Robert Allen Humphreys was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, to Ira Denver Humphreys and Stella Bernice Humphreys. "Laud" was chosen as his first name when he was baptized again upon entering the Episcopal Church. He graduated from the Seabury-Western Episcopal Theological Seminary in 1955, and served as an Episcopal priest. He earned his Ph.D from Washington University in St. Louis in 1968. Due to the perceived dishonesty of his research methods, there was a failed attempt by some faculty members at Washington University to rescind his PhD. He served as professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California from 1972–1986 and died of lung cancer in 1988.
Humphreys was married to a woman from 1960 to 1980 and eventually came out as a gay man. Humphreys was a founder of the Sociologists' Gay Caucus, established in 1974.
His biography was published in 2004, under the title Laud Humphreys: Prophet of Homosexuality and Sociology.
Humphreys is best known for his published Ph.D. dissertation, Tearoom Trade (1970), an ethnographic study of anonymous male-male sexual encounters in public toilets (a practice known as "tea-rooming" in U.S. gay slang and "cottaging" in British English). Humphreys asserted that the men participating in such activity came from diverse social backgrounds, had differing personal motives for seeking homosexual contact in such venues, and variously self-perceived as "straight," "bisexual," or "gay."
Because Humphreys was able to confirm that over 50% of his subjects were outwardly heterosexual men with unsuspecting wives at home, a primary thesis of Tearoom Trade is the incongruence between the private self and the social self for many of the men engaging in this form of homosexual activity. Specifically, they put on a "breastplate of righteousness" (social and political conservatism) in an effort to conceal their deviant behavior and prevent being exposed as deviants. Humphreys tapped into a theme of incongruence between one's words and deeds that has become a primary methodological and theoretical concern in sociology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Humphreys' study has been criticized by sociologists on ethical grounds in that he observed acts of homosexuality by masquerading as a voyeur, "did not get his subjects’ consent, tracked down names and addresses through license plate numbers and interviewed the men in their homes in disguise and under false pretenses." However, Tearoom Trade has been cited in social sciences essays.
Further Readings :
Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places by Laud Humphreys
Paperback: 238 pages
Publisher: Aldine Transaction; 2 edition (December 31, 1975)
Amazon: Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places
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 recognied as an important, imaginative, and useful contribution to our understanding of deviant sexual activity. Describing impersonal, anonymous sexual encounters in public restroomstearooms in the argotthe book explores the behavior of men whose closet homosexuality is kept from their families and neighbors.
Laud Humphreys: Prophet of Homosexuality and Sociology by John F. Galliher, Wayne Brekhus & David P. Keys
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (August 23, 2004)
Amazon: Laud Humphreys: Prophet of Homosexuality and Sociology
Laud Humphreys (1930–1988) was a pioneering and fearless sociologist, an Episcopal priest, and a civil rights, gay, and antiwar activist. In graduate school during the late 1960s, he conducted extensive fieldwork in public restrooms in a St. Louis city park to discover patterns of impersonal sex among men. He published the results in Tearoom Trade. Three decades later the book still triggers many debates about the ethics of his research methods. In 1974, he was the first sociologist to come out as gay. Laud Humphreys: Prophet of Homosexuality and Sociology examines the groundbreaking work through the life of a complex man and the life of the man through his controversial work. It is an invaluable contribution to sociology and a fascinating record of a courageous life.
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