Farewell Osento!

-Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères
The Osento Bathhouse for Women, one of my great sanctuaries in the city for many, many years, closed its doors for good yesterday. I had shown up early that afternoon to meet a close friend and then realized what was going on. It felt too emotional to say goodbye forever to a place that has provided me with such consistent healing. I opted for denial instead and decided to just enjoy and appreciate every last sweaty naked minute. I proceeded directly to the deck to work on my Osento Memorial Sunburn. By late afternoon the ladies were piled up happy as sea lions at Pier 39.

I know a lot of people who don't get naked. I'm not one of those. When appropriate- the euro-hippie girl in me- likes naked. Naked in the sun. Naked in the water. Naked hugging a tree. Shameless. Osento is the only place in San Francisco where it's safe to get naked and be in the sun. I like clothes too, but there is something awesome about nothing coming between me and the glory of sunshine.

And to see other women naked, many ages, many races, varying sexualites- that goes deep. Without places like Osento, some women, might not ever know what actual women look like. The bombardment of fake images of photoshopped women is so overwhelming and really skews the perception of "reality." That's Women's Studies 101, I know. But the effect of theory does not compare with the effect of reality. I love to actually see women enjoying and tending to all our curvy, flawed, tatooed, hairy, variety. It's beautiful– and healthy. I know it's been good for my self esteem to experience what real women look like. Makes me less prone to the propaganda.

The afternoon brought up a lot of memories of the closing of Herland in Santa Cruz (for which I got the tattoo above). It reminded me of how precious and incredibly valuable women's spaces have been in my life over the last many years and how difficult they are to establish and maintain. I know that the increased queering of gender has really complicated the concept of women's space. Osento's policies with respect to transgender were old fashioned, in part, I think, because Osento is old. Right out of the 1970s book of first world lesbian feminism. Women's spaces as healing places need to last and it's a struggle. I applaud the fact that Osento endured sufficient years to welcome my naked butt from the 90s until yesterday. I did hear a rumor, while I was in the sauna, about a community organization called Soak and just found this. Sounds like some folks are getting together the political will to develop a new community-style bathhouse with a more flexible gender policy. Yeah!

More than anything I just wanted to honor the passing of a place that has provided me with serious sanctuary. Osento is a place where I'd meet friends to relax and catch up on our busy lives. On several occassions, I've practically crawled to Osento, when the day to day world started to feel unbearable, all wrong, too tense, noisy, lonely, fragile, and crooked– like when PMS gets a bit hazardous. Osento took care of me. Really good care. And rather than be sad, (I am of course.) I just want to be grateful for the many years that it was there, for all the totally random, wonderful conversations, the very necessary healing moments, the awkward while naked customer sightings ("Don't you work at Rainbow?"), the golden glowing womb-like enclosure of the sauna, the intense heat and meditation, the smell of Olbas and the sharing of Epsom salt, my friend's hands gentle on my back, the thrill of the cold plunge, the familiar ding of the doorbell, Yvonne ever dazzling behind the desk, the blue tiles, the quiet room, cut limes, the sun deck, all the women, the layers of voices, and so many awesome tattoos! I never left Osento without feeling that I had recovered my deepest sanity from the obscurity of an occasionally complicated and fucked up world.

I went back later that evening with another friend. I figured I may as well. Closed is closed. And there was a very, very, crowded farewell party going on, only half the people were naked, which was kind of funny, and there was hardly any room in the saunas or tubs. Luckily, we managed a good twenty minutes in the little sauna and some socializing from the cold plunge. I overheard discussion of a Valencia Street midnight streak, but I don't know if it ever happened...

I woke up this morning and the first thing I thought was how nice it was to sit in the sun at Osento yesterday. My skin felt so yummy. The second thing I thought was maybe I'll go back and do it again today... but I guess not.


grantatee said...

what a beautiful appreciation of that place..

so glad that it was so healing for you for so long.


etravelslight said...

grantatee, i think your writing is so inspiring...in many ways. thanks for the comment.