ADVICE from BENT's own Bear

Everybody knows what bears do in the woods—they sit around telling each other their life's stories and giving one another advice. What else would those big, hairy beasts do when they get together for their Teddy Bear Picnics?

Inspired by the wisdom of my fellow growlers, I'm here to give advice, when asked. So, if any of you have questions you'd like answered by someone who's been around the block a couple of times, please send them to

And in case you're worried that you might have to censor your thoughts, please remember that my walks around the block were often done while dressed in kinkwear and with a thought or two about who I might encounter along the way.

So let me know what's on your mind. If it's a Big Unanswered Question (or even a little one), let me have a crack at it. It is, after all, what bears do best.


"Bathhouse Blues"

Dear Max,

I'm coming out of my lurking status, trying to get out again, getting back to sex. I've been thinking of visiting (for the first time) a bathhouse, and I wonder if you have any advice or suggestions about how to proceed and what to look for. Like some other BENT readers I'm a wheelchair user (Muscular Dystrophy). I called the bathhouse closest to me and they said that it's wheelchair accessible, and that a few wheelchair users do frequent the place. I'm still quite new at this but I think I need more connections, if you know what I mean, so, I'm appealing to your broader experience.

West Los Angeles, CA


Dear Seth,

You might be shocked to learn that I have had extensive experience with bathhouses—in the past, of course. In fact, I met my partner in a bathhouse almost twenty-two years ago. So, for those who say that a bathhouse is not a good place to meet a man, I'll show you my twenty-five carat wedding ring and the mortgage to the houses in Malibu and Palm Beach.

It's been a long time since I've been to a bathhouse and I was glad to hear that the one you called said they were wheelchair accessible. That certainly wasn't the case in days of yore, when I used to go. One disabled friend told me that he had been denied access to the old St. Mark's Baths in New York City because they claimed their insurance wouldn't cover them in case he had an accident. He had CP and with his gait was bound to fall down a flight of stairs. Of course, that would never have happened to any of the guys who were either stoned or drunk out of their minds or had no idea how to walk in ten-inch heels while holding a towel around their waists. So, maybe things have changed for the better.

I could give you the customary warnings about safe sex, but you're an adult and most likely know all about that aspect of sex at a bathhouse. I am more concerned about the attitudes of others than I am about what you will be doing once you reel in that hot guy. For openers, I'm assuming you will try to get a room, which will give you privacy and make it easier for men to come to you.

The one thing I would not recommend is hiding your wheelchair or pretending your disability does not exist. Making prospective partners deal with the issue before deciding to give you a try is the better alternative. Seeing your chair will let a guy decide if it's a problem for him or if he'd like to drop in for . . . a snack.

And remember this: do not assume that the guy who passes you by does so just because of the chair and the disability. At the same St. Mark's Bath that refused admission to my disabled pal, I learned one thing that still mystifies me. Not a lot of men ventured into my room, but when I went to the orgy room (yes, they really did call it that), the same men who seemed earlier to have had blinders on were all over me. That experience made me realize that for some, the lure of anonymous sex was more intoxicating than a one-on-one behind a closed door.

What should you look for? Look for someone you like! And don't assume that everyone has the balls (and other parts) to simply walk into a room, drop his towel and start playing. Even the guy with the washboard abs might be insecure about himself and circle like a hawk going after its prey. Often, guys cruising can pick up on insecurity and run away from it like it was last night's pizza gone cold. Desperation also can send a willing member into the limp left field.

At the baths I used to like to explore, find out how active things looked, then try to relax and not seem like I was disappointed if nothing happened within the first five minutes. If you meet any other wheelies there, ask them what they think of the place. And speaking of what to look for, don't look for love everlasting. It can be found, but the odds are not in your favor on the first try—or even the second. I will not tell you how many times I went before I found the man I've been living with ever since.

For me, bathhouses were always great places to meet guys, but I never expected to find perfection in a partner there. Invariably, I had a better time at places that didn't cater to guys with attitudes, perfect looks, and all the baggage that comes with those attributes.

Yes, bathhouses can be frustrating. They can be ego deflaters, but they can also make you feel like you've won the sex lottery and gone to hog heaven. So, Seth, proceed with caution but with assurance. Remember that lurking in the shadows is no fun. It certainly won't get you laid.

Welcome back to sex. I hope you have as much fun at the baths as I used to have.

© 2003 Max Verga

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MAX VERGA has been an activist ever since getting a call from a friend reporting that he'd been in a riot at the Stonewall Bar only hours before. His work is featured in "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories," edited by Bob Guter and John R. Killacky, Harrington Park Press, December 2003. For more about Max, see his longer biography.


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/May 2003