æ: Bathhouses are usually at the bottom of the list of places when gay men are asked where they would go to meet another men with the intent to have a relationship. And then there are those who view bathhouses as vile, and filled with desperate and/or closeted men, and that anyone looking for love in a bathhouse is surely "looking for love in all the wrong places". What do you think?
Marcel: I couldn't disagree more. How two gay men meet can be very varied – online, at work or the gym, in a club – and to say one way is any 'better' than another is absurd. Especially as it's what happens afterwards, like sexual compatibility, finding out about each other and building trust, that are really important in making a relationship happen. And if anything, I've always found it easier to make this sort of connection with no clothes on, where it was also possible to have a chat and chill out. It's so practical.
æ: What has your experience of saunas been like?
Marcel: When I first started going to saunas – I was 19 and it was on holiday in Paris – it was just for sex. I'd been in the closet until just before my 18th birthday and, like most teenagers, thought about sex more or less non-stop for most of my teen years. Paris saunas for me were a bit like giving someone who'd never seen a department store a credit card. Also, I came from London where at the time there no saunas like the ones in Paris – so open and easy. Plus, there were those really cute Parisian boys and it's true what they say – the French really are the best lovers. I'm not at all surprised I met my Mr Right in a bathhouse and he turned out to be French. It was fated.
æ: How did the idea to write the book come about?
Marcel: It was my 45th birthday and I was having some friends round for drinks. I was chatting with one who asked me how I'd met Pierre; we'd been with for about three years at the time. When I told him it was in the steam room of a 24-hour bathhouse, he was surprised because he thought you only went to such places for sex and suggested I write a book about it. So that kind of got me thinking and a couple of weeks later, I picked up a pad and started writing out a plan and jotting down ideas.
æ: In the book, you mentioned that you met your current partner and last two boyfriends at the bathhouse (on different occasions) over a span of several years. Do bathhouses function the same way as bars in terms of meeting partners? What do think are the benefits of meeting a potential partner at a bathhouse instead of other venues such as the bar (aside from the test-drive)?
Marcel: 'Test-drive' – I love it … maybe more like 'test-drives'. The thing I always liked about saunas and bathhouses was that I always found I could cut to the chase and get intimate that much faster than in bars and clubs and I could also be sensitive to good conversation and 'connection'. My success rate was always much higher and I really believe that finding long-lasting love, to start off with, can be treated as a numbers game. Kiss lots of frogs and eventually you'll find a prince.
æ: Have you had any bathhouse experiences that told you that he's not boyfriend/husband material?
Marcel: Yes, but that was more to do with my having a clear idea of what I wanted and didn't want in a partner. Sure, I've had great times with absolute babes, but I'd never have tried to initiate a second meet hoping for a relationship after a great sexual encounter with such a man if for instance he was very much younger than me or we spoke different languages or didn't live in the same city. I couldn't really see something like that working out. When the dice are stacked against you from the start, best to just enjoy the moment – and in the right sauna with the right guy when you feel just right, it can be a real 'Dear Diary' event, something you'll remember forever and always will make you smile. That said, it was never meant to be a relationship, just a great memory.
æ: What are the signs that the person one is interested in is looking for more than an anonymous or casual encounter?
Marcel: Verbal communication in the first instance. Then more conversation and a shared drink or snack maybe, plus a really good or even better second sexual encounter with the same guy.
Also, myself being a total sucker (so to speak) for good manners, if I have sex in a bathhouse with the same guy twice, the right kind of guy for me should have made some kind of enquiry as to my drink or food needs by the end of round two.
æ: What has been your experience of bathhouses in Asia and how do they compare to those in Europe?
Marcel: In 1997, I was in Bangkok for a while and went to the Babylon sauna a few times. Compared to the saunas in Europe the facilities were much more luxurious. It had more staff and lots of pleasing details, like a TV in the dry heat sauna showing movies, a nice restaurant, little shower hoses in the toilets and a plethora of condom and lube dispensers. Cruising-wise, I did my usual fourth-gear-big-smile-show-off-assets. What was different though was the novelty of being in a Caucasian minority that seemed to be fetishised – it was very exciting and through some great sexual encounters, I met some lovely, open people who became friends. We stayed in touch and have seen each other since in Europe.
æ: What advice do you have for bathhouse virgins who now are inspired?
Marcel: Don't skip the chapter in my book on STIs, HIV and condoms. A gay sauna or bathhouse, where you will be having sex with people who are themselves having lots of sex with other people, is the perfect environment to catch and pass on an STI. But you don't have to. Get informed, not infected. And remember to moisturise.
æ: You found love in a gay bathhouse and now you're happily married. What's it like the other side of the bathhouse?
Marcel: It's great. I love him to bits and although we have our ups and downs, my relationship really inspires me and informs a lot of my thinking. I'm a journalist and work as a production editor at the Guardian newspaper dealing mostly in international news and I've been hooked on what's been happening in Egypt and the Middle East. I think until it's cool for a couple like my Pierre and me to live an open, out, secure gay life like it is in London, Bangkok, Cape Town or Tel Aviv, in all probability reform will be missing a whole lot of people out.
The fact is where LGBT rights are secure, chances are so are most of everyone else's. So just like a straight person being totally at it ease with him/herself and having lots good friendships with LGBTs, a society that's at ease with itself doesn't need to jail people for having same-sex relations.
æ: One last question. How have your parents reacted to Find Love In A Gay Bathhouse?
Marcel: Well, my dad died when I was a teenager, so there's just my mom, who can be quite, er, ... forthright in her opinions. It was a stretch for her to read it – I can't imagine any parent really wanting to know about their adult child's sex life, or vice versa. But in my heart I know she loves me a lot and that if people like my book, she'll be very proud.