Are We STILL Blaming HIV on Men Living on the Down Low?

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ShhhI never bought into the whole down low hype. It made for bestselling urban lit books and a hot talk show topic and it sure gave ladies pause to analyze everything about a guy, from the way he holds his napkin to the way he hails a cab.

But I always felt like it was a sensationalized trending topic, another manufactured epidemic, a way to make more headlines sing by capitalizing on the dysfunction of the black community. Like extra extra! Not only do they have the highest rates of heart disease and incarceration and violent deaths and broken homes and women who have an infinitesimal chance of getting married, but now their men are all on the undercover brother watch list, too.

I’m not saying there aren’t dudes living on the so-called down low. Do men struggling with their sexual identity sometimes pretend to be something they’re not? Sure. There are plenty of those — black, white, Indian, Cambodian, whatever. 

But the proportions and rates got completely and totally out of proportion for us because, well, we like to have something to talk about at the hairdresser and barber shop. And with every man a moving target for suspicion, it’s been kind of absorbed into our culture as a way to call a dude’s masculinity into question.

Tameka Raymond unwittingly brought the issue to light again with her mini-rant on Twitter, suggesting that gay guys should be tagged like migrating geese so that we can distinguish them from the rest of the flock. She isn’t the first woman to lament that men who may be gay — out or not — are getting harder and harder to spot. But she is in the middle of a custody battle for her two sons with a superstar ex-husband who has had more than his fair share of rumors about his sexuality. Gossip blogs are flapping about the innuendo.

Rapper The Game also chimed in — because every so often, someone dusts him off and brings him out of obscurity to make a racy, head-scratching comment, and he rarely disappoints. This time, he said in an interview with VLADTV: “Game don’t have a problem with gay people,” he assured us. “Game has a problem with people that are pretending not to be gay but that are gay. Because the number one issue with that is that you could be fooling somebody and you could give them AIDS and they can die.”

First of all, who in the blazes, besides Elmo from Sesame Street and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, refers to himself in the third person in public? Not just once, but twice in one statement? It kind of threw me off to have someone look at the camera and say their own name as part of their thought process. Janelle is trying it out and she thinks it’s pretty lame.

Secondly, in the midst of his fault-finding with the down-low lifestyle, he perpetuates a myth that HIV is percolating among gay folks and that men who are engaging in homosexual behaviors are bringing it over the fence. Not so. Weigh the number of times a man pretending to be straight has, wittingly or not, infected his unsuspecting wife or girlfriend with HIV against the number of times a straight man has been out in the world slanging his man parts without a condom on and spreading the disease all around, received by a woman who didn’t have the good sense to insist he strap up (or strap up herself).

Or the gal who, still making in-the-heat-of-the-moment sexual decisions based on a crazy belief that she can tell just by looking at a guy or getting all lovey dovey and forgetting to love herself enough to protect her body. They’re the far more likely culprits.

The down low phenomena has skewed folks’ perception of what’s feeding this HIV/AIDS beast. It’s allowed people to skirt responsibility for what is glaringly true: ain’t no way, no how the small population of men who are living an undercover homosexual lifestyle could be responsible for the out-of-control rate of HIV infection in our community. Nope. There are still folks running around here — on college campuses, at the new club downtown, even now, bless the Lord, in retirement communities, where the HIV rate has skyrocketed — who are thinking with their crotches, not their common sense.

We can lull ourselves into a false sense of comfort that down low brothers are the root of our HIV epidemic or even list them as a real problem in our relationships. But it’s an old myth in a tired storyline.

Do you think there are as many men living on the “down low” as rumors suggest?



Image via Sarah G.../Flickr

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