Title: Bathroom Trysts
Author: Mykola Dementiuk
Length: 36 pdf pages.
Publisher: Noble Romance
Genre: m/m erotic memoir
It was Elisa Rolle, book reviewer based in Italy, who first gave me the idea for Bathroom Trysts when she had a brief review of a book about sex in public restrooms. The notion fascinated and intrigued me; what could be better? The idea comes from Laud Humphreys, American sociologist and author of Tearoom Trades: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. I was reminded of my own brief trysts back in the early 1960s when I was a young man, stopping in the various public restrooms all around New York City.
Gay rights was still unheard of, but uptown, downtown, the city was a little more understanding of a man’s needs than it is today, and not just in relieving himself but in brief masturbation shared with another stranger who afterward disappeared back into the city. How many stops did I make in these restrooms, whether I had to go or not? Hundreds, maybe thousands, five, six times a day if not more. I would eagerly, but nervously, enter each time I saw a restroom in subway stations, in park playgrounds, in building hallways, in big stores, all the while seeking release, and in my case, a hurried sexual release, as it was for other men, too, I suppose.
Ah, the bathroom smells: ammonia, cleansing solvent, the endless splashings and dribbles of urine . . . psss . . . the sound hovers in my memory. Sensations come again. A man could just stand there and relieve himself forever . . . as another man stands beside him gazing lovingly at the sound of slurping penis.
But who were the players in these brief trysts? Closeted men having a look or a grope at another closeted man, then going back to their meaningless straight lives. I was such a man pursuing things I never cared for, with time on my hands, searching, hungering for someone who could stick something better and bigger in my fingers . . . if only for a brief while.
Wish my memory was a little stronger, men’s faces more memorable and appealing, with definitely a little more physical action than there is, but there isn’t. A hand-job is a hand-job, nothing more, nothing less. We were but strangers reaching toward each other, momentarily holding and clinging, then, just as quickly, letting go as we hurried back to where we came from.
I sigh, as I sighed then, shrug and go on. All I can do is try to remember.
This book could probably win an award for having the longest short story blurb ever. I’m not normally a fan of long blurbs, but this one intrigued me with the notion of semi-autobiographical public toilet sex. At the very least I imagined it would be an intriguing piece of social history, and at best it could be a hot and dirty read as well.
Bathroom Trysts definitely succeeds in the first aspect. This is a portrait of one penniless, disillusioned young man’s 1960s New York, and the seedy underbelly of the city is explored through its public restrooms and the illicit activity going on there. This short story covers several years in the narrator’s young life, from his first sexual encounter in a toilet stall through to when he moves on to finding his anonymous sex somewhere other than public toilets. It is made up of a series of bathroom encounters with strangers, but covering all sorts of different locations, from parks to ferries, and a variety of characters from butch businessmen to cross-dressers. There is an element of borderline prostitution at times, as although he doesn’t hustle, he is sometimes offered money for his services, which he readily accepts.
Although written in first person, the narrative style feels distant and unemotional. Indeed, the pervading atmosphere is one of loneliness and shame. At times though, the prose is beautiful, capturing the city in deft strokes:
Though wet and fog-covered, the skyline of Manhattan was an awesome sight behind us; it pierced through the clouds, pushing upward to stand so boldly erect, floor by floor making a last grasp skyward before it turned and sneered down at us as if to say, “Petty man”… then it shook its head and looked elsewhere. New York was like that, unknown and unknowable, a stranger to its millions of strangers…
Unfortunately this distance in the prose extended to the sex scenes, and I couldn’t engage with them at all. Because the narrator seems to feel nothing much other than a brief, shameful excitement, they didn’t seem sexy to me. Indeed, some of the scenes were downright disturbing and these are largely responsible for the low grade. Although the narrator doesn’t make his age explicit at the beginning of the story, he later tells us he was fifteen then (something that might well bother many readers).
What really turned me off the story, though, was the narrator’s reaction to the cross-dressing character who asks him to come on her face, even offering money for his “scum”. When it doesn’t quite go to plan and she takes the money back, the narrator curses her, calling her a “faggot whore” and a “half-boy/half-girl fake”. If this transphobia had been dealt with by the narrator, calling on a more mature perspective in his later life (the point from which he is supposedly narrating) then I could have accepted it as the callousness of youth. Unfortunately this didn’t happen, and after that I lost all sympathy for him.
I have no doubt that there are readers out there who will enjoy this story for what it is – a memoir of public sex in pre-AIDS New York. Perhaps there are even those who will find it a turn on. However, it left me with a very nasty taste in my mouth.