The Disneyfication of the Gloryhole

situated within a bathhouse  

Janet Wasko discusses how many Disney plots ‘revolved around characters wishing to escape from their current setting or situation’. This claim is mirrored by the need for gay men (acknowledged as sexual outlaws) to escape from current homophobic settings and seek safer environments, such as bathhouses.  

My criticism is not that gloryhole activity is now in a safe environment; the criticism is that such activity is not freed from institutionalised definitions, but instead placed within a commercial establishment.  

When looking at a gloryhole ‘in the wild’, one will see a crudely drilled hole. However, a bathhouse gloryhole is known for its paying patrons and the use of gloryholes that are perfectly cut. Does this mean the experience becomes standardised and the pleasure predictable?  

On entry the smell of chlorine greets you. Membership and familiarities are asked at reception. The lockers stand shiny and secure as you place your ‘passing’ life inside them. It’s late and many of the patrons are here after a long day at work. One man places his construction gear into a locker—a hi-vis jacket, work pants and heavy boots.  

The tiles and showers are shiny and new. There are no signs of verbal conversation but instead silent forms of communication avail.  

Your eyes and body become the medium of communication.  

You are left unaware of people’s accents. 

You are left 

My companion and I find a quasi-private room. It has porous walls of multiple gloryholes. Shortly after entering and closing the door behind me, I see the eye of an older man intentionally loitering in the adjacent room. Because of the diameter of the hole, I cannot see his facial expressions. I can only see one solitary eye or ‘I’. Be as it may, things quickly change as the second gloryhole has a bodily visitor. A silent penis protrudes like a rogue periscope or a nosy Brontosaurus.  

I am completely unaware who this penis belongs to. It is truly a body without organs.  

I do my best to ignore the wall decorations and I whisper to my companion that ‘we have an audience’. I say ‘audience’ as I am unaware of how many spectators occupy the adjacent room. The silence and non-verbal communication are of no assistance.  

We leave this space and find a room without porous walls. We close the door and return to our activities. Unexpectedly, someone opens our door and I realise that I did not lock it. The patron apologises for the interruption and appears to close the door. However, they keep the door ajar and peek through. Wanting privacy and with my newly found confidence, I close the door fully and slide the bolt lock over. We restart our activities to the background music of The Weather Girls. 

At reception I paid the membership fee 

At reception I paid tonight’s entry fee 

At reception I paid for exclusivity  

At reception I became part of something bigger 

At reception I excluded the other 

The dim light compliments the body 

The dim light hides imperfections 

The dim light adds to the mystery 

The dim light alludes desire 

The dim light replicates the sleazy