Down Low… “Nobody Has To Know”

In Secret Sex and the Down Low Brotherhood by Justin H. Hoy, we hare introduced to a “startling new subculture of black men who have sex with other black men, but still identify as exclusively heterosexual;” this is the down low or DL (380).   These men are married with kids and are truly interested in women, even though they sleep secretly with other men. They claim that while sleeping with men is indeed an act of homosexuality, the core of them is in fact heterosexual. In response to this, these DL men continue to assert their masculinity and their privilege as men to be the traditional head of the house.

But why wont these men just come out the closet? The answer in privilege. “These men have a professed desire to be straight, and they enjoy all of the rights and privileges associated with heterosexuality” (380). This is straight privilege. They appreciate all the good things that come with being labeled as heterosexual and do not want to deal with the many discriminations of being labeled as homosexual. Think about the already social discriminations these black men already face with racism and the domination of the white majority. The black community could shun the DL men if they are exposed; this is because blacks wish to association with homosexuality in order to avoid further social discrimination. These men usually feel as if they have no community to identify with. Both the gay community and the black community reject them, and in result these men exist in a new subculture because they could not fit anywhere else.

What about the wives of the DL men? These women are at a great risk of not knowing because the DL men hold their wives responsible for preventing their homosexual sexual acts. Also these men do not tell their women so they do not lose their masculine privilege. These men feel that the women must take responsibility for protecting themselves even though most of them have no idea that their husbands are having sex with other men. When J. L. King appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show to discuss his DL lifestyle as well as others, black women were scared that their husbands were in fact DL men and had been sleeping around with other men behind their backs.

In the Tyler Perry film, For Colored Girls, Janet Jackson plays Joanna “Jo” Bradmore, a woman who did not know her husband, Carl, was a DL man. Jo confronts Carl on his homosexuality, which he angrily denies at first but Jo tells him that she was not oblivious to the way Carl looks at other men. After venting his frustrations over Jo’s controlling nature, he then admits that he has been sleeping with other men and tells her that he’s sorry. Jo then reveals that she is HIV-positive from Carl’s doing and tells Carl to leave when she gets back home. According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) released in 2001, about 30% of black men are infected with HIV (380). Within the 30%, majority of these men have reported that they have in fact slept with men, just like Carl, and still identified as straight.

Is this down low lifestyle just a problem with black men? The answer is no, it is not exclusive to any racial, ethnic, or sexual group; in fact men of many groups have been engaging in down low behavior (382). For example Cole Porter, great American composer, was a white married man who had sex with other men various times. Also, the former New York governor, Jim McGreevey, a white man, resigned after confessed he had lover. He did so with his wife standing beside him (382). Why it acceptable for these men to come out? What is the difference? The difference between these white men who practices the down low lifestyle and the black men who did the same is position and power. Even though all men face a hard time with coming out as down low, black men face a much tougher time because of where they already stand in society. Because of white privilege, these white men can continue to practice closeted sex with other men and be embraced by the white-centric gay community unlike the black men who so the same. These black men are not in position to do so without such harsh social ridicule. There are two ways to look at this: one way is to see that the racism and inter homophobia encased within the gay community discouraged black men from adhering to a gay identity; the other way is the black community fears including these down low men at the risk of other social discrimination (382).

For example when Wentworth Miller, Prison Break star, came out as gay in August of 2013, he got a ton of support others.  You can see what others had to say here:

In conclusion, it must be stated that the down low in NOT a black phenomenon. In fact, it is a reaction to a society that systematically oppresses people based on their respective races, genders, and sexualities. However, when the marginalized do oppress the marginalized (the black and gay communities oppress DL men), the see subcultures exist (382). And as long as we keep oppressing, we will continue to see the down low culture exist, as well as others form. So I leave you all with this, can we stop oppressing? Can we stop labeling and putting certain people in these restricted boxes?

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