Thursday, September 02, 2004

Getting Real on Getting Down

Being on the DL, or the "Down Low," has gained much notoriety lately, largely due to the writings of several authors, the most recent of which is J.L. King. Mr. King's book On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men who Sleep with Men has drawn much attention and Mr. King was featured on Oprah. E. Lynn Harris has written about this situation for some time, in mostly ficitional accounts, but has not drawn the attention that Mr. King's book has lately.

For those needing a primer, here's a link to a brief news clip about men On the Down Low .

I think a lot of unnecessary panic has risen over this topic. On the Oprah show, audience members were scared of Mr. King looking at their husbands in a seductive manner once he described how he could tell a man was interested. Still, I find the whole phenomenon of DL to be both complex and tragic.

Straight black women are one of the highest at-risk group for AIDS in America because of men pretending to be straight but having unprotected, high-risk sex with other men. As much as infedility outrages me, endangering another person's life, especially your spouse who trusts you implicitedly, for your own selfish reasons is unexcusable. This is a betrayal of the person who had commited the crime of loving you and the reward is death.

Certainly not all HIV positive people develop AIDS, and AIDS is much more controlled now, but still AIDS is physically and financially debilitating and certainly significantly reduces a person's life expectancy. Yet, the blame for this society is rooted firmly in societal expectations of not just black men, but concepts of masculinity.

I have played this harp before, but society expects black men to be tough. Popular media depictions almost always portrays the black man as womanizer and physically strong. More often than not, it is the image of the thug. Images of successful black men still carry an implication of hyper-masculinity portrayed through the accumulation of wealth and women. And both black and white culture buy into these images and perpetuate them.

The black man who is not macho is seen as victim. And any trace of feminity makes him pariah. And such, failing to acknowledge the feminine aspects of receiving in sex leads to unprotected sex. Not wanting to stop about the intimacy and sensualness of male to male sexual contact leads to risk for oneself and others.

In this I cannot fail to mention the strong influence that religion has in the black community. Conservative religious views dominate, at least in Southern black communities, leading to a supression of anything not in line with highly orthodox views. The church is such a locus of social interaction and status that to be removed from the church circles would mean almost total alienation and isolation for an individual. So, once again conservative religion, trying to save the world by policing behavior has helped lead to the destruction of its own children.

I believe the only way to help solve this problem is to change the images and expectations of black men. Conservative religious leaders, not just in the black community, but around the world, need to reevaluate how they implement their religion. And we need to help people understand homosexuality better and, also gender role stereotyping. We need, as a culture, to finally stop equating femininity with negativity. These may be pipe dreams, unattainable goals. Still, the only way to stop men from getting on the down low is to get real with ourselves and the world around us.

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