Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places (Observations)

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From the time of its first publication, 'Tearoom Trade' engendered controversy. It was also accorded an unusual amount of praise for a first book on a marginal, intentionally self-effacing population by a previously unknown sociologist. The book was quickly recognized as an important, imaginative, and useful contribution to our understanding of "deviant" sexual activity. Describing impersonal, anonymous sexual encounters in public restrooms―"tearooms" in the argot―the book explored the behavior of men whose closet homosexuality was kept from their families and neighbors. By posing as an initiate, the author was able to engage in systematic observation of homosexual acts in public settings, and later to develop a more complete picture of those involved by interviewing them in their homes, again without revealing their unwitting participation in his study. This enlarged edition of 'Tearoom Trade' includes the original text, together with a retrospect, written by Nicholas von Hoffman, Irving Louis Horowitz, Lee Rainwater, Donald P. Warwick, and Myron Glazer. The material added includes a perspective on the social scientist at work and the ethical problems to which that work may give rise, along with debate by the book's initial critics and proponents. Humphreys added a postscript and his views on the opinion expressed in the retrospect.

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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.


* 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

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