Article by Maya Vukovska

Risk-takers who have experienced it swear there’s nothing like being blown at a glory hall. Many describe it as “mind-blowing”. That must be true because, due to the sensory deprivation from every other body part, the sensations are hyper-intensified and the focus is on one spot only. You just unzip, shut up and enjoy.

The glory hole had its moments of glory, and although now it is more of a historical artefact than a real thing, it still can be found in some public bathrooms, sex clubs, adult stores, and various semi-private spaces all over the US. There’s also an online service that provides information about the location of glory holes that is mostly crowd-sourced.

From word to mouth

There is a scientific theory that glory holes date back to Ancient Egypt (what doesn’t!), and there are tons of hieroglyphs supporting this theory. The practice later spread to Ancient Greece where it was commonly related to bath use. In Ancient Asia, glory holes made their independent debut. First, it was a common practice only among the upper class. Sumo wrestling events lasted for days without pause, and the spectators in the expensive seats had the privilege to stick their dicks into holes in the room housing the most skilful male and female sex service providers in the region.

If you open the Oxford Dictionary and look for “glory hole”, you’ll find out that the first recorded use of the phrase in English comes in 1825, when it was described as a room or a drawer “where things аre heaped together without any attempt at order.” Two decades later, the glass blowers appropriated the phrase - they started calling the mouth of the pot heated by beechwood “the glory hole.”

You’d probably ask, what about the gay meaning?

Well, it came even earlier. In fact, 100 years earlier.

The turn of the 18th century was a particularly turbulent time for sodomites (as gays were used to be called back then). They were mercilessly persecuted but the increased inspection of “non-normative” sexual behavior only fostered a thriving subculture. It was under these oppressive conditions that the term “cruising” was coined. Actually, it came from the Dutch word “kruisen”, which was used to describe the activity of men meeting other men for sexual pleasuring in public spaces - from toilets to the Court of Holland!

From glass to mines to “tearooms”

At the dawn of a new industrial revolution, "glory hole" became a commonly used industrial term with the meaning of “large cavernous openings” for mining and oil drilling. In 1885, England passed a law making any homosexual act so illegal, that even letters between male friends would become grounds for suspicion. The fear of prosecution made gay men even more cautious. Meanwhile, industrialization was gathering large groups of hot, sweat-drenched workers, and the factories were bustling with testosterone craving to be unleashed. We don’t know for sure who and when applied the various industrial meanings of “glory hole” to the “ungodly” activity that was going on in men’s rooms, but we find the modern definition in an anonymously published pamphlet from 1949: “Phallic-size hole in partition between toilet booths, sometimes used also for a peep-hole.” There is one particular person who burned a hole in the cultural lexicon with his clinical, yet funny in some way definition of the glory hole - the sociologist Laud Humphreys. Out of all places where homosexuals could hook up, Humphreys wrote, the men’s rooms, known also as “tearooms”, offered the most opportunities for those seeking sexual gratification without any strings attached. Those “tearooms” were to be found everywhere, even at the most unexpected places, like libraries, department stores, and YMCA’s.

The joy killer is in town, boys

In the underground gay culture, glory holes become infamously famous throughout the 1950s,’60s, and ’70s. They were the perfect solution for closeted homosexuals, who pretended to be dedicated husbands and fathers in real life. They could suck dick, and fuck ass through this hole in the wall with much less risk of getting caught. This practice offered them the golden opportunity to remain anonymous - they’d often leave the bathrooms without even seeing the face of the person they’d just had sex with.

In the 1980s and the early 90s, glory holes were omnipresent. However, their prevalence and use sharply decreased during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By the late ‘90s, glory holes were almost extinguished “in the wild”, but were still to be found in some gay bars and the porn shops’ backrooms.

The hole that deserved the Hall of Fame honor

In 2018, the Western Australian Museum added a “historic glory hole” to its collection - a decision that raised a few eyebrows. Although some communities and hookup apps render the glory holes unnecessary and outdated, there are still many who look back on these public sex objects with nostalgia, and continue to seek them for anonymous cruising. Alas, they are rare to find. For one thing, because the stall walls nowadays are either metal or concrete, which makes it difficult to carve a hole in.

December 07, 2022 — Andrew Christian
Tags: Gay Culture