A nightly bathtime routine has been my saving grace and great escape during lockdown…
By Jumol Royes
Rub-a-dub-dub, don’t come a-knockin’ when I’m in the tub.
As soon as it starts getting late in the evening, my internal clock tells me it’s time to unwind after a long day spent sitting at my desk staring at a computer screen while simultaneously trying to triage requests from my baby boomer parents to help them send an email, make an online purchase or get on a Zoom call (the concept of working from home is still somewhat foreign to them).
I make my escape into the bathroom, shut the door, turn on the tap and let the warm water fill up the tub. On days when I require a little something extra to boost my mood, I add a few generous dollops of luxurious lavender and honey bubble bath and put on Mariah Carey’s “I Stay In Love” (the Jody den Broeder Radio Remix), before stripping down, getting naked and settling in for a soothing soak.
This pandemic ritual has pretty much kept me sane during lockdown.
When I’ve needed respite from the daily barrage of news reports about COVID-19 case counts, ICU admissions and deaths, my bathtime routine has been a source of comfort. In those moments when I’ve sought refuge from the unbearable videos of Black folks being dehumanized and killed, taking a bath has been my saving grace. And when I’ve shut down and struggled with depression and feeling overwhelmed, my bathtub has welcomed me with arms open wide and enveloped me in its warm embrace.
Writer, feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde once wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I couldn’t agree more. While I understand that spending time in the tub may not seem like a radical act of self-care to some, for me – a gay Black man who’s still working his way towards radical self-love, acceptance and worth – it’s an intentional practice that sends the message to myself that I matter, my needs matter, and I’m deserving of my own love and affection. When you exist in a world that historically hasn’t prioritized these messages for people who look and love like you do, small pleasures like taking a bath take on greater significance.
But the benefits of my nightly bathtime routine don’t stop there.
The pandemic has stolen so much from us, including robbing LGBTQ2+ people of safe and communal spaces to explore and express our sexuality. In the absence of bath houses and friends’ houses, support groups and dance parties, gay and queer folks have spent the past year in relative isolation, and some have even been forced back into the closet just to survive living at home with family members who aren’t accepting of who they are.
I came out to my parents a long time ago. Even though they’ve come a long way from open opposition to tepid tolerance to almost acceptance, they’re probably not going to throw a tickertape parade to celebrate my gayness any time soon. Being stuck in lockdown with them has been challenging, and I haven’t always felt comfortable being completely myself, minus the self-editing.
When I close the bathroom door and slip into the tub, all of that melts away. I caress my body the way it desires to be touched and manoeuvre it the way it wants to move. I put in my headphones and sing along with my favourite female pop divas while pretending to be a backup singer. I light scented candles, I play with the bubbles, and when I get out of the bathtub, I dance and pose in front of the mirror. In those moments, I’m totally unrestricted and unrestrained; I’m free to be me.
There are so many things I’m looking forward to doing again as regions around the world start to open up. I’m ready for sightseeing and people watching, extravagant celebrations and intimate get-togethers. I can’t wait to be on both the giving and receiving ends of lingering hugs. I dream about dancing in a crowd, flirting with strangers, stealing kisses in dark corners with cute boys.
One thing is for certain, though: my new normal will continue to include some well-deserved “me” time in the tub. While I’ll likely return to taking 10-minute morning showers before work, I plan to schedule in time each week for at least one super-long soak in the bath. It’s the perfect opportunity to wash away my worries, relax, restore and renew my spirit, and be my gayest self.
Bring on the bubbles.
JUMOL ROYES is a Toronto-area storyteller, communications strategist and glass-half-full kinda guy. He writes about compassion, community, identity and belonging. His guilty pleasure is watching the Real Housewives. Follow him on Twitter @Jumol and on Instagram @jumolroyes.