Sexual Expression and its Subsequent Suppression: Mailman’s Steamy Bathhouse

a sexual revolution

Andrew Holleran, a prominent novelist, describes Bruce Mailman in the following way:

“The thing about Bruce Mailman is that he is the eminence grise, the Cardinal Richelieu behind the scenes in the gay world. He culminated and codified and realized physically the climax of the 70s. He provided the settings, literally the theater, for all of these fantasies” (qtd. in Peters, 80).

Following its remodeling, the St. Marks Baths boasted five floors, a video room, and a luncheonette. Larry Kramer, a prominent activist, playwright, and author acknowledges that Mailman “succeeded” in giving the gay community the “nicest baths” (qtd. in Peters).

Attracting millions of dollars each year, the St. Marks Baths became synonymous with gay and queer culture. And sex.

There was a lot of sex.

One visitor states that “if you didn’t like the baths, you had to examine yourself. Maybe you had a serious case of self-loathing, or maybe you hadn’t gotten the message. It was part of the culture to have a lot of anonymous sex” (qtd. in Peters).

Stories of the Saint – Chapter 4: The Era

mailman’s gay social scene

Mailman’s bathhouse was a “gay social scene” (McEwan, 36). Attending the Baths affirmed one’s identity and increased the fraternity and camaraderie among the young men who were there (qtd. in Peters).

Inspections were conducted every 15 minutes in the bathhouse to ensure everyone’s safety and to guarantee that there was no injury. Sadly, a member drowned in a hot tub at the baths; however, this is the only time that things went “wrong” (Peters, 82).

 

To his staff at the St. Marks Baths, Bruce Mailman was “not easy to work for” because he “had more respect for the clientele than he did for his employees” (qtd. in Peters, 82). Yet Mailman did not see himself as “tough or ruthless;” instead, he was “goal-oriented” (Peters, 82).

No one could have prepared for the impending epidemic.

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