bathhouse as being down and out forever.
“Don’t get me wrong, the bathhouse will come back,” Anzide insists. “It will be a different thing than what we saw, but that need will come back, that need for connection, and physical presence – to see you, and feel you, and taste you… I can’t get that through my phone.”
Queer representation did not sit quiet at Emmy Awards
This year- 50% of the best drama series, 25% of the best comedy, & 60% of the best limited series featured LGBTQ characters or plot lines
LOS ANGELES – The pandemic is over (in award show world anyway), and glitz and glamour have returned. That is the prevailing impression from this year’s 74th Annual Emmy Awards. The show was stunning and exciting from the outset, but even with the pomp and loud noise of celebration, a queer presence was not to be drowned out.
The tone of representation was launched immediately as announcer, queer comic, Sam Jay, looking sharp in her black tuxedo, took the mic. On camera even more than host Kenan Thompson, Jay was a presence and a personality and decidedly queer. If her gay power was not enough, the point was made when Thompson and out actor Boen Yang joked on stage. Thompson accused Yang of a comment being “a hate crime”, Yang retorted “Not if I do it. Then it’s representation.”
Representation was going to be made this evening. The visibility was significant considering, according to the GLAAD Where We Are on TV Report, out of 775 series regular characters only 92 are LGBTQ (less than 12 percent). That 11+ percent is a record high of LGBTQ characters in all of TV history. The record was set by an increase in lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters, but a decrease in gay male characters from the previous year.
For the Emmy nominations, 50% of the best drama series nominees, 25% of the best comedy, and 60% of the best limited series featured LGBTQ characters or plot lines. As far as queer talent, that was more sporadic, heavily slanted towards “supporting categories” and often with queer talent all in the same category against each other.
Regardless, we showed up, as did other individuals who scored recognition for their identities. Some of the key LGBTQ representative moments included:
- Early in the show, Hannah Einbinder did a hard flirt from the stage for Zendaya, saying that she was not on the stage to present, but rather to stare at the beautiful actress.
- Gay actor Murray Bartlett won Best Supporting Actor for a Limited or Anthology Series for The White Lotus. He thanked his partner Matt, but strangely did not mention the famous “salad scene” (Google it…)
- The White Lotus also won the Best Limited or Anthology series category, and bisexual Mike White won Best Director for Limited Series as well. White is the son of gay clergyman, author, and activist Mel White. They appeared on the Amazing Race as a father and son team.
- Jerrod Carmichael won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing of a Variety Special for his heartfelt Rothaniel in which he comes out as gay as part of the show. Carmichael wowed in a brilliant white, flowing fur coat over his bare medallioned chest.
- Out actress Sarah Paulsen and Shonda Rhimes, who singlehandedly is responsible for 17% of all LGBTQ characters on TV, presented the Governors Award to Geena Davis for her organization Institute of Gender in Media. The mission of the organization is representation of women in media. Davis stood before a video featuring various women artists including transgender actress Laverne Cox. The organization is the only public data institute to consistently analyze representations of the six major marginalized identities on screen: women; people of color; LGBTQIA+ individuals; people with disabilities; older persons (50+); and large-bodied individuals in global Film, Television, Advertising and Gaming.
- Lizzo broke RuPaul’s streak to win Best Competition program. RuPaul showed up later in the show do present a major award anyway. Lizzo has not felt the need to label herself in the LGBTQ spectrum but has said, “When it comes to sexuality or gender, I personally don’t ascribe to just one thing. I cannot sit here right now and tell you I’m just one thing. That’s why the colors for LGBTQ+ are a rainbow! Because there’s a spectrum, and right now we try to keep it black and white. That’s just not working for me.”
Beyond the rainbow scope of queer representation, intersectional, iconic and historic representation was also on hand:
- LGBTQ icon Jennifer Coolidge won Best Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series for The White Lotus. It was her first award win ever. Squeals of delight could be heard in space from gay Emmy watch parties. OK. I don’t know that for a fact, but I would put money on it.
- LGBTQ icon Jean Smart won Best Actress in a Comedy Series for Hacks, a series of which its producer called about “women and queer people.”
- Lee Jung-jae became the first South Korean actor and first Asian actor to win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Squid Game.
- Zendaya became the youngest person ever to win in the leading acting categories two times as she won for the second season of “Euphoria”
- Hwang Dong-hyuk became the first South Korean to win Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for Squid Game
- Sheryl Lee Ralph won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Abbott Elementary becoming only the second black woman in history to win in this category after 35 years. Jacké Harry won for 227 in 1987. “I am an endangered species,” she sang as her acceptance. “But I sing no victim’s song.”
Yes, there was a day in the not long ago past where the mention of a single same sex spouse, or a renegade pro-lgbtq comment, made our queer hearts spill over. Those days are passed. We are getting a place at the table. Representation is starting to stand up and be heard.
For those who rightfully seek it, and seek more of it, the best advice came from Sheryl Lee Ralph: “To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream, and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like, this is what striving looks like, and don’t you ever, ever give up on you.”
Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie: 74th Emmy Awards:
Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’
Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following
Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan.
With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.
BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?
DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.
BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?
EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.
BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?
EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.
BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.
BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?
EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.
BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?
EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.
BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?
EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.
BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?
EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.
BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?
EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.
BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?
EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.
LA Blade Exclusive: L Morgan Lee, Broadway’s newest icon sings her truth
She is the first ever trans actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination & the first trans performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer
NEW YORK CITY – “I am just a girl,” L Morgan Lee tells me. That simple statement is her self-definition, a girl taking life one step at a time.
To the rest of us, L Morgan Lee is so much more. She is the award-winning actress starring on Broadway in the hit show of the season, A Strange Loop. Her singing talent matches that of any legendary diva, she is creating landmark theatrical projects on womanhood and New York Times articles are being written about her. She is the “girl” in the spotlight now.
She is also, the first ever transgender actor or actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination.
While she is not the first trans performer to be seen on a Broadway stage, she seems to have broken the glass (or some might say, cement) ceiling of being recognized in the upper echelon of talent. She is the first transgender performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer. While the Pulitzer recognizes the author, whom she was not, certainly her creative input was weaved into the final book of the play.
L Morgan has journeyed a complex path to self-awareness. “For me, even in terms of being trans, the idea of being anything outside of what I was assigned at birth was just laughable and crazy to me as a child,” she says. “It just, it made no sense. It was not something that I was comfortable saying out loud to anyone or voicing. How would I be looked at by my parents, by anyone else? So, I would sit and dream. The dreaming is, I think, what forms, much of so many queer people’s lives and experiences. Those dreams become our lifelines. I would dream and dream. I have a memory of when I was maybe six years old, in the middle of the night, looking up at my ceiling in my bedroom. Waking up soaked with tears. Saying, if I could wake up and be a girl, a girl, everything would be okay.” She adds. “That is why I am so excited to have gotten my first opportunity to be on Broadway, excited to have gotten a Tony nomination. Because I know that there is some kid somewhere, who is also looking up at the ceiling saying that same thing.”
L Morgan’s first adventure into performing was as a kid and ironically projected her future identity fluidity: she costumed up and performed “Karma Chameleon” in nursery school. She allowed herself to explore her true identity under the guise of a Halloween costume quite a few years later. She went in fully fashion glammed drag, and it changed her world forever. “The minute I did it, I felt a jolt of energy I had never felt before. I finally felt free in so many ways. It’s as if like it’s as if I finally got to breathe.”
When she started work on A Strange Loop, she had been cast under the assumption that she was a cisgender man playing female parts. As the years of work into the play went on, L Morgan’s transgender journey escalated, and she attempted to resign from the play as she realized she was no longer the person they thought they had hired. Not only were they aware, as many close loved ones can be, of her journey, but they embraced her and assured her that she belonged more than ever.
“The characters I played allowed me to, in some ways hide until I was able to be more public about who I am. And once I did that, it certainly brought another layer of depth to what I was doing. I have been that much more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve grown. Transition has settled in more. So, both my viewpoints about the show, the people I’m playing, and my lens of life in general, has evolved through the process. So, certainly the woman I am today, views the show and the script, and the characters I play in a very different way than I did when I first sat down to do it in 2015.”
Her growth within the show, and the growth of the show itself are intertwined. Certainly, some of the magic of the show is that it is not “performed” as much as it is lived out of the souls of the actors in it. L Morgan describes, “The experience of A Strange Loop has been beautiful, complex, layered and ever evolving, for me in particular. Every time I’ve come back to the rehearsal room with this project, my own lens has been slightly evolved or has moved forward in some ways.”
“The piece is as strong as it is because the lens itself, the lens through which the story is told, is very specific and very honest. Inside of that specificity, there are lots of complications and layers and messy stuff. There are things that you don’t ‘talk about out loud’ taboo to discuss. There are things that people see as problematic. There are so many things inside of all of that, but it’s honest and it’s human. It is a 25-year-old, who’s about to turn 26, sort of raging through life, feeling oppressed and unseen and shouting out to find how he fits into the world. It is how he can find his truest voice in a world that doesn’t really allow him to feel like he’s enough. Because it is so specific about those things the show touches so many different people.”
L Morgan demonstrated coming out as a confident transgender actress, with her vulnerabilities unhidden, on the opening night of the play and decisions she made as she stepped into the public spotlight. “I feel a responsibility. It feels like a dream, it feels wonderful. It feels exciting. It’s like everything I’ve ever asked for but the, the most poignant feeling for me is the responsibility. How could I show up for that person that needs to find me.”
“On my opening night on Broadway, we were trying to figure out what I was going to do with dress and hair and all these things. You only get a first time once. You get your debut one time. So how do I make the most of this moment? I felt raw and excited. I needed to show like the most honest and clear-cut version of me I could. I needed to show my shaved head because that’s something that’s important to me. It’s something, I almost never show. I stepped out revealed, exposed and vulnerable on the very public red carpet, speaking to cameras with my buzzed head. Our relationship with hair runs very deep, especially for trans people, and there was something about it, that just felt like, I needed to do it. That kid somewhere under the covers needs to see this trans woman who is in her Broadway debut and she’s in a pretty dress and she has a shaved head, and she seems like she’s comfortable. Then when you hear her talking about it, you hear about her vulnerability and hear that she felt nervous, and you hear that she was dealing with dysphoria and she was dealing with confidence and she was dealing with all these things that we attached to our hair and she reveals those things. Not only because they’re true but because when we reveal Our Truth, our humanness, there is universality there. There is connection inside of our vulnerability.”
While the Tony nomination escalates her Broadway experience, L Morgan does not lose sight of her mortal existence. “On the day that the Tony nominations happened, I fell apart, completely losing it in my bedroom. Then I realized, I still needed to get a couch, and clean up the apartment. I still feel regular. It’s been a wild dream and at the same time, your real life just keeps on going. I am just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”
On the night of the Tonys. L Morgan will be up against some heavy hitters. Not the least of these is Broadway Legend Patty LuPone. L Morgan is ok with that. Her dream has been to see her face in one of the camera boxes on television of the nominee hopefuls.
“The biggest reason I do, what I do is one because I love storytelling. My experience is black, my experience is trans, but I’m just, I’m just a woman. I am a woman who had a trans experience. That’s my story. I know that somewhere there’s s a kid, as I have said, who is just like I was. It is extremely important for me to make that kid proud and make that kid feel seen and make that kid know that it’s possible.”
“I want that kid to be able to know that most importantly, they already are who they are dreaming to be. The world is telling you something different, but you know who you are. There’s nothing wrong with you, there is nothing wrong with us. The world has never told us that we were an option.”
“That kid needs to find my story. They need to know that we exist. It is the reason it took me so long to be public about things and to start speaking, because I wasn’t seeing enough examples. There’s a quote, ‘she needed a hero, so that’s what she became.’ I really live by that.”
She needed to see a transwoman Tony Nominee. So that’s what she became.
When they call the winner on Tony Night, it will be between a Broadway legend and Broadway’s newest icon.
However it goes, another ceiling has been broken forever, and somewhere a trans girl in hiding will realize her dream too can come true.
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