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07 February 2010

Laud Humphreys (1930 – 1988) sociologist, psychotherapist.

Robert Allen Humphreys was born in Oklahoma. His father was an employee of Southwestern Bell and later a state representative, who also made trips to New Orleans for secretive gay sex.

Humphreys chose Laud as a baptismal name upon entering the Episcopal Church. He graduated from the Seabury-Western Episcopal Theological Seminary in 1955. He was ordained as a priest, and worked in Oklahoma and Kansas where he was controversial for his political opinions. He married a woman in 1960.

His Ph.D. dissertation in Sociology at Washington University in St Louis was about homosexual activities in public toilets (“cottaging”). His extension of the established practice of participant observation was presented as ‘ethical misconduct’ during attempts to rescind his PhD. The chancellor of the university held that observations of sexual felonies were also felonies. He was later criticized in that he had used car license plates to follow up the men that he observed, and used a disguise so that they would not recognize him when he later interviewed them at home. The work was published as Tearoom Trade, 1970 (and dedicated to his wife and children), and won the C. Wright Mills Award of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

Two years later he was appointed professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and he published Out of the closets: the sociology of homosexual liberation which is a classic history of Gay Liberation. On p137-8 using Erving Goffman’s concept of stigma, he discusses transsexuality as a form of capitulation:
“An extreme form of this evasion process may be found in the transsexual conversion. More than 3,000 men in the United states have submitted to treatment ….The devastating power of social stigma is seldom more evident than in the willingness (indeed eagerness ) on the part of thousands of men to endure the long and painful process of surgery and re-orientation necessary to produce a change in sexual identity. For these men, castration is the only conceivable way to escape the stigma of effeminacy. Understandably, transsexuals resent identification with the homosexual world.”
He declared his own homosexuality and co-founded the Sociologists’ Gay Caucus in 1974. He left his wife and two children in 1980, to live with a male graduate student, and earned certification as a psychotherapist.

He resigned from Pitzer College in 1986. He died of lung cancer two years later.
  • Laud Humphreys. Out of the closets: the sociology of homosexual liberation. A Spectrum book, S-288. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. xiv, 176 pp. 1972.
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