Is living on the "down low" just an excuse to not come out of the closet?

By Salon Staff
August 19, 2004 12:13AM (UTC)
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[Read "Sex, Lies and the 'Down Low,'" by Whitney Joiner.]

I haven't even finished the article yet and I am already incensed! "On the DL" is just another way to say "in the closet," and that's a problem that people have been dealing with since society collectively decided that being homosexuality is not OK. Whether or not people are married or "self-identify" as gay, they are sleeping with men. This is homosexual behavior, people! I know, because I am one. I am not on the DL, in the closet, or "straight acting," and perhaps that's why this article has me so mad. I have several black friends who are part of the black community, both in San Francisco and New York, and they are also gay. Perhaps they are just lucky. To state that you cannot be a part of the black community and be gay is both true and false -- which community are you talking about? The community in Harlem, where they are just about as homophobic as you get, or the community in, say, Oakland, or even Brooklyn, where they are much more accepting of gay blacks?


Mr. King is arguing semantics, and stirring up politics, to sell books rather than look at the real issues. The way I see it, the real issue is homophobia that causes these men to go on the DL to begin with.

-- Greg Tarter

I have to give Salon some credit. Whitney Joiner's piece on J.L. King went beyond much of the other news media I come across that have featured King and the promotion of his book. Most of these stories, especially in the heterosexual mainstream and gay mainstream media, largely focus on the sensational aspects of "down low" behavior -- infidelity and its relation to the increase of HIV/AIDS infections among black women. Yes, these things are very important and, certainly, very touchy areas -- and that is why King is able to profit from them commercially.


Moreover, as has been suggested or stated by some of the people Joiner quoted, what is inadequately addressed in the hoopla over King's book are: 1) the very profound homophobia and heterosexism in the black community and 2) the straight media's and the gay mainstream media's fixation on white gay male images.

I am a gay black man. But I don't think you have to be black or gay to realize the paucity -- and in some cases, nonexistence -- of support groups for gay black males in comparison to what seems to be available for gay white men. And, somehow, I think, we have reached a point where just about everybody imagines a white man when the term "gay" is used. This is because when one reads the Advocate or a news story about gays in the local paper or when one watches "Queer as Folk," white gay men are just about all you see. Imagine that something like that would be acceptable.

-- Kayum Blackwell


King's books and others like it are divisive. The conversation in the black community needs to be about strengthening the family, not about further demonizing black men. We certainly don't need a laundry list of "DL signs" to add to the already difficult task of getting and staying together.

The CDC has been wise to target behaviors rather than labels. King's work might border on helpful if he had partnered with an expert (perhaps a public health professional) to balance his anecdotes and approach the issue from a public health perspective. Instead, he squanders this opportunity, using his access to brag about his deceit of black women.


The black community's time would be better spent examining the fear of intimacy and the threat of autonomy that exist between us. We need to discover new ways to break through those barriers to restore our culture and rebuild our community.

Now, that's the book I'd buy.

-- Danielle Solomon


I lived this way for many years (except I was cross-dressing) and eventually I had the "chop." During my cross-dressing years, most all of my contacts were married men, black and white, and my wives knew neither the type nor the extent of my activities. Luckily for me, I was able to determine the motivating force and take advantage of it.

However, I believe it is disingenuous to say that men having sex with other men is not homosexual or gay. For whatever the label, the activity and result are the same -- they merely avoid the stigma attached to those words.

Perhaps more personal honesty from men, and much less testosterone, would help.


-- Petra Hofman

[Read "Down Low Blues," by Adam Phillips.]

If the writer of this article is using a pseudonym and attracting the DL men, he clearly is not much further along than they. He sees the pathetic behavior in these seriously disturbed black men but all he knows is the self-loathing and self-pity that he feels. Fortunately, he at least has a gay identity. In most large cities there is a vibrant, proud black gay community. I hope he focuses on this, rather than the DL men who are in desperate need of psychological help and would never fulfill his needs as a gay man.

Good luck, "Adam" -- I'm sure you'll meet the perfect black gay man. Just stay away from the DLs. You can't help them, and they certainly can't help you.


-- Bob Davis

What an insightful, poignant, and transparent confession. I could cry with identification; Mr. Phillips has exposed my reality and caused me to confront my choices with new courage and introspection.

Humbly, thank you.

-- Lawrence D. Warren


Maybe you should have let the brilliant Cary Tennis edit this essay before foisting it on unsuspecting subscribers. Tennis would probably have told the author to take responsibility for his own attraction to married, heterosexual-appearing, bisexual-behaving black men. In taking such responsibility, maybe the author would have discovered that -- far from being different from men on the DL -- he actually shares their oppressive attractional politics.

Because trust me -- somewhere out there, there is a black gay man frustrated as hell that the black men he likes only seem to be attracted to straight-acting, married, DL types. Is Salon going to print his article?

Finally, aside from being flat-out unreflective, this essay plays into something I call the "anti-black" default, under which any misdeed by a black person becomes emblematic of a supposedly uniquely black dysfunction.

Would the author have written a personal essay about how all white gay men are dysfunctional and hate effeminate men based on his experiences exclusively dating macho white guys? And would Salon have printed it?


I know it's tempting to believe any personal anecdote that paints black men in a horrible light. Goodness knows, black men have gone through hell on earth and are disproportionately represented in some unsavory statistics as a result.

-- Hamilton Charles

Salon Staff

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