Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tea for Two, and Two for Tea

A final note on Toni A. H. McNaron's Poisoned Ivy, which I finished reading over the weekend.  Overall, it's a valuable, useful book, thanks to the breadth of McNaron's experience and the material she received from the respondents to her questionnaires and interviews.  It's somewhat out of date by now, twenty years after it was published, but it provides a snapshot of that point in time; I might look to see if anyone has done more recent work of the same kind that would indicate how much has changed in the late 1990s.

What I'm commenting on here, then, is not the book as a whole, but the occasional moments that made me sit up and wonder, "Now, where did that come from?"  Like this one, quoting one of her respondents.  Parenthetical remarks (in brackets) are McNaron's.
A second instance [in which the administration tried to force a faculty member to leave] was [around] 1962-63.  The man this time was in the discipline of art.  He also joined the faculty the same year as did I.  He was arrested with several others at a local "tea room."  [In English gay parlance, "tea room" became the name for a place where one could meet other men.]  [155]
Whoa!  A "tearoom" -- I've usually seen it written as one word -- is not "a place where one could meet other men," which could mean a bar, a party, a social circle in someone's home.  A tearoom is camp slang for a public restroom where men go to seek quick anonymous sex.  The term is American, not "English" (in the sense of British) as far as I know; in England such sites are known as "cottages," and gay men go "cottaging" when they fancy a quick one.  It passed from in-group code to academic awareness after the sociologist Laud Humphreys published his research on tearoom trade in 1970.

Considering the notoriety of Humphreys' work, I find it hard to understand how McNaron got this wrong.  Since she's never cruised a tearoom herself, I presume she got the information from someone else, who misled her, perhaps through euphemism.  And none of her advance readers, no one at Temple University Press, caught the error.  Again, this doesn't mean that Poisoned Ivy is worthless.  I'm just concerned, because strange errors creep into academic publications, which may confuse or mislead others who read them, especially students.