or just low down?
by Mac Walton, aka, the daddy
"In these bloody days and frightful nights
When an urban warrior can find no face
more despicable than his own, no ammunition
more deadly than self-hate and no target more
deserving of his true aim than his brother,
we must wonder how we came so late and lonely to this place.
--Maya Angelou, “I Dare to Hope”
J. L. King, author of On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of “Straight” Black Men Who Sleep with Men(Broadway Books, New York, 2004), allows us to borrow his eyes and peer into the minds of Down Low (DL) men: Black men who sleep with other men at the same time they are sleeping with women. And here’s what we see:
* Men (some, not all) who often have unprotected sex with men and then engaged in unprotected sex with women, thinking it will be okay because their male lovers are “clean.”
* Men who keep their sexual activity with other men hidden no matter how much and how often they have to lie to their female partners
* Men that seek to distinguish themselves from gay or bisexual men. Gay men, says King, know what they want in another man and can talk about it like women.“Look, baby, I like a little spice in my life,” or “I am open. I don’t have any hang-ups with sex." But DL men want it all too, but they want other men in secrecy.
DL men, says King, are so secretive, “so undercover, so in denial, so ‘on the low,’ that they are the closet.”
* Men that are nothing if not deceptive. They “front” with women at the clubs while secretly making plans to “hook up” with men later in the evening. But they will not be associated with any activity that may call into question their secretive sexual activity. No gay parades for them.
* Men that, in fact, resist the concept of being gay like a crackhead resists advice. Though they sleep with men, they adamantly resist the notion of being gay and say they want nothing to do with gay people, stereotyping gays as men that dress up like Ru Paul, go to gay bars and march in gay parades. Mr. King himself refuses to consider that he may be gay or bisexual.
* Men that feel they would not have to be so secretive if they had more support from the Black church. While providing important information about the DL men and courageously confessing his own risky behavior, Mr. King fails to go farther and speak directly to DL men, imploring them to get tested, to immediately stop having unprotected sex with men or women and to get help. For example, he could have provided a listing of clinics in each state where men can go to get tested. He also failed to identify the implications of individual DL men’s risky sexual and deceptive behavior to the fragile Black communities. Since truth appears to be the first casualty of DL relationships, here are just a few truths for them and their potential partners to consider:
1. DL men stereotype gays, including gays in the Black community who act responsibly in the community and do not dress Ru Paul. king gives the impression that all DL men’s behavior, though dishonest, is somehow superior to gay people when, as King admits, gay and bisexual men are more honest than DL men. So who are DL men to criticize gay people?
2. DL men stereotype the Black church. Yes, the Black church could be more welcoming to the gay people. In fact, Blacks, as individuals, could be more welcoming. But this notion hardly justifies King placing the blame for his and other DL “lifestyle” at the doorstep of Black church. First, there is a thing called individual responsibility. Second, some Black churches, predominantly Black colleges (e.g., Morehouse), community centers, drug counseling agencies and others do provide services to gay people (despite cuts in such services by federal and state agencies). So stereotyping and blaming Black churches and other Black institutions to rationalize irresponsible individual behavior just doesn’t cut it.
3. DL men’s risky sexual behavior of having unprotected sex with men and infecting female partners is literally killing Black people (see data at the end of this article).
4.Though a serious concern in Black neighborhoods across the country, HIV and STD infections are especially problematic in the South. In a recent report, The Southern States AIDS and STD Directors Work Group concluded, “AIDS is out of out of control in the South...In essence we’re declaring a state of emergency…Unless some crucial steps are taken, the epidemic will get worse.”
Why does this epidemic persist? Besides the usual suspects of poverty, ignorance and needle injections, the CDC offers two other major reasons: Denial and Partners at Risk. About denial the CDC states: “…a significant number of African-American men who have sex with men identify themselves as heterosexual. As a result, they may not relate to prevention messages crafted for openly gay men.” As for partners at risk, CDC says it suspects that some women are reluctant to negotiate condom usage with men “out of fear that the man will leave them or withdraw financial support.”
The problem with DL men is, in part, about homophobia and denial. But, ultimately, it’s about a high level of risky behavior that is putting not only Black women but the entire Black community at risk. It’s not about a new lifestyle. It's about dangerous behavior, behavior that represents a full-scale disconnect from a Black heritage based on a collective ethic borne of an ongoing struggle to survive and even thrive against oppression. True, it is not the only risky behavior in our community. High rates of crime, drug usage, homicides, suicide, death from AIDS due to unprotected sex by both male and females—it’s all there. But the difference today is the exceedingly high levels of HIV and STD infections engendered by the unnecessarily risky and deadly behavior by some DL men.
Given this disastrous behavior, the daddy has a right to ask: "Brother, are you keeping it on the down low or just being plain low down— low down as in betraying the trust of your female partner? Betraying struggle of countless numbers of black fathers and mother who worked two and sometimes three jobs so you wouldn’t have to work as hard as they did? Betraying the love of untold mothers who made up white families’ beds (and occasionally got raped in them) and scrubbed hospital floors so you could go to college? Betraying the untold number of activists and regular black folk who preached, shouted, lectured, marched and went to jail so you could have the civil and human rights of which they could only dream?
The daddy just has to ask you, "Black man, how did you come so late and lonely to this place?”
Note: "Black America is currently facing what is perhaps one of the greatest threats to our existence since slavery, AIDS. The public opinion that the HIV/AIDS crisis is stabilizing is wrong; it is getting worse for people of color. African-Americans make up 13% of the U. S. population, but comprise nearly 60% of those infected with HIV/AID. African-American women are infected with HIV 16 times more than White women and nearly 70% of the children infected with HIV/AIDS in this country are Black. The stigma HIV/AIDS carries in black America has only increased since researchers became aware of the prominent role played by bisexual black men in transmitting the virus."
--The African American Registry