Tea Time



I met a man once who published a very controversial book.   The memory of this man comes back to me as I read the news about Ken Mehlman.   While on the surface these two men have nothing in common their stories collide on a different level.   Both men lived a dual life.  What intrigued me about the first man disappoints me in the second.  Here we are 30 years later and nothing has changed.   We are still leading dual lives.

The man from my past is Laud Humphreys.  He was a professor at Claremont Colleges, while I was attending Cal Poly Pomona.   I was on the staff of the university magazine, Opus, and was taking an in-depth reporting class at the same time.   I had an acquaintance at “the club” who wrote for the L.A. Examiner and said that he was a friend of Laud’s and perhaps I could use him as a feature interview in Opus as well as submit the story to my in-depth reporting class.  The club as we called it was the local gay bar, but that’s another story.

If you google Laud you will find out that he was a sociologist who wrote a controversial PhD paper called “Tearoom Trade”.   In fact, the study proved to be so infamous that Washington University (St. Louis) later revoked his PhD. 

Now image me, a young gay adult who only recently came to terms with my own sexuality, interviewing a man who basically wrote one of the most definitive books on the subject at that time.  I was nervous, curious, and petrified all at once.  The stage was set.  I called Laud at his office and dropped the name of my journalist friend and he graciously agreed to be interview for the magazine.

Now just so you might better understand, this was 1982.  Laud had just left his wife a year earlier and was living with a man in Hancock Park, a neighborhood in L.A.   The movie “Making Love” was just out in theaters staring Charlie’s Angel, Kate Jackson and the dreamy Harry Hamlin played the other man in her husband’s, Michael Ontkean, life.  I had recently rented Mel Brooks, High Anxiety and had that mental image of psychiatry in my head.  Laud was a sociologist but to me it was the same thing.

When I arrived for the interview, he invited me into his office which has a view of the campus quad area.  Once inside he locked the door behind us.   This scared me a little.  He offered me a seat and I took in my surroundings.  He had pictures on the wall from various protests he had participated in across the country.  Books lined two of the walls and he was dressed rather formally in a suit and tie which was customary at the time for a professor. 

As I remember he was rather charming.  I nervously asked him a set of questions I had prepared.  He spoke freely about everything but on occasion would request that something be left off the record.   Being a budding journalist, I didn’t like “off the record” remarks. But I conceded to them, most of which were out of consideration for his ex-wife.

When the story was written he asked that I bring it by his home in Hancock Park before it was published so he could read it and give his approval.  This again went against the rules we were being taught, but I did it anyway.  My managing editor told me I could take it to him but he would decide whether to publish it or not.

As it turned out Laud didn’t approve of my story, and the managing editor made it the cover story along with an article on one of the founders of our university whose name escapes me at the moment.

I was upset by his lack of approval and was mad at my managing editor , but I got an A for the project.

So what does this have to do with Ken Mehlman?  Nothing really, my mind just put it all together.  Laud’s paper was about heterosexuals who concealed their identities and had sex it public toilets.   Sounds like the whole Republican Party to me.

Some of you may be familar with the details of Laud’s study.  I know when I was in college his research was written about in our text books, under the topic of ethics.  Laud conducted his research posing as a “watchqueen”, someone who watches the door and warns participants of unwanted visitors.  He then followed these men back to their cars and wrote down their license plate numbers.  He used this to trace them back to their homes where he approached them again without revealing who he was and conducted interviews.   It was not until the end of Laud’s life that he came out as homosexual, although it is tough to believe his wife didn’t have cause for concern.  According to Laud he told her and the rest of the world he was bisexual and that seemed to work for a while.  I know that she was heart broken when he left her for the other man, but I never spoke with her personally, because she was “off the record”.  Robert Allan “Laud” Humphreys died of lung cancer in 1988.

The Russian Tea Room in New York. Not exactly the same thing. Although I am sure someone has had sex here!

One Response to “Tea Time”

  1. I can’t believe I’ve lived to be a hundred years old and never heard the term “watchqueen.” great entry, and it is, indeed, a shame that thirty years later, people still believe they have to lead dual lives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: