The Tearoom Trade and the Breastplate of Righteousness
September 8, 2007 7:55 AM Subscribe
was studying to be an Episcopal priest in the mid-1950s when he learned, shortly after his father's death, that his father, Oklahoma State Representative Ira D. Humphreys
, took trips to New Orleans to have sex with other men. After being dismissed as an Episcopal priest in the 1960s, Laud Humphreys then enrolled as a sociology grad student where he completed a dissertation about men who had sex with other men in public bathrooms in St. Louis
, which Humphreys researched by agreeing to serve as a "watch queen"
, looking out for the police. After writing down the license plate numbers of the men having sex, Humphreys traced the men's addresses and contacted them in disguise, claiming to be collecting data for a public health survey. The research, which was condemned as unethical
for its use of covert methods
, was published in 1970 as Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places
According to a summary
of the Tearoom Trade, "Humphreys' findings destroy many stereotypes. Fifty-four percent of his subjects were married and living with their wives, and superficial analysis would suggest that they were exemplary citizens who had exemplary marriages. Thirty-eight percent of Humphreys' subjects clearly were neither bisexual nor homosexual. They were men whose marriages were marked with tension; most of the 38 percent were Catholic or their wives were, and since the birth of their last child conjugal relations had been rare. Their alternative source of sex had to be quick, inexpensive, and impersonal. It could not entail any kind of involvement that would threaten their already shaky marriage and jeopardize their most important asset - their standing as father of their children. They wanted only some form of orgasm-producing action that was less lonely than masturbation and less involving than a love relationship." Based on his revelation about his father's trips to New Orleans and what he learned at St. Louis "tearooms," Laud Humphreys concluded that many of the men he observed put on a "breastplate of righteousness"
(an allusion to Ephesians 6:10-18
) by displaying socially and politically conservative views in public to shift attention away from their private sexual behavior.