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News - Lowdown on the DL

Our secrets are killing us

To some observers, it seems as if black male sexuality has hit its lowest points in decades. If so, that may well be because more and more men are secretly hiding their desires from their mates — not just in terms of fantasies, but also in choices of sexual partners, especially if same-sex.

For ages, black men have struggled with the need to express their true selves, whether in the classroom, the boardroom or even the bedroom. I've often heard brothers use the expression "on the DL" (the Down Low) when referring to something they were trying to hide, be it an addiction, a second job or the fact that they were cheating on their mates.

I never thought much about the saying until I read an article about the rise of AIDS and HIV in the black community. Suddenly, that casual term took on a new meaning. It prompted me to review my sexuality and to think about others who face similar challenges.

At one point, I was on the Down Low myself, creeping outside my own relationship. I was what they call the "freak," someone who would "come out" (in more ways than one) at night, to the dark and unseen places, sharing myself with anonymous men — many wearing wedding bands or leaving unsuspecting girlfriends and children at home.

Yet they and I were doing the same thing: looking for love in all the wrong places.

I was so secretive, so deathly afraid of being caught. What would my family think? What would my church think? Only at night could I muster the strength to engage in this behavior; this after-hours syndrome pulled me in like drugs pull an addict to the crackhouse. Believe me, I was addicted to the secrecy, the sex and the voyeurism. My behavior was, on one hand, satisfying, even as it also was disgraceful and shameful to me.

I took some comfort in the knowledge that I was not alone. Often, I saw the same men over and over, but I pretended to be disgusted. I dared to be self-righteous about them while ignoring my own shady stuff. I had to; any other attitude would have forced me to see myself.

My silence created an invisible wall of shame and shock. I was on the Down Low because I couldn't reveal that I, like many other men, am gay and bisexual.

They, like I once did, cruise the hot spots — the clubs, bars, gay-friendly neighborhoods, XXX theaters, peepshows and even public parks and restrooms. These men find themselves torn between two worlds: the world that they must survive in, and that other world they feel driven, compelled to seek out.

W.E.B. Du Bois, the famed educator, called black Americans "double-conscious people, one that is black and the other that is American." I wonder what he would say about those men who are black, American and gay? How would he deal with brothers struggling to reconcile their private and public lives? To me, it felt as if two souls were locked inside, warring against each other.

I used to think that all I needed was a sister to understand me, and maybe the struggle would be over. It wasn't; I continued to dream and fantasize about being with a man. I tried therapy, and even abstinence; I could never conquer the feeling or the need for intimacy with a man. I desired intimacy but I settled for sex because we, as men, haven't been taught to share our feelings with sisters and as well as with brothers.

I watched movies and read books looking for answers to my own perplexing problem about race and sexuality.

The one place I failed to look was in the mirror. I am my own answer to who I am, not someone or something else.

Even so, I still feel obliged to apologize — not for who I am, but for what everyone needed me to be and for what I couldn't be, because of this secret. Perhaps now the healing can begin; not through my writing of these words, but through myself and others seeking true fellowship and honest relationships.

My prayer is that we will pull the shame from being gay, bisexual or transsexual and begin to meet one another right where we are.

Today, I embrace my full humanity. Can you say the same???





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