Monday, June 06, 2005

Tea and buns

This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is one of the spiciest bits of campus lore 'round these parts.

For many years an upper floor of a certain campus library was renowned as a "tea house" for anonymous sexual encounters among gay men. Custodians would routinely happen upon scenes of earnest rogering and all-out bun-baring buggery in the men's room up there. Two of the stalls featured "glory holes" designed for faceless frontal fun.

After yet another incident of someone walking in on college boys (or whomever) acting out scenes from Krafft-Ebbing, the student newspaper would always take special pains to over-explain precisely what glory holes were and how they were used (their favorite phrase was "fist-sized opening at waist level," which I wasn't sure referred to the hole in the stall divider or some gaping human orifice.)

A gay website once featured the library's loo as the primo "tea room" in the area (ambience: 10; parking: 2; proximity to Oscar Wilde shelf: 8). There were reports of new glory holes opening up in bathroom stalls in the student union, a science building, a computer center and the basement of one of the auditoriums. If one believed the scuttlebutt, there was more boy-on-boy action going on than at an Elton John pool party.

Campus police were always quick to dub the participants they caught sticking it to each other among the stacks as "unaffiliated men," as though it were unthinkable that any young scholars would engage in such unspeakable acts. Oh, no. Not here.

Only two male students felt confident enough to out themselves openly in my classes over a period of 15 years. They both wrote first-person stories about being verbally fag-bashed and otherwise mistreated by classmates, male and female. One was kicked out of the big frat that he'd pledged when he revealed to his new "brothers" that he was HIV-positive.

For all their sophistication and worldly attitudes, undergrads here can be surprisingly close-minded about homosexuality. Last year I had students fill out a questionnaire asking them to rate their personal attitudes toward different types of people they would feel comfortable or uncomfortable interviewing one-on-one as journalists.

The No. 1 choice under "extremely uncomfortable" was "out lesbian."

No. 2 was "out gay man."

No 3 was a tie between "convicted child molester" and "suspected terrorist."

Glory be.

No news of any tea parties popping up anywhere on campus in the last couple of years. As a grad student for the past three, I spent an awful lot of time reading and note-scribbling on the top floor in the main library. I liked the good chairs and the nice view at night of the lights on nearby highrises. Sometimes I'd sit up there for three or four hours and never see another human being -- not a librarian, not a security guard, certainly not another student hunting for a book or a quiet place to study. Didn't see any cruise-y boys either.

Guess the tea house is no 'mo. Sic transit glory hole mundi.

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