Your Name:

Your Email:

Friend's Name:

Friend's Email:

Creative Commons License
Powered by Movable Type



Where's a Black Gay Man to Go?

Keith M. Harris

By Keith M. Harris
Keith M. Harris is an Associate Professor in the Departments of English and Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California at Riverside. His book length manuscript, Boys, Boyz, Bois: An Ethics of Black Masculinity in Film and Popular Media was published by Routledge in 2006. His poetry has appeared in Corpus, 6 (website), Queen: A Journal of Power and Rhetoric, 1 (website), Poetry USA, My Brother’s Keeper, edited by Michael Datcher, and The Road Before Us, edited by Assotto Saint.

Now I am a very simple man about certain things: I remember being beaten up, me and a friend of mine, one night on Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, New York, running into a late night chicken joint, asking someone to call the police, being followed into the chicken joint by this young black kid who’s trying to kill us, having another black man intervene, trying to help out, only to step aside, when our pursuer turns to him to say, “But they are faggots,” and then this black man sits down, watches me take a bottle in the face. Again, I am simple about certain things: a fag bashing comes with the territory; the attacker, was a young kid, as was the friend with whom I had been walking, and really the exchange was between them. But when I saw that motherfucker that had gotten up to help and then sat down to watch, when I saw that motherfucker in a porn shop in Times Square, maybe a week later, in a booth in a porn shop, with his dick hanging out, I asked him why he sat down, and quite frankly he told me, and I quote, “I didn’t want to help no faggot”: a statement which really did not make any sense to me: my identity was not that of a faggot, and both of us were standing in the porn shop—he exposing and me looking, for the same thing: on the down low is straight up low down.

That incident happened about six or seven years ago, and I have not yet let it go, because in the recent, spectral appearance of those on the down low and the death and disappearance of those in the life, I, and so many like me, remain. I am not arguing that we are excluded from black communities, that we have it harder than other groups in black communities, but I do want to suggest that we be careful how we assess, represent, and interrogate this down low phenomenon—a phenomenon and identity in which there is the negation of pleasure. Because of the amount of disavowal, the sexual identity of someone on the DL can only be about risk, not about community, not about collective politics, not about progressive self-determination. And I do want to suggest that, at best, the DL, being on the down low is perhaps the greatest act of cowardice in contemporary identity politics. Do we really think that the worst thing that can happen to a black man is that he be called a faggot?

Navigate:  << Previous Page |  1  |  2  |  3 


DJ Wallace said:

I am very curious about the life on the downlow. I am living with a man, a gay black man, who is very secretive at times about his sexuality, yet is very open at other times. In conversation with him, he shares there are so many reasons why black men don't share their homosexuality. I am very open as a white man, but find it utterly fascinating, this culture of the downlow. I live in Menifee, just a few miles from Riverside. Is there a class you offer, or have an suggestions as to how I can be more educated on this culture?

Posted at: July 17, 2008 7:23 PM

Omar said:

I think that so many people are interested with this phenomenon is that they feel that it is helping to erode the ever declining hope of family values in America. As a gay man who has had the fortunate and unfortunate luck of being involved in these potentially toxic relationships is that their primary focus is on sex, secondly is demeaning in so many different ways. The guy(tri-sexual) will do or say just about anything to get you to give him what he wants and most of the time won't take the time to protect you or himself because if he did that in his mind he would be admitting that he was doing something wrong. I would love anyone to contact me about their views or opinions about this subject as well.

Thanks in advance

Posted at: September 4, 2008 7:18 PM

bridgette said:

There are plenty of black men that are openly gay. I think it is against God, but, atleast they come out and be who they are. It is extremely evil to be having all of this unprotected sex and bring sickness home to unsuspecting people. There is no reason for it. Just be who you are and if you want to change pray. But be who you are and stop all of this decieving.

Posted at: December 12, 2008 5:03 PM

scholar said:

The period the author is talking about (1986-2003) is a period where the black SGL (same gender loving) community came out more than ever. I do agree that both black and white audiences have glamorized and hyped the DL phenomenom, but the reality and the hype are two different things.

I provide the following as examples. From 1986 to 2003 we see the establishment and flourishing of black gay prides in several large US cities-- especially Atlanta, DC, New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles. These prides are separate from the mainstream (white) prides that have long excluded participation by blacks. Second, magazines such as Clik, Ballroom, and others flourised and served a much needed market. Third, the start and growth of mainstream, commerical black gay fiction. Authors such as James Earl Hardy, E. Lynn Harris, Christoper Davis, L.M. Ross, Frederick Smith, and others have found significant success. It should be noted that the vast majority of the authors do not deal in "DL" mythology. Fourth, the rise of a group of black gay spokespersons such as Keith Boykin and Phil Wilson, who continue to provide much needed commentary on SGL issues. Fifth, the rise of SGL blogs such as Rod 2.0, Living Out Loud, Frank Roberts and others, who are able to inform their audiences about issues important to SGL communities. After this period we have seen "Noah's Arc" light up the big and small screen, and many other accomplishments.

I agree that the DL discussion is frustrating in our community. But I think the DL discussion hinges on two points that people would rather not discuss.

1) The need for people (particularly white gays) to continue to hold the belief that black people are "more homophobic" than white people. The DL arc fits nicely into that story-- that there are pathologies in the black community that lead to further pathologies (lies and self-deception) that lead to even worse pathologies (HIV). Sadly, this stereotype is openly supported by many black gay men (note not SGL men) who desire access to white gay men and white gay spaces. The end result is a media mantra that villifies SGL men in particular, and holds all black men suspect.

2) That there is no empirical evidence that SGL men are the cause behind increasing HIV rates of black women. Indeed, the CDC's own data shows that black SGL men are more likely to practice safer sex than their white counterparts. Also, we have not discssed the degree to which the DL is a function of the high incarceration rate amon African Americans, where in prison they are exposed to both homosexual sex and IV drug use. Rather than looking at black culture, we may want to discuss some larger institutions at play.

Posted at: December 24, 2008 12:56 AM

Keith said:

I just wanted to respond to two of the most recent comments posted. Brigette, I am not sure what you are talking about. The call to prayer and be yourself is somewhat insulting given the tenor and subject matter of the essay. With regard to the posting on December 24, 2008, the comments are more interesting and engaging of the subject matter. I agree with the summation of the cause of the DL popular discourse, and I note in the essay that it is part of the ongoing pathologizing of black folk or representing and discussing black folk as pathology. I didn't mention the community and political and cultural events and happening that you mentioned (the prides, Noah's Arc, E. Lynn Harris, etc.) because I was pitting the DL against the notion of In the Life from the late 80s and early 90s (and this essay is part of a larger project that will include discussions of the things that you mentioned). I would not, however, consider someone on the DL to be same gender loving (SGL) because it is, indeed, the idea of the same gender loving from which someone on the DL seeks to remove himself. (And no, I am not going to fall into the trap that someone is on the DL because of their homophobic black family; in fact, I would argue, as I have elsewhere, that there is nothing especially black about being on the DL.) Thank you for your comments. Perhaps, we can speak more.

Posted at: April 9, 2009 7:39 PM

Mr. Topp said:

(Editor's Note: This appears to be a comment translated rather poorly from a user in Belgium. I'm leaving it as is). There are many factors in America to use. Ifwe shall the ...traditional values and racial. Trends such as men of color need to macho. Due to peer pressure not only Blacks the Gay community as. Whole in America for example when transgender call themselves. Gay it makes non transgender offended why? The standards see we may disagree allow me to make. My statements this the freedom of America. The desire to be individualistic in America is problem. And gender is the cause... I am referring to. Attitude of yes woman I shall be specific. Why I ask for response as openly Gay male. Whom resides in Europe were I have freedom
to enjoy. My life but opposite America...status of race. I know many non men of color while living in America. They always was accepted why there mannerism was. Accepted so I do not lose the reader. This important when Black men are successful and single. Not have the lingering macho entrench ego! Your status is in (question_
since the White. Woman has achieve success and single she seeks. A alternative if fall for it when say your Gay! There expectation change I've been. Threw this and I hope my comments shall encourage are men. To achieve success and deal with the ignorance of America. Then the lack of support from the traditional Black. Community
you uncouth with Gays and most Black men. Are bisexual when use to cruise allot of straight men. Attend Gay clubs see Blacks do have identity problems. I when there gay when they continue to ridicule. Men there attractive to see I learn while living in America. White men can be Gay while Blacks suffer? Why the disparity the attitude of traditions. Come on men speak the truth how many. Times have walk around in the
community. And the public resents you why? Blacks can never do this but still. Enjoy the freedom but be aware if reside. In Europe and Australia you can be openly gay. And enjoy life and last comment I'm angered with. Labels especially "Down
low" if you enjoy physical. Nude sex with men no matter the color. Your Gay admit you shall sleep better these days.

Posted at: May 28, 2009 11:31 PM

anthony alexander said:

Awesome essays and commentaries. Yahweh bless.

Posted at: May 29, 2009 11:26 AM

phil said:

Sexuality is not a simple thing. What one may do at one point in their life they may not do in another. What business is it of anyone's what another person does? Why can't we accept that this is not new and has been around since the beginning of man? In the long run society has to take responsibility for the DL as one cannot feel free to be themselves and tell others of their feelings.

Posted at: October 30, 2009 6:10 PM

Bill said:

Now being 49 years old and active in the activity I can attest that no one knows for sure how many males participate or at what frequency. In my youth I had very little contact with younger or same age, most were married or men partnered with women. My experience was not isolate. Males often take advantage of the use of gay men at will when it pleases them. For the most part, it is only a problem when we fall for the otherwise straight man. And I agree with a previous post, this is not race or culture specific.

Posted at: October 31, 2009 7:54 AM