The Tearoom Trade study is a study by Laud Humphreys conducted in 1970 to obtain information on male homoerotic behaviors that occurred in public bathrooms.
In the 1960s, in Los Angeles, supposed homosexual behavior was a felony charge under the law. In 4 years, Los Angeles convicted 493 men of this supposed crime, and 279 of those were arrested in public restrooms known as tearooms. Laud Humphreys, an American sociologist, decided to examine these tearooms and observe the homoerotic behaviors within.
Humphreys described his data collection procedures, including systematic observations, archival data, interviews, and questionnaires. The researcher performed 50 observations of homoerotic encounters that were included in the study and interviewed some of the participants. Moreover, he used license plate numbers and connections with the police department to access the contact information of other tearoom participants. He did it in order to distribute and collect men’s health questionnaires to tearoom frequenters. Later, many people blamed Humphreys that The Tearoom Trade study was unethical because of methods of collecting data.
Through his data collection procedures, Humphreys identified four types of participants: trades, ambisexuals, gays, and closet queens. The trade type included 19 individuals whose primary function in the tearooms was prostitution. Many of them were trick drivers, teenage boys, and semi-skilled workers.
Ambisexuals included 12 individuals who were primarily husbands commuting to or from works stopping by the tearooms for impersonal sex on their way home. The gay type included 7 of the 50 participants, and most of them were openly gays in the community. The closet queen type was comprised of 12 men, mostly single and Catholic, who were primarily interested in teenage boys. Humphreys described all of them as people who would have never been pegged as sexual deviants.
The Laud Humphreys’ Tearoom Trade study discovered that those who were most concerned with hiding their homoerotic behaviors were also the most politically and conservative. The researcher concluded that the tendency to be Orthodox proper and politically conservative was an attempt to compensate for sexual deviant behaviors in these participants. Humphreys also claimed that attempted social control of homoerotic behavior was more harmful than helpful.