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Tearoom Trade: Impersonal sex in public places (Observations) Paperback – December 31, 1975

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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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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: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 68 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Redhawk 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Reggie Thistleton on April 7, 2015
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Oh heck yeah, this book is all about dudes suckin each other off in the bathrooms in Forrest Park in St. Louis. So much hot hot action in this book. I was turgid for the whole chapter about the breastplate of righteousness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By K B. Shields on September 25, 2014
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This seminal work by Humphreys represents one of social sciences first inclusions of gay male subculture in a significantly more neutral tone. Although Laud is perhaps guilty of using the sociological vernacular of his time to write it, the work remains as important today as it was when first published. And despite that many of us hear of Dr. Humphreys in research methods ethics, few of us take the time to explore and appreciate the unique contributions of his work and effort. The academic literature calls him a maverick and pioneer, so it’s worth noting that after all this time, and much commentary his book remains in print and relevant to the study of deviancy through ethnographic methods.
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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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Format: Paperback
‘Tearoom’ in the USA, like ‘cottage’ in the UK, is slang for a public toilet. Married men frequented tearooms on their way to or from work to have furtive sexual encounters with other men.

Such encounters were carried on with a secret language or code of gestures and looks so as to distinguish those who were looking for sex from those who were there to use the toilets for their ‘intended purposes’.

These encounters were illegal and police went to great lengths to catch them. Sometimes they employed ‘pretty police’ to entrap them. At other times, they hid in the roofs and snooped before making arrests. Many of those arrested committed suicide rather than face public shame in the courts and in the subsequent newspaper reports.

Others were subject to blackmail – indeed this is probably the main reason why the law changed, spurred on by Dirk Bogarde’s film ‘Witness’.

Laud Humphreys was a sociologist who also happened to be an Anglican priest. He made a study, for his PhD, of the men who engaged in these encounters and this book is the result of his findings.

The encounters usually involved three people: the two engaged in the sexual activity, and a look-out, called "watchqueen" in slang. By offering his services as the "watchqueen," Humphreys was able to observe the activities of other participants.

These encounters were great levellers of social class. A managing director could get off with a lorry driver – the former worked flexitime so had more opportunities.
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