On the “Down Low,” Black Male Sex Lives and Lies
Everyone knows Oprah’s famous giveaway line for cars. But, in 2004, the same year Oprah gave away cars, she also gave away secrets.
In April 2004, five months before her car show, Oprah had a show entitled: A Secret Sex World- Living on the Down Low.
The Down Low, known as “the DL” describes the lifestyles and sexual practices of an unknown number of Black men.
Now, in those days, Oprah made everything and everyone famous. So, after her show, the DL was everywhere.
For the unaware, DL men are the substance of straightness. And, they have secret sex with men on the side. It’s all hush-hush because these men may have wives and other lives.
Most DL men do not consider themselves gay. The DL is also a code word for masculinity.
These men may be any orientation. But all of them want secrecy and privacy.
And this phenomenon of Black men on the DL took the Black community by storm. They even said the DL was why Black women were getting infected with HIV.
People then explored and probed all the causes of the DL.
Was the DL caused by Black Homophobia? Toxic Black Masculinity? Black Religion? Can we blame Black Culture? Black Hip-Hop? Black Incarceration? Black Movies or Black Hairstyles? And, my favorite, was it the Black-Eyed Peas?
OK, some of those were never in question. But, I tell you, the brouhaha was Blackity-Black-Black-Black.
Except that it isn’t, really.
The DL is hyped. It’s a hyperbole. It’s hearsay, hypocritical, and it’s nothing new.
Keith Boykin, the co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition, who is a former Clinton administration adviser, and a CNN commentator, says the same in his book Beyond the Down Low.
And, some of those who have sex with men on the down low feel the same too.
In a study by Michigan State , the participants said the Down Low wasn’t unique to Black men.
From personal experience, I don’t know any Black people on the DL. I’ve even lived in the Black gay mecca of Atlanta, GA. As I scroll through friends and relatives, I can’t find a single one.
Here’s a secret to share: just because a representative of a community says something, that doesn’t make it a commonplace. And, what that representative says may not be unique to one community.
The fact is, people have secret sexual encounters. There are loads of non-Black people who have these encounters too.
In fact, I’ve encountered non-Black men online, and in person, who describe themselves in various ways.
They are bisexual, gay-for-pay, married, straight, curious, swingers, play together, play-when-away, oral-only, horny-for-a-hole-is-a-hole, experimenting, for fem guys only, for masc guys only, high or drunk at the moment, or in the closet.
These men run the range. They are high-profile men trying to keep a low-profile. They are middle-class men trying to limbo through life. And they are lower-level men trying to come up higher.
They may not like labels, or they may hide their labels.
One professor, Jane Ward, in her book, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Males, profiles straight white men, including fraternity brothers, who have sex with other straight men.
She writes how these men have no social consequences for sexual activity with the same-sex. And she says, sex acts among straight white men actually affirms and strengthens their heterosexuality.
So, again, the fact that men who don’t identify as gay have sex with each other isn’t new or Black. And, neither is the fact that they do so secretly.
The term DL may be different. But, doesn’t it all translate the same?
Each community decides their terms and defines themselves. Some Black people use the term same-gender loving instead of LGBTQ. And, that’s not odd, it’s okay.
The overall LGBTQ community has its own terms too. Over time, it’s defined and redefined itself.
DL behavior is common to all people. And, that term is subject to change, just like people.
What was true in the early 2000s in one community may not be the same today.
In the early 2000s, crystal meth was almost exclusively a gay white male crisis. I can confirm that fact even as a Black gay man. But, my experience doesn’t negate facts or the fact that facts change. And, many of these phenomena can crisscross racial lines.
The point is, what was one way may change and may not be the same today.
But whatever we think of the DL, it has never been isolated to one community.
There have been Brokeback Mountaintops, hills, valleys, and bottoms in every color and culture.
So, queer people must question themselves about the queer way to think about the DL.
The queer way ought to confuse, convict, and challenge us.
The queer way ought to expand possibilities, be inclusive, and defy labels.
The queer way must return power to the community and the individual.
It would be anti-queer to lock the DL into one community like it’s a strange thing no one else does.
The DL could be straight men having sex with men, it could be bisexuality, it could be closeted gays, or an example of queer heterosexuality.
But the DL is on the sexual identity spectrum. And, above all, it’s human nature.
I suggest we use our queer minds to step up and over the down low. Let’s go up high with this conversation. Let’s not be too slow with the down low.