Several years ago J.L. King released a book about black men and life “on the down low.” He went on the Oprah Winfrey Show, B.E.T. and the New York Times best sellers list. His book told, in detail, tales of straight-appearing and sometimes even married men who often did not acknowledge their sexuality as gay or bisexual. These men lied to their wives and loved ones by secretly sleeping with men. Can you believe that? Men with men? Men lying? Men cheating? Who would have ever thought such a thing was possible? Apparently women didn’t.
A lot of women found this idea to be unimaginable. Especially black women. They bought the book, told their girlfriends and watched every interview and TV special. Suddenly TV shows and movies told stories of men living a gay double life. Respected author Terry McMillan publicly bashed her husband, whom had an affair with a man and then came out as gay. McMillan called him homophobic slurs, harassed him, sued him and accused him of putting her life in danger every time he slept with her. Suddenly every woman was an expert on the D.L. lifestyle. In their minds, these cheating D.L. men were to blame for increased HIV and STD rates among African American women. The secret was out. Or so they thought.
With all this information spilling out into the media, black women seemed to allow their naïveté to cloud their better judgment. A friend of mine overheard a group of seemingly rational, intelligent women discussing the phenomenon. “Girl, they had on Timberlands! Fitted hats! Lookin’ like regular niggas! I asked my man if he was out there dippin’!” These women and other women like them now couldn’t believe that men who looked like and acted like “regular” men were actually gay! They genuinely believed that a gay man was incapable of wearing Timberland boots or fitted hats or anything their heterosexual boyfriends or husbands wore. They certainly didn’t seem tolerant or supportive of gay men, D.L. or otherwise. Somehow in the mix of this, we all became the enemy. They considered it an epidemic, from J.L. King to Terry McMillan’s husband to Bishop Eddie Long; these D.L. public figures were making a name for us all, gay and D.L. As an openly gay man, I was offended by their ignorance and naïve way of thinking.
I think the down low phenomenon was more a huge blow to heterosexual women’s egos than anything else. Women simply could not fathom that men, especially their men, would cheat on them – with a man, no less. I’ve heard women say they wouldn’t mind so much if their man cheated on them with a woman, but they’d be absolutely devastated if they found out their man was gay or even bisexual.
I’m sure it’s shocking and a hard pill to swallow for them, but the whole issue didn’t seem to me to be exactly groundbreaking or newsworthy. A man lying about being gay isn’t a new thing. It’s about as new as the concept of a man cheating or lying, period. Women and society need to understand that as long as same-sex attraction is a stigma, there will be a large number of D.L. men. I’m surprised by how many men I meet who are married, closeted, and actively sleep with men, yet don’t consider themselves gay or bisexual. But, unfortunately, I’m not surprised they exist. Their journeys in life lead them to become liars and cheaters. The entire situation is awful and completely unfair to everyone they hurt. In all honesty, a man on the “down low” is really just a cheater and a liar, no different than their straight counterparts. Imagine that, ladies.