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Down-low (sexual slang)

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Down-low (sexual slang)

Down-low is an African American slang term[1] that typically refers to a subculture of African-American men who usually identify as heterosexual, but who have sex with men; some avoid sharing this information even if they have female sexual partner(s) married or single.[2][3][4][5] The term is also used to refer to a related sexual identity.[5][6] Down-low has been viewed as "a type of impression management that some of the informants use to present themselves in a manner that is consistent with perceived norms about masculine attribute, attitudes and behaviour".[7]

Contents

  • Origins 1
    • Context and American sub-cultures 1.1
  • Media interest 2
  • HIV/AIDS 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7

Origins

The term originated in the African American community, and was originally used to describe "any kind of slick, secretive behavior, including infidelity in heterosexual relationships."[2][8]

According to a study published in the Journal of Bisexuality, "[t]he Down Low is a lifestyle predominately practiced by young, urban African American men who have sex with other men and women, yet do not identify as gay or bisexual."[9]

In this context, "being on the Down Low" is more than just men having sex with men in secret, or a variant of closeted homosexuality or bisexuality — it is a sexual identity that is, at least partly, defined by its "cult of masculinity" and its rejection of what is perceived as white culture (including white LGBT culture) and terms.[3][10][11][12] A 2003 New York Times Magazine cover story on the Down Low phenomenon explains that the black community sees "homosexuality as a white man's perversion."[10] It then goes on to describe the Down Low culture as follows:

Context and American sub-cultures

In his book Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies and Denial in Black America, Keith Boykin states that secret homosexual relations are not unique to African American men, and in fact occur in many societies and among all races.[13]

In "Power Plays, Power Works" John Fiske suggests that closeted homosexuality may be more common in American communities suffering from widespread poverty, in which members reportedly depend heavily on traditional family networks (and often religious institutions) for financial and emotional support.[14]

The term quickly became conflated with an eroticism of black and Latino homosexual activity. Throughout the gay porn industry and internet networks, "down-low" quickly became a marketing term used to publicize pornographic movies, models, sex-clubs and social gatherings that included black and Latino men.[13]

Media interest

DVD cover of The DL Chronicles gay drama series.

The first known person to use "down-low" in a homosexual context was George Hanna, who used the term in the 1930 song Boy in the Boat about lesbian women.[15] The term was popularized in the late 1990s and after by a series of mainstream media reports emphasizing the danger of such men transmitting HIV to their unsuspecting female partners.[16]

The first mainstream media account of the down-low as closeted homosexuality was reported in the Los Angeles Times on February 7, 2001. By the end of the year, numerous major media outlets had reported on the down-low. They included The New York Times (11 February), USA Today (March 15), Columbus Dispatch (March 19), St. Louis Post-Dispatch (April 1), New York Times (April 3), Chicago Sun-Times (April 22), Atlanta Journal-Constitution (June 3), San Francisco Chronicle (June 4), Village Voice (June 6), VIBE magazine (July), Jet magazine (September 8), Essence magazine (October), San Diego Union-Tribune (December 2), and Los Angeles Times (December 7). Nearly all these stories connected the down-low to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the African-American community.[15][16]

In the summer of 2003 Village Voice contributing writer and NYU professor Jason King published "Remixing the Closet: The Down Low Way of Knowledge",[17] in the newspaper's June 2003 "Queer Issue," a controversial op-ed piece that questioned the relationship between HIV/AIDS and men "on the down low". The article was the first mainstream piece to openly criticize negative mainstream media depictions of down-low men and put a different spin on the DL phenomenon.[17]

King argued that the use of the term "down low" was a way for many African American men to admit to having sex with other men without necessarily identifying as "gay" in the traditional sense.[17] On the heels of that article, San Francisco Chronicle contributing writer Frank Leon Roberts published "Stereotypes and Sexual Orientation: The 'down-low' – Coming out your own way in black clubs"[18] in the newspaper's July 23, 2003 issue.

Then in August 2003 the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story called "Double Lives on the Down Low", written by Benoit Denizet-Lewis. Several episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show were also dedicated to the subject including an episode aired 16 April 2004 and titled A Secret Sex World: Living on the 'Down Low' ; the show featured J. L. King discussing his book On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of Straight Black Men Who Sleep with Men.[19] The down-low was also part of story lines on episodes of the television shows Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, The Starter Wife, ER, and Oz.

In 2003 Jeffrey Q. McCune, Jr. wrote a full-length play entitled Dancin the Down Low that he directed and produced at Northwestern University in April 2004. In addition, McCune has dedicated a dissertation on this topic. His study examines DL discourses closely, while also exploring how DL men handle masculinity and sexuality.

Using a content analysis of more than 170 articles written between 2001 and 2006, sociologist Richard N. Pitt, Jr. concluded that the media pathologized black bisexual men's behavior while either ignoring or sympathizing with white bisexual men's similar actions. He argued that the "Down Low" black bisexual is often described negatively as a duplicitous heterosexual man whose behaviors threaten the black community. Alternatively, the "Brokeback" white bisexual (when seen as bisexual at all) is often described in pitying language as a victimized homosexual man who is forced into the closet by the heterosexist society around him.[20]

HIV/AIDS

Men who have sex with men and women are a "significant bridge for HIV to women," a CDC study suggested. The CDC's Young Men's Survey shows that about one in 10 men reporting sex with men also has sex with women. And more than one in four of these bisexual men has unsafe sex with both kinds of partners. "Men who also had sex with women had similar levels of HIV and STDs [as exclusively homosexual men] and higher levels of many risky behaviors,".[21]

The CDC report that analyzes the above-mentioned survey states that "many men who have sex with men (MSM), especially young and minority MSM, do not disclose their sexual orientation" in order to avoid "social isolation, discrimination, or verbal or physical abuse". The report connects non-disclosure to an increased risk of HIV by stating: "Young MSM who do not disclose their sexual orientation (nondisclosers) are thought to be at particularly high risk for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection because of low self-esteem, depression, or lack of peer support and prevention services that are available to MSM who are more open about their sexuality (disclosers)."[22]

The CDC added a note to their report stating, in part:

"The findings in this report are consistent with previous research suggesting that among MSM, nondisclosure of sexual orientation is associated with being a member of a racial/ethnic minority group, identifying as bisexual or heterosexual, having greater perceived community and internalized homophobia, and being less integrated socially within homosexual communities (1—3,6). Although this study did not find that nondisclosing MSM were at higher risk for HIV infection than MSM who are more open about their sexuality (1—3), the data suggest that a substantial proportion of nondisclosers are infected with HIV and other STDs and are at high risk for transmitting these infections to their male and female sex partners.

The finding that more than one in three nondisclosers reported having recent female sex partners suggests that nondisclosing MSM might have an important role in HIV/STD transmission to women. This might be particularly true for black nondisclosing MSM, of whom approximately one in five was infected with HBV and one in seven was infected with HIV."[22]

The CDC cited three findings that relate to African-American men who operate on the down-low (engage in MSM activity but don't disclose to others):

  • African American men who have sex with men (MSM), but who do not disclose their sexual orientation (nondisclosers), have a high prevalence of HIV infection (14%); nearly three times higher than nondisclosing MSMs of all other races/ethnicities combined (5%).
  • Confirming previous research, the study of 5,589 MSM, aged 15–29 years, in six U.S. cities found that African American MSM were more likely not to disclose their sexual orientation compared with white MSM (18% vs. 8%).
  • HIV-infected nondisclosers were less likely to know their HIV status (98% were unaware of their infection compared with 75% of HIV-positive disclosers), and more likely to have had recent female sex partners.[23]

In Beyond the Down Low, Keith Boykin denies this connection, attributing the media claim to sexism, racism, homophobia and classism.[24] Boykin stated that despite the numerous media accounts linking the down-low to the occurrence of AIDS in the African-American community, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never cited men on the down-low as a factor.[15] and that no extensive research has ever been published about men on the down-low, in part because of the difficulty of identifying the targeted population.[15] In his book, Beyond The Down Low: Sex, Lies and Denial in Black America, he writes that men on the 'down-low' are not the cause of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in black America.[13] Boykin argues that the down-low debate demonizes black men, stigmatizes black women, and encourages an unhealthy "battle of the sexes" that distracts the community's attention from the issues of HIV prevention, personal responsibility and condom use.

The authors of a study of the down-low on Craigslist.org also argue that the discourse about the down-low is about pathologizing black sexualities.[25] These authors found that white men also claim to be on the down-low as much as black men; however, society and the media still only attributes the down-low to black people and their sexual behaviors. The authors maintain that by only focusing on black people's sexual behaviors, larger structural issues such as poverty and drug use are ignored in the discussion about rising HIV rates in certain black communities.

A cross study analysis that reviewed 24 articles (and published in the Journal of the National Medical Association) found that "black MSM are more likely than MSM of other racial or ethnic groups to be bisexually active or identified; and, compared with white MSM, are less likely to disclose their bisexual or homosexual activities to others." The authors concluded that:

"The high prevalence of HIV in the black community and the greater likelihood of bisexuality among black men place heterosexual black women at risk for HIV infection. However, the contribution of high-risk heterosexual black men to the rising HIV caseload among black women has been largely ignored. Future research must evaluate the relative contributions of bisexual men and exclusively heterosexual black men to HIV cases among black women."[26]

Additionally, a qualitative study, published in the Medical Anthropological Quarterly, concluded that:

"... covert and unprotected sex among bisexually active black men was commonplace for reasons that included prostitution, habituation to same-sex relations during incarceration, and the desire to maintain a facade of heterosexuality in homophobic communities. It was concluded that bisexual activity is highly correlated with secrecy and unprotected sex. The risks of bisexuality among black men are exacerbated by incarceration, homophobia, drug use, and the prison and public health focus on surveillance rather than prevention." [27]

See also

General:

References

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b c
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b c d
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ a b c "Remixing the Closet: The Down Low Way of Knowledge". June 2003, www.villagevoice.com
  18. ^ "Stereotypes and Sexual Orientation: The 'down-low' – Coming out your own way in black clubs". July 23, 2003, www.aegis.com
  19. ^
  20. ^ Pitt, Richard N., Jr. (2006) "Downlow Mountain? De/Stigmatizing Bisexuality Through Pitying And Pejorative Discourses In Media". Journal Of Men's Studies 14:254-8.
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Robinson, Brandon Andrew and Salvador Vidal-Ortiz. 2013. "Displacing the Dominant 'Down Low' Discourse: Deviance, Same-sex Desire, and Craigslist.org." Deviant Behavior 34(3): 224-241. DOI:10.1080/01639625.2012.726174
  26. ^
  27. ^

Bibliography

  • , 11(6), 6.
  • , July 24, 2003.

External links

  • New York Times article abstract (Backup copy)
  • San Francisco Chronicle article
  • 10 Things You Should Know About the Down Low
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