The Men of Lamont

Come out, come out, wherever you are

The fifth floor men's room in Lamont Library has been closed for repairs since last week, and the circumstances are all quite shady. Please use the 2nd floor bathrooms instead, the relevant sign helpfully says, though it vexingly omits the question of causality. Ask the furtive librarians and all you get are mutterings about routine repairs. Routine repairs? In the middle of November? For only the fifth floor men's bathroom? No, something quite odd is afoot at Harvard's undergraduate library.

Go to and you'll get a unique answer: The 5th floor johns of Lamont are closed due to the copious amounts of crazy anonymous gay sex happening there.

And they're only half-joking. popped up early in November and is basically an anonymous discussion forum about anything, though the conversation tends to turn to sex pretty quickly. As of mid-morning Monday, the site boasted a total of about 15,500 total posts, with about 600-700 posts per day.

In typical undergraduate fashion, frivolity and insecurity blend together in seamless fashion ("you're not by any chance my ex-girlfriend are you?"/ "cause if you are, I kind of miss being with you." (Nov. 12, 4:06 p.m.)). The site is also revealing on so many levels ("what work?.../ foucault, obvi"/ hot damn. history of sexuality me all night long"/ better than discipline and punish, ya know (Nov. 13, 2:54 p.m.)) that an outsider would be advised to read it to get a true picture of life at Harvard.

One quickly discovers the quite large presence of gay students on the site, which functions as therapy, gossip, and hook-up hotline all in one. Stories emerge from every closet on campus, from frustrated athletes to quietly gay final club members to "out" campus men who vent of alienation from Harvard's gay community. In this melee of anxiety, the sex mentioned earlier is also very much prevalent, and sounds a little like this: "nice discreet guy could help you out." (Nov. 12, 9:27 pm) or "message me at harvjunior85" (Nov. 12, 9:35 p.m.). (Less successful solicitations sound like this: "YOU+ ME+ LAMONT TOILETS= SCANDAL."(Nov. 13, 9:39 a.m.)).

Of course, the killjoys are putting up a fight. They aren't too pleased about gay students getting involved in Harvard's plumbing because it's affecting their own. Take this recent rant: "is it just me or is there no place for a guy to take a shit here since they closed the 5th floor bathroom?... hope those glory holes were worth it" (Nov. 12, 9:43 p.m.).

9:43 pm is partly correct of course. Drill enough holes into a wall and it will surely crumble. Bang a door enough times, and you will unclasp it from its hinges. If students have enough workouts enough times in Lamont, the place will undoubtedly require wiping.

I imagine this isn't the first time Lamont has needed to have spring-cleaning in the fall. The library has been associated with anonymous gay sex since at least the mid-sixties. The writer Andrew Holleran (nee C. Eric Garber '65), in his autobiographic essay, "My Harvard," remembers the Lamont johns as a place replete with "advertisements for nude wrestling scrawled on the doors in Magic Marker." Once, "when a hand reached under the partition between the toilet stalls and stroked [his] left leg; [he] stood up, horrified, pulled [his] pants on and left." Holleran later came out, and described the early years as consumed by "such force of "denial." Despite the pervasive bohemian politics of the time, his time at Harvard, he concluded, was one of segregation and unfulfilled longing.

One might ask, as a poster did, "WHY DON'T U JUST COME OUT ALREADY" (Nov. 12, 5:40 p.m.), but perhaps naive impatience isn't always the solution. It certainly wasn't for one Robert N. Dole '68—not the senator— whose sexual encounter with his Phillips Exeter roommate led to a complaint to the Exeter infirmary and eventually to intermittent psychotherapy during both Exeter and Harvard.

Even in the mid-1960s Harvard wasn't much better, it seems. Dole wrote in his essay, "Homosexuality and Madness at Harvard," that in his second semester,"I became totally insane. I was driven out to McLean's Mental Hospital, where I ran around naked, shouting and banging my head.In my delirium, I saw one face that I recognized. He was looking down at me with pity, worry, and let us admit it: love. We had not exchanged one word in two years, and here we ended up together on the same ward of the same mental hospital, both victims of American psychiatrists trying to cure us of the memory of having loved each other."

There is certainly less tragedy and more of a sense of possibility at Harvard these days, and no one would disagree that things are easily much better. Yet the proliferation of internet sites among gay students, like and (search "Lamont" in their Boston personals section) does suggest a larger marginalization, a kind of failure to be integrated meaningfully into the larger community.

Of course, these sites are mostly liberating and whatever works, works. But it does make one think that more than 35 years after Stonewall, even in the most liberal city of one of the most liberal parts of the country, many gay people still cannot find and meet each other like straight people. How much, it seems, has changed, and how little.

Sahil K. Mahtani '08 is a history concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.