Warning! Male, Massage with Caution

It is, sadly, not unfamiliar to have to battle through scheduling gymnastics when trying to book a discounted massage. It was a prepaid online deal—two for the price of one. No wonder they didn’t want to give me the popular availabilities.

“Can you do 1pm on Wednesday?” This is Tracy of a local beauty spa. “We are just really busy lately with the promotion and everything,” she says, the sound of flipping pages in the background.

“No, I can’t, I’m really sorry, all I can do is after 5:30pm on a weekday or anytime on a weekend.” Their website says they are open until 9pm most nights and weekends. I’m locked in a duel of wits to get the best time available. She’s offered me four different appointments—all of them midday on a weekday. “The deal is valid for another three months, I’m happy to wait.” I’m not happy to wait. This bluff is my last hope. It draws a long pause.

She stifles a groan. “Fine, how about this Saturday at 11am?”

Ha! I’ve won!

“Perfect, thank you so much.” I punch the air and mime a big cheer.



“See you Saturday.” She hangs up quickly.

Saturday morning rolls around and I’m ecstatic. I go out for for an early brunch, which I guess is just breakfast but trendy, with one of my gal pals. Then I go home to change. I put on a long woven t-shirt and fitted jeans. I kiss my boyfriend goodbye.

Approaching the spa I am overcome with a strange dread, like I’ve come on the wrong day or to the wrong place. I can see through the frosted glass shopfront that the lights aren’t on. Perhaps I’m early? I’m only two minutes ahead of my appointment. I try and shake it off. I’m used to this foreboding. I’m not capable of experiencing happiness outright, my brain forces me to convert it all into anxiety: What if the masseuse is really pushy, trying to get me buy expensive products I don’t want? What if she does something to my back and pushes my spine out of alignment?

My pessimism is probably just a survival trait, protecting me from disappointment or social awkwardness. I’ll manage.

I push on the door and it’s unlocked so I step inside but there’s no one behind the desk. To my left a short woman with long hair stands up from a white leather couch. I am drawn to her sparkly nails. Disco nails. I adore women who wear them. If I were a woman, they are exactly how mine would look. In fact, I am sorely tempted to get them but I have no idea how I’d be able to play PlayStation with them.

Still seated on the couch from which the woman rose is a very out-of-place-looking tradesman. Everything about the interior of the salon matches this curvy, long-haired, shimmer-nailed woman. He, however, does not belong among the beige roman columns, the diamond trimmed mirror or the vases of freesias.

“Nigel, is it? I’m Tracy.” She extends her coruscating hand toward me. We shake hands like in a stiff, business-like manner, as if she has just given me a job.

I am trying to imagine how holding my scrotum out of the way so she wouldn’t accidentally fasten it to my inner thigh is more intimate than giving me a shoulder rub.

“Good morning.” My voice goes up, it always does. Nervous trait. My eyes flick back to the square man in hi-vis on the couch. He has a newspaper spread out on his lap and paint-flecked steel-toe boots on. He glares, looking me up and down. There are no other customers or staff.

“So I have to tell you that we don’t do men here, usually …”

Tracy lets these words hang in the air. My anxious prophecy is fulfilling itself. I’m not sure if I should apologise. I feel like I should.

“… but you seem like you’re fine. Let’s go ahead, right this way.” Her flashy hands gesture to a room past a row of salon chairs. I laugh nervously and she ushers me ahead.

Inside, the room is dark. I bump into a table, and as the halogen lights flicker on I see it’s a tiny kitchenette. It was probably a tea break area until a massage table was crammed up against the hot water cylinder.

I imagined a hundred weird and awful social interactions that could take place but this was not one of them. I am trying to make this less awkward.

“Sorry, I didn’t know you’re female-only—but I saw on the website that you do Manzillians?” (A wax otherwise known as ‘back, sack and crack’.)

“We do.” She closes the door behind me, the tradesman coughs theatrically. “But they are a lot less, you know … intimate.”

I am trying to imagine how holding my scrotum out of the way so she wouldn’t accidentally fasten it to my inner thigh is more intimate than giving me a shoulder rub.

So she’s figured out I’m gay, I guess.

“We don’t do men because … well, you know why. You get all sorts.” She gushes, “I was very anxious before you came, but now that I’ve seen you I’m okay to go ahead with it. You aren’t the kind of person we are worried about. You get it, right?”

So she’s figured out I’m gay, I guess. This conclusion doesn’t exactly require the detective work of an Agatha Christie novel. It’s fairly obvious when I speak, but I had hardly said a word before she decided I was ‘okay’. Do I walk funny? What did I wear that gave it away? Is it my hair? I feel slightly offended that she’s assumed I’m gay so quickly. Not that I mind, I just hate feeling like someone is dropping flyers in letterboxes about it: BEWARE—HOMOSEXUAL SEEN LOCALLY—RESPONDS TO “NIGEL”.

“Uhh. Well … actually, I don’t really know why.” I rifle through the drawers of my imagination. Is it just too hard to massage hairy legs? Do men usually get erections midway?

She stops shuffling oils around and tilts her head like my sister’s pugs do when scolded.

“Oh come on, you know what it’s like.” I assume she means sexual stuff but honestly I don’t know.

“No, really, I’m not sure.” I sit in the chair I have been hovering over, I feel slightly more comfortable. She sighs.

“Well, we get people calling up for ‘special’ massages and saying gross things on the phone.”

“Do people really do that?” I am genuinely incredulous.

“Yes, all the time! Guys masturbating down the phone and oh god! You would not believe it!

I’m sympathetic. It’s bound to make her leery of guys. On the other hand, this massage is somewhere between my fiftieth and one-hundredth and I’ve never been considered suspicious on account of my gender. Or, for that matter, been told about this phenomenon.

I didn’t go to all those sleepovers, shopping trips and girly weekends away on the off-chance I’d see a nipple.

Part of me can barely believe it happens—strangers wanking down the phone? It sounds awful. I wouldn’t even want people I did know wanking on the phone to me.

As someone who has been in the girl’s club since my teenage years, I feel suddenly uprooted. I didn’t go to all those sleepovers, shopping trips and girly weekends away on the off-chance I’d see a nipple. Now here’s Tracy making me doubt my membership as an honorary mister sister.

“You look very uncomfortable, Nigel, what’s up?” Tracy sits on the massage table in front of me. She leans forward, planting a hand on each of my shoulders.

“Well, if I’m totally honest then yes, I am. I guess I kind of wish you said something on the phone. Maybe you can just refund me?”

“Nigel, sweetie, no, you and I are friends! You’re totally cool, it’s just normal men I have a problem with. I really should have said something on the phone now I think about it, but I’m glad you’re here today. If it makes you feel more comfortable maybe you can keep your clothes on for the massage?”

I wonder how good she thinks her massages are if she believes I’m going to feel it beneath wax-treated denim. Perhaps “normal men” have this ability.

“No, no, I’m not uncomfortable with you touching me, I am uncomfortable that I might be making you do something you’re not happy to do. If you’d prefer to refund me I can just go.”

I cross my legs, my hands dangle off my wrists. This happens subconsciously. I’ve adopted the gayest posture and mannerisms possible. I want to look less threatening.

I feel like my boy body is threatening and intrinsically predatory. I feel like I need to transform it. I cross my legs, my hands dangle off my wrists. This happens subconsciously. I’ve adopted the gayest posture and mannerisms possible. I want to look less threatening.

The idea that I am approachable, friendly, trustworthy—all seems suddenly in direct competition with my physicality. All the times I was naked in the same room as girlfriends for a spray tan seem questionable. The times we went bra shopping, skinny dipping, our openness with each other, now suspect.

“I don’t mind doing it at all. Look, I’m really sorry. I just shouldn’t have mentioned it. We are friends now! What star sign are you? I’m sure we are gonna get along fine, I bet you’re a Taurus.”

I end up on the massage table, a towel draped over my groin, boxer briefs on. Every time her hand goes up my thigh, the creepy feeling I have that I’m a pervert for being here escalates. Touch has been converted from platonic to deviant simply by her invoking what other “normal” men often do. If I had been harassed just for trying to perform my job, maybe I’d be as cautious as Tracy, and I wonder, as a man, what’s my degree of responsibility for this?

Tracy talks. She talks a lot. She tells me about all the weird things men have done. Asking for happy endings. Grinding on the table. She tells me this while she massages my calves. I hate this. I’m ashamed of myself and I don’t know why. I want to leave; I don’t know how. She asks about my zodiac some more; I reveal my Piscean status. She explains that makes perfect sense to her.

I hear a gruff coughing and shuffling of papers. She tells me her husband has had the cough for a while.

It finally hits me that he is here as security. He’s here to defend his wife from perverts, from other men, but not men like me. I guess that means neither of us are “normal”—I’m gay and he’s her husband. As for her and me, I’m her friend, not a pervert. We’re both water signs.

She chuckles and chides as she massages my neck. “Why is your body so tense? You’re meant to be relaxing!”

I never go back for the second session.

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One Comments

  • Ruth

    March 23, 2017

    Nigel…you have made me laugh! You are an amazing story teller….I have the picture stuck in my head. Thank you ….you are genius! I will keep a lookout for the next edition….keep them coming.


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