Jamie Windust Goes Sauna-ing
Non-binary model/writer Jamie Windust decided to go to a sauna to see what all the fuss was about!
Upon entry there was a mini queue of visibly queer people,
and some not so. We all waited in line, looking at the floor or our phones. I got to the entrance and asked to come in, and was greeted by a look up and down. I was in makeup, femme presenting, serving an absolute business look. The man approached me and told me I couldn’t enter with makeup on, and that it wasn’t going to work unless I took it all off. He told me it was the rules, so as anyone would do, I asked him where it says that and if he could show me.
He explained that he doesn’t make the rules. I channelled
my inner white woman and asked to speak to the manager but
he continued to tell me I couldn’t enter. I told him this sounded prejudiced, and that unless it explicitly says that somewhere, I don’t believe him. His colleagues were laughing, and one looked concerned at his behaviour. This member of staff came over and asked if I’d been before. I said I’d been once and had had no problems. He had a word with the first colleague, and they agreed to let me in. So half an hour after entering the front doors, I was allowed through. I was expecting this, but also wasn’t. I was expecting a safe space, and thought it would be absolutely fine. It goes to show there’s still a huge problem with femme presenting gender non-conforming people in the cis-gay scene. I strutted through to my locker and began to derobe.
Once in, I didn’t want to appear like a newbie, so I just copied everyone else. Long story short, the essence of a sauna is one big game of sexy cat and mouse, but with consent. Now, I’m a giggler, so I was instantly trying not to explode with laughter – not at the men in there, but just at the situation that I was in. I kept thinking to myself, ‘I love how this is a thing that exists in a busy area of London, just men walking around touching themselves in off-white towels listening to what appears to be sexy lift music’.
This wasn’t because I felt like the environment was wrong or inappropriate; just surreal and new. I roamed around and fell into the stereotypical tropes of holding that eye contact for just a second too long, walking slowly, lingering, and just being a thirsty icon. I was living. However, I did find the experience initially a bit intense. Because although you’re in a sauna, and you know what you’re signing up for, there are still people inside who presume everyone wants it from everyone, and that’s definitely not the case.
Despite this, it ended swimmingly (and not just the jacuzzi helped) as a group of fellow dwellers and I ended up chatting, hanging out, discussing the ways in which these spaces are safe spaces and open for everyone. They congratulated me for coming in and being unapologetically myself, despite the drama upon entry (I dished up the gossip for my fellow dwellers about…we all love a gossip in a towel don’t we!)
It was that level of engagement that surprised me the most. I definitely didn’t expect to get that level of fun, safety and carefree frivolity in what I had presumed to be a very intense and masc environment. Don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly masc and I was the only femme presenting person in there, and that came with it’s challenges (oh honey…) but overall, despite the incident at the door, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that made me realise just why these establishments still exist and thrive into the early hours of the night.
Follow Jamie on Instagram @leopardprintelephant