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Humphrey's Tearoom Trade

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Although Laud Humphreys Tearoom Trade, the public sex act between two anonymous men, resulted in a social movement, his entire research method was unethical. Because of Laud Humphreys Tearoom Trade, many stereotypes of homosexuals were destroyed, but the research did not follow proper procedure.

Laud Humphrey was an American sociologist and author. He was born on October 16, 1930, and later died on August 23, 1988 from lung cancer complications. Laud Humphrey was born as Robert Allan Humphreys, but took the name of "Laud" from the seventeenth century Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, when he was baptized again to enter into the Episcopal Church. Humphreys learned young that after his step-mother died in 1953, his father began making regular trip to New Orleans in order to have sex with men; such acts of homosexuality were not expected out of a Politician in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The new information that Humphreys learned of his father caused him great interest in the subject, and led to the hypothesis of his empirical research. (Anonymous, 2006)

Humphreys graduated from Chickasha High School in Oklahoma in 1948, Colorado College in 1952, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois in 1955, and then found interest in graduate work in the sociology field at Washington University in Saint Louis in 1965. In 1968, Humphreys was to research male on male sex in public restrooms around the Saint Louis area. Humphreys' Ph.D. research was supervised by Lee Rainwater, a professor at Washington University in Saint Louis. (Sullivan, 1999)

In 1968, when Humphreys began his research, the norm was that people believed there were no gays, and Humphreys wanted to prove that gays do exist; he wanted for society to have at least an understanding of gay men and what caused them to feel as though that had to seek out quick and impersonal sex. Humphreys began his research primarily in the restrooms of public parks within a large city. He would go to these public parks early on weekday mornings when almost no one else was anywhere near. Humphreys offered to be a look-out or a "watch-queen" for the dyads of men who would drive to the park and enter the public restroom in order to engage in sex with another man. Humphreys' job as the "watch-queen" was to cough when a police car stopped nearby or when a stranger began to approach the area. No words were exchanged between the men who sexually encountered each other. The sex acts were desperate, rushed, and embarrassing for most. This exchange of sex between strangers was considered illegal at this time, and accounted for the majority of homosexual arrests in the United States. (Beins, 2000)

Although observing the sex acts first hand was a start for his research, he wanted to know more about these men on a personal level. Humphreys was interested in their social class, marital status, job, values, roles, and so on. He was able to gain the trust of a few men that he observed and he informed them of his role as a scientist, and convinced them to talk to him about their lives and their motives. Humphreys wanted to know about the men's front stage after he had already seen part of their back stage. Some of these men whom he'd befriended did talk openly to him about their personal lives. Humphreys found that the men who did opt to talk with him ended up being well-educated and of middle class. (Seiber, 1998)

Because Humphreys was interested in knowing more about the men he observed, he copied down their license plates, and then lied to the police, making up a cover story in order to obtain the names and addresses of these men. Humphreys went to these persons homes a year later in disguise. He pretended to be part of a marketing research project or a health-service interviewer so that he could interview them. Humphreys asked them all kinds of questions about their personal lives. He wanted information to complete his qualitative research, which entailed knowing their ethnicity and race, what they did for a living, about their culture, and about their primary group. (Cox, 2004)

Humphreys gained so much information from his research of over fifty sex acts, and his interviews with the 134 men in his sample. He found that over fifty-four percent of his subjects were married. He also declared that thirty-eight percent were neither bisexual nor homosexual and were in unstable marriages. Also, most of the thirty-eight percent either was or was married to a Catholic, and the couples rarely had sex since their last child. Of the remaining sixty-two percent, twenty-four percent were happily married, and were bisexual, twenty-four percent were single "covert" homosexuals, and fourteen percent were homosexuals involved in the gay community. (Seiber, 1998) From his research, Humphreys was also able to determine five different types of homosexuals: adolescent male hustlers, ambisexuals, closet queens, gay guys, and trade homosexuals. (Cox, 2004)



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