Fitness and Fantasy: The Early Gyms

By Will Seagers

 

I remember always admiring those built young  men when I first started cruising Christopher St. and going to Village bars and clubs. There was no doubt in my mind - likes attracted. So, "Gymming" had to become a part of my life.

My first experiences were "Health Spas" and the good old YMCA. The health spas offered pretty good workout equipment. But, they were more family oriented and had no sexual undercurrents. One thing that I noticed about the Ys was the additional activity going on in the wet areas. I could hardly wait to finish my workout and get to the showers! Lol.

During my stint as a steward for Eastern Airlines, I always opted to go off on my own on layovers when possible. This was particularly true when I flew between NYC and Montreal. L'Aero - Navette was the name of this shuttle flight. I spoke French and made the inflight announcements... usually with some chuckles form the French Canadian passengers. It seemed nobody could figure out what my accent was! Lol.

 

Eastern Airlines plane in flight

 

Anyway, Montreal was one of those cities where I stayed at the Y. It was smoking hot! I was especially drawn to the burly dark haired Canadian lumberjacks! They never failed to deliver the logs.

Fast forward to my arrival in San Francisco in the mid 70s, the Y came to the rescue again! Being new to town and not yet acquiring a gym membership, I made frequent visits to the branch downtown. I was most amazed at how brazen people's approaches were! Lots of grabbing and groping were to be had!

I don't remember what brought me to The Pump Room, one of the earliest gay men's gyms, but I sure made a home for myself there! It was a modest storefront location just above Church St. on Market St. It had two partners, Lee and Bob. The first was the primary partner and a very flamboyant type. The latter went on to partner with two other folks and create The Muscle System - AKA The Muscle Sisters.

I really liked the feel of the place and asked for a job. I was at a high point in my porn career, was recognized and was hired. I got hit on by a lot of the members and developed a thick skinned "attitude." Some members complained. But, I did my job, helped train new members on the equipment and was a recognized asset to the business. So, Attitude and all, I remained part of the staff for three years.

I mentioned that one of the owners was flamboyant. And, I should also add very talented at pageantry. There were festivals held at the San Francisco Civic Center called the Beaux Arts Balls - an annual event. I was asked to participate in several of these major costumed events. Lee was very clever with design. He made himself up in a huge blue plexiglass diamond. Along with several other buffed members of the gym, we "linked' together with Lee to form The Hope Diamond and its silver chain. It was very well done and garnered awards.

 

San Francisco Civic Auditorium exterior and interior

San Francisco Civic Auditorium exterior and interior

 

Perhaps the most vivid memory of these Beaux Arts Balls was one where we came as the signs of the Zodiac. Lee was the Sun. And, once again gym members were recruited and made up the twelve signs. Even though it wasn't my sign, I was given a very fetching costume of a Centaur - Sagittarius - complete with bow and arrow! Lee had crafted the rear, horse half of the centaur from chicken wire covered in purple (Sagittarius' color) velour with the horse feet on castors. I strapped it to my butt and it blended with my purple leotards. It was a knock out costume. When we presented ourselves on the runway, we were met with cheers and screams. Due my recognition in the porn biz, this spectacular costume and a little extra bravado on my part, the place went nuts as I was announced and I trotted down the runway with this horse's ass attached to me. I certainly didn't mind be a Sag for a night!

 

Will Seagers in glitter body paint

"Pump and circumstance"

 

The gay gym topic is a huge one for me. More to come au future!

 


Bio of Will Seagers:

Will Seagers (also credited as Matt Harper), within his multifaceted career and participation in numerous gay communities across the country in the '70s and '80s and beyond, worked as a print model and film performer. He made iconic appearances in releases from Falcon, Hand in Hand, Joe Gage, Target (Bullet), J. Brian, Steve Scott, and more, including in lead roles in major classics like Gage's L.A. Tool & Die (1979) and Scott's Wanted (1980). He brought strong screen presence and exceptional acting to his roles and was scene partners with many fellow legends of classic porn.

 

Will Seagers, present day image

 


You can read Will Seagers' previous blogs for Bijou here:
Welcome Matt/Will
What's For Dessert?
On and Off the Set of L.A. Tool & Die
Wanted, Weekend Lockup and Weekends in Hermosa Beach
Honeymoon in the Palms
Birds of a Feather
The Stereo Maven of Castro Street
The Pass Around Boy
The Ecstasy and the Agony

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Featured

Y M C A (with hand motions)

 

In the 1970s, a youngish housewife in the west suburbs of Chicago dances to this tune on the green shag carpet. She gets her toddler to do it, swinging him by the arms. Her high school age son looks on with a combination of horror and embarrassment.

More than 40 years later, at her grandson's bar mitzvah in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, Bubby Ruth Goldstein (known for her get up and go) takes over the dance floor from her hip hop loving grandson and his friends when the band, in an effort to get everyone involved (an exhausting but necessary requirement for such functions), tries the nostalgia trick. It works.

Has this song become only a nostalgic camp crowd pleaser? Perhaps. I know the current Village People perform primarily on the nostalgia circuit (I saw them at gay Halsted Market Days and at “straight” Taste of Chicago because these popular commercialized festivals attract multiple ages and they need the “older crowd” of boomers with the spending power these days).

But there's a history behind and after it which, despite the campy appeal of the piece, is quite interesting because what we normally seem to think is true about this song ain't necessarily so.

According to Felipe Rose, the group's founder in an interview with the Huffington Post, "I don't think Jacques' intent (Jacques Morali, the original producer of the group) was, 'Oh, I'm just going to put together a group for the gay audience,'" says group member Eric Anzalone (the biker). "He knew the music industry and he knew if he had a hit in the clubs -- which, in the '70s, the gay, the Latin clubs -- that was the place to be." Thus, perhaps, the gay subtext was not meant originally.

 

But then, also according to the Huffington Post, explaining to Rose that the controversy was actually about whether Victor Willis (one of the original members, no longer peforming with group, the leather guy) was against it being used as a gay rights anthem, and not about whether he was against Russia using it at the Sochi Olympics, Willis said, "To the band? Well first of all, the song was never written about anything to do with gay... "It was just a filler song, based on the ex-producer seeing the YMCA sign during lunch and asking us what it meant. Sure, there was ambiguity and they were using a double entendre, but it was really just supposed to be one more song to fill out the album."


From what I have heard (not seen) about many YMCAs in general (one friend told me all one had to do was leave your bedroom door open as a signal for sex), one could argue that there was no way getting around a gay subtext.

I also found out that the famous hand motions came from the kids on Dick Clark's famous American Bandstand, according to Ray Simpson, the cop in the group. He said, "The kids from Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand' actually started the hand motions because we weren't smart enough to come up with that...We decided that was good, let's put it in the show."

I think there's more to this song than camp and nostalgia. Gay sex at the Young Men's Christian, yes Christian Association? Enough said. I just find it interesting that in addition to this irony, the ladies love it too. I haven't yet told my mom (the woman I refer to the first paragraph) that she was dancing to what is now a gay anthem of liberation. Perhaps she needed to feel, however vicariously, liberation as well in those tumultuous seventies.

 

Now, one reader's amazing response to this bog post:

 

Enjoyed the YMCA feature. A few points though - Willis was the original cop (the much missed, gorgeous (& straight) Glenn Hughes was the Leatherman). Ray Simpson replaced Willis as cop when he left prior to Can't Stop The Music.  The "classic" VP lineup didn't come together until their second album, Macho Man.  Only Willis and Felipe Rose are on the first album.  As for them not being put together for a gay audience - that seems more than a little revisionist not to mention a tad disingenuous.  Check out the cover of the first album (attached) and see if you think there's anything remotely veiled about it!  The song list for the album was San Francisco ("Folsom Street on the way to Polk and Castro" - what were those famous for?), In Hollywood, Fire Island (who's favourite summer resort?) and Village People as in Greenwich Village, famous in the 70s because...?  Back in '77 I was a 16 year old disco boy and I well remember the way they not-so-subtley repositioned themselves when they gained mass fame and success. (I still have many of the cuttings from the UK press back then).

 

The second album, with Macho Man, I Am What I Am (not THAT version) and Key West was still pretty out there too!

 

As the other straight man in the group I guess Willis (who also wrote many of their lyrics) might feel embarassed about the gay aspect, though it clearly didn't concern him too much at the time.  Quite why Felipe Rose should come out with such nonsense is another matter.  Given how far the acceptance of gay people and their rights has come on since then it seems wierd to spout that garbage now. Ah well!

 

Fun to read nonetheless, just wanted to set the record straight (so to speak).

 
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