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Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places (Observations) Paperback

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Product Details

  • Series: Observations
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Aldine Transaction; 2 edition (December 31, 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0202302830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0202302836
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #260,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


* Recipient of the C. Wright Mills Award

“I found the book interesting and descriptively informative. I learned how the tearoom operates, and this is valuable for sociological understanding of urban America and potentially for sex-role analysis.”

—Ira L. Reiss, American Sociological Review

“For the anthropologist, and for other social scientists, Tearoom Trade is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it deals with a heretofore underdescribed aspect of American society. Second, it contains a candid discussion of the methodological problems of studying deviance.”

—E. B. Eiselein, American Anthropologist

“Few sociological books in recent years have received the attacks and accolades that Tearoom Trade has. In addition to being viewed extensively in both the professional and public media, it has received the 1969 C. Wright Mills award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems.”

—Lawrence Rosen, Journal of Marriage and the Family

“From 1985 to 1988, the arrests of large numbers of men involved in impersonal sex in public toilets became a major Canadian news story… The present study examines this deviant activity using information generated by police surveillance of seven public washrooms in five Canadian communities.”

—Frederick J. Desroches, Qualitative Sociology

"Tearoom Trade was Laud's most significant book...what emerged in this ground-breaking research was a sociological portrait of conservative and tormented lives: married men, family men, conservative men, whose personal proclivities and preferences were powerful enough, institutionally grounded enough, to break through the conventions of social life."

—Glenn A. Goodwin, Irving Louis Horowitz, and Peter M. Nardi, Sociological Inquiry

About the Author

Laud Humphreys received his divinity degree from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and spent fourteen years in the ministry of the Episcopal Church. After returning to graduate school, he received his Ph.D. in sociology from Washington University in 1968. Dr. Humphreys taught at SUNY Albany, Southern Illinois University, and until his death in 1988 was professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California.

Lee Rainwater is professor emeritus of sociology at Harvard University and research director emeritus of the Luxembourg Income Study. He was an editor at Transaction, the associate editor of theJournal of Marriage and the Family, and a member of the review board of Sociological Quarterly. He has written various books and many professional journal articles, including Poor Kids in a Rich Country: America’s Children In Comparative Perspective; Income Packaging in the Welfare State: A Comparative Study of Family Income; and Social Policy and Public Policy: Inequality and Justice.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Timothy M. Hall on June 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is the first and one of the few and to study male-male sexual behavior as it occurs between men who do not primarily identify themselves as being homosexual or bisexual. Previous studies had been largely clinical, based on the reports of individuals undergoing psychotherapy, and most ethnographic studies have been of more or less gay-identified communities -- gay bars, gay organizations, gay neighborhoods -- or male prostitutes. This was the first to study men who have sex with men but who mostly have lives as apparently ordinary, married heterosexuals. The study revealed some surprising facts about such men, and fired a controversy over sociological ethics and propriety that continues to this day.
During the course of a year, Humphreys observed male-male sexual activity in certain public restrooms (known in gay slang as "tearooms") in an unidentified city in the US. A year later, after having identified many of the men he had observed, he arranged to interview them as part of a different, general sociological study, which allowed him to ask a number of questions about their backgrounds and personal lives without revealing their clandestine activities; he also approached about a dozen of the men in the tearooms themselves and was able to interview them openly.
Humphreys' findings contradict a number of previously held assumptions about male-male sexual activity, and carry some important recommendations. One is that the "seduction of teenagers" does not occur in these public places, and in fact teenage boys are actively excluded despite their frequent desire to participate.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Who, What, Where? VINE VOICE on September 28, 2010
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This is a great example of what can be done using ethnographic research. I cannot say whether this book represents a major innovation in gay studies. That is not what I study. What I study is government budgeting, but needed some advice on how to do an ethnogrpahy on th topic. This book provided that advice even though it did not directly touch the topic I was interested in, and that is an achievement. The auhtor also includes a sound discussion of the ethical issues that are associated with doing this kind of research. The book is readible, and very practical in addition to being very informative. Get it and enjoy an improvement to doing this type of research.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. Feliciani on February 25, 2009
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This book is a very interesting read. Especially for sociological studies or ethical malpractices. The book is about a graduate student who studies public sex in tea rooms. 'Tea Rooms' are public restrooms that men use to receive sexual favors from other men. Basically the author wrote down the license plate numbers of all the males who frequented these tea rooms and waited a year to look up the men and track them down. Once he found them he would interview them about their sexual practices, often in front of their families. When the student published his research, all the men in the book could be identified, even though their names were changed. This book is fascinating as a tool to understand early sociological research.
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Before any naysayers rip this book please keep in mind that humans are naturally sexual, so for anyone to point fingers at anyone keep in mind that what if you were caught with your pants down? This book paints a picture of why Homosexuality needs to be treated differently and more importantly why homosexuals need to be treated like normal individuals because they are in fact pretty normal, but our culture makes them feel different and unusual which only stands to aggravate the anonymous tearoom trade situations because its to hide it. Its always been such a sensitive topic, but people deep down inside want to understand sexuality better, so well maybe people should educate themselves before making blanket statements. This is another good book in the realm of sexuality, so if you are curious into understanding things better then pick this book up.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Carrie Catanzaro on April 13, 2009
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I bought this book after completing some human research protections training at a major medical school. The book is heavy on descriptions that I think aren't quite necessary - if you're squeamish, well, you'll feel squeamy. The premise of the research, and the resulting aftermath, however, is fascinating. And it reminds us as researchers to not forget that it is peoples lives we are dealing with - not just randomized subjects assigned impenetrable codes. Very interesting debate about the methodologies used in Humphrey's research, as well as a retrospective look by him at what happened after the original publication of the study. And for Saint Louisans... you'll read and think about that big beautiful park in the center of our city in a whole new way.
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