Gordy and I found a Turkish bath in Istanbul near the flat we were staying that appeared to fit the bill. I wanted a legit experience at a local bath, not one that catered to tourists. The sign outside this one was just in Turkish, and it was cheap, too, at about ten bucks per person. Bingo.
The first part of the Turkish bath is the rinsing, so we went from the lobby into the bath area, which was five or six rooms with white stone walls each about ten feet square, most dedicated to rinsing, plus a sauna, a bathroom, and some other rooms with locking doors. They had small stone basins into which you could draw hot water and then pour the hot water over yourself with a plastic bowl. It was basic, but it was also very soothing to sit on a hot bench in a steaming room and continually soak yourself in hot, flowing water, especially since the weather in Istanbul had been so cold and damp. I really loved this part of the experience and could've done it for hours. The next part, not so much.
The man who would be washing me led me into a small room with a wide marble slab and motioned for me to lay down on my back. He took my towel off (I had a swim suit on underneath) and began scrubbing my feet vigorously with a loofa. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't really painful, either.
He worked his way up my calves, and then, as he was scrubbing my thighs, he brushed his hand against the front part of my swimsuit. I flinched a little bit, but I figured it was just an accident. It happened again on his next scrub up my leg, but I'm pretty forgiving, and figured that was an accident, too. Once he finished my other leg, he removed the loofa, revealing his bare hand, and patted me on the crotch as he smiled at me. Hmm, I thought, perhaps this is just an intimate Turkish greeting.
At this point, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable, mostly because I was starting to suspect that Gordy and I had selected a gay bathhouse by mistake. Not that there's anything wrong with gay bathhouses, of course, but that wasn't the sort of authentic experience that I was looking for.
Before my thoughts could go any further, the guy asked me where I was from.
"The United States," I said.
"Ah, America. Tell me," he said, "how is gay life in America?"
Oh, O.K., I thought. This clears things up. We're at a gay bathhouse, and this guy who's scrubbing me down with a loofa thinks that I'm gay, too. It was an uncomfortable realization, satisfying though it was. But I still had to answer his question about gay life in America. At first I thought about mentioning the recent changes to legislation regarding gay marriage, but instead, I claimed ignorance.
"Uh, I don't know."
"You mean, you're not gay?" he asked.
"No," I said, trying not to sound judgmental.
He gave me an 'I'll be damned' sort of laugh and then continued up my stomach, chest, and arms, this time without any brushes against my crotch. And that was the last of it. He finished the scrubbing and I went into a rinsing room to wash off.
I told Gordy about my experience as we were leaving, and he said that he'd had a similar one. Apparently a very obese Turkish man had spent a while trying to get Gordy to follow him into a side room. Naïve of the man's intentions, Gordy followed him into the room and found him facing the door buck naked and raising his eyebrows suggestively. Gordy got the message and walked out.
Once we were back in Qatar, I searched Google for a list of gay bathhouses in Istanbul in hopes of confirming my suspicion that we had inadvertently ended up at one of them. Sure enough, the one we went to was third on the list, complete with reviews about which nights have the most action, the quality of the action, and the sheer amount of action: "There's so much action here I can't believe it doesn't show up first in online searches for uninhibited gay action."
So there you have it. I accidentally went to a gay bathhouse with my father-in-law.
Update: An earlier version of this post listed the hamam we went to, but after a thoughtful comment (see below) and some careful consideration, I've removed that part of the post.