January 2006 Cover
Bathhouse Rules from Jesus?
In 1892, a certain Reverend Charles Parkhurst of New York engaged on a campaign to clean up Manhattan-- largely by trying to shut sexually oriented businesses in the city, and also by showing that the police and local politicians were being paid off to allow these businesses to
Parkhurst's travels through the city were documented by Charles Garder in a 1894 book,
The doctor and the devil , or the Midnight adventures of Dr.
Parkhurst. One of the more fascinating establishments visited by Parkhurst was the Golden Rule Pleasure Club, formerly
located on West Third Street in Manhattan. The club is described as follows:
We entered the resort through the basement door, and as we did so a "buzzer," or automatic alarm gave the proprietors of the house information that we were in the place....
The basement was fitted up into little rooms, by means of cheap partitions, which ran to the top of the ceiling from the floor. Each room contained a table and a couple of chairs for the use of customers of the vile den. In each room sat a youth, whose face was painted,
eye-brows blackened, and whose airs were those of a young girl. Each person talked in a high falsetto voice, and called the others by women's names.
When Dr. Parkhurst understood what was on offer at the club, he turned and ran from the place at top speed!
It seems from the description given of this establishment that it must have been a male brothel, and that the young men in the rooms were transvestite prostitutes. The existence of male brothels isn't particularly surprising-- they were well-documented in early 18th
century London, where they were called molly houses.
But Miss Poubelle found herself rather tickled by the name of the establishment.
The Golden Rule as articulated by Jesus is-- of course-- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is not immediately clear how it applies to the hiring of transvestite prostitutes. Is the moral sentiment "Pay other after buggering them, because you would
like others to pay after buggering you?"
Of course, one might take a more generous view of the manner-- that the brothel was called the Golden Rule because we should give pleasure to others as we would like them to give pleasure to us. In fact, Miss Poubelle would take the position that modern bathhouses
and sex clubs are modern temples to the Golden Rule. Patrons of such establishments give others pleasure freely and receive pleasure freely in a way that is often admirably generous and considerate. Rude refusals in such places are rare because most patrons are considerate
enough to reject unwanted invitations in the same way that they would like to see their own invitations rejected. Because the patrons do not pay each other for their favors, their sexual favors are acts of generosity, given in the hopes of receiving generosity from others.
Blanche does not want to impugn the morality of prostitution. It is a plain fact that some men and women-- perhaps older, closeted, married, shy, or frightened-- are not able to find sexual partners in any other way. If one person is able to pay for sex and another is able to
charge for it, Miss Poubelle sees no immorality in the act, so long as the seller is not forced in some way. A whore selling sex is not necessarily in a different category than a baker selling bread or a gardener cutting the grass. All perform needed and honorable services, for which they
are monetarily compensated.
Commerce is fine, but it isn't to be confused with charity. The morality of the Golden Rule seems to be of a somewhat higher order than that of buying and selling. When we are generous to others simply because we would wish others to be generous to us, then our
actions begin to be directed toward the good of others, and not simply to our own gain. The Golden Rule may not have been the most apt name for a 19th century brothel, but we would do well to the virtues of this moral rule as we navigate our own social-- and sexual-- lives.
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