Friday, July 1, 2011

Will You Find Any Tea in a Gay Tea Room?


After my post about bathhouses, I had so many people e-mail me about not knowing they existed I decided to write a short post about Tea Rooms. The photo has nothing to do with Tea Rooms either. I just like it.

Now we're not talking about high tea here, with finger sandwiches and good old Earl Grey. We're talking about an expression that refers to classic cruising spots where some gay men used to congregate often (and some still do). One web site said this, "Tea house" may also be used synonymously (or confused) with "tea room", a gay slang term referring to a venue where public sex occurs. ... But as far as I know it doesn't always mean public sex. This is an ambiguous definition at best..leave it to the Internet to exaggerate.

You can google the term and come up with many web sites and many definitions, but you have to know about it first. In the past, before the Internet and gay pride, Tea Rooms were also places where gay men could meet each other...and though sex played a huge role, it wasn't always about sex. I know an older couple who met at a tea room on Long Island, and they were not cruising for sex. They were trying to meet other people in a time when you didn't do that openly. And they wound up getting to know each other, falling in love, and spending the rest of their lives together.

I snagged this from a comment thread: The phrase "tea room" was coined to describe public meeting places, usually restrooms, that homosexual men could meet and have sex as strangers-no strings attached.It is said that the phenomenon grew greatly during the Industrial Revolution as more and more married,"straight" men, needed it as physical release from everyday stress. Seemingly inane markings on walls, etc. would help those looking for such encounters in their quest for anonymous sex. I think whoever wrote this (it was anonymous) nailed it. These so-called straight guys, including the married guys, have been notorious since the beginning of time. I've never once been to a wedding where some woman's husband didn't hit on me. Never once.

I've also never written about tea rooms in any of my books. I think the term is passe for the most part and most of my books are set in the present with younger guys who aren't in the closet and don't have to hide out in the dark. But I'm sure the tea room reference is still being used in certain places. I have a friend who says, "Wherever there's a state park and a dark rest room, there are going to be gay men lurking." I don't know how true that is. I've never been to a Tea Room, or cruised a state park for that matter. I've always lived within the New York/Philadelphia area and there were plenty of places to meet other gay men by the time I was ready to start dating. But a lot of my friends are older, especially the couples, and I've learned a lot by listening to them about what it was like to be gay before l980.

Now, don't get Tea Room confused with T-dance. T-dance and Tea Rooms are two totally different things. Wiki says this: The term, sometimes spelled T-dance or T dance, is also used within gay culture to designate similar dances: particularly those held on weekends (especially Sunday evenings) in night clubs, or at the end of the day at gay resorts. And I've been to more than my fair share of T-dances through the years and never saw any public or private sex going on.

Within gay culture (and I'm talking about gay men here, not the LBT part of LGBT), slang has always played a huge role. Let's face it, when there were no places for gay men to meet in the open and the only places were dark rest rooms, Tea Room sounds a lot nicer than public sex dive. But it is a part of gay history, and I hate to see these things go unnoticed. A lot of people would like to cover them up and pretend they never existed. But I prefer to face the facts and understand the reasons why they existed in the first place.

2 comments:

Jay Ross said...

Ryan - This an interesting post and being older (75) I remember "tea Rooms". Your post also brought out memories re straight men. Many times the tea rooms were subject to raids. The victims names were listed in the newspapers including their occupation and it's surprising how many (most and sometimes all) were married and many professional including clergy. Just an interesting rememberence.

ryan field said...

Thanks for commenting, Jay. I didn't know that about raids and listing names in the newspaper. I do remember a truck stop they used to raid. Once it was even on the six o'clock news and a Catholic priest was caught cruising.