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Doing it on the DL


Twenty years ago, when I was five years-old, my concerns were those of a child. Coloring, reading, napping, counting, and reciting the alphabet consumed my days in kindergarten in Bennettsville, South Carolina.

Hundreds of miles away, a disease called G.R.I.D (Gay Related Infectious Disease) burst upon the world stage as I made towers out of blocks. Thousands of Gay White men were dying as I was learning to tie my shoes.

Now, in Seattle, three thousand miles away from my birthplace, I stand with the knowledge that one in fifty Black men are infected with HIV.


My mentor is living with the disease and a friend has recently seroconverted. AIDS has claimed my cousin and my father. And now I stand in fear of sex , my sexuality and death with nothing to protect me and not kindergarten to divert my attention.

By Quentin Johnson

AIDS is a hot topic right now in Black communities primarily because the face of AIDS has changed. Gone are the angry, scared, screaming faces of White Gay activists charged with White privilege.

The face HIV/AIDS wears now looks like my own and behaves like my own: people who know better than to pretend that they are privileged, people with a legacy of internalized racial oppression and inferiority.

With this change a conversation is beginning in which Black Gays are being called upon to enter the dialogue as Black communities attempt to band together and fight HIV/AIDS.

Watching a program on "BET Tonight" recently, however, featuring a so called Black "Gay activist" out of Chicago, supports my suspicion that we are only being called upon to bolster straight people's perceptions of Black Gay men. To be, in effect, Gay Uncle Toms.

"Has it been your experience that Black men who have sex with men and have girlfriends and wives don't even call themselves homosexual?" the host asked. A still moment where I hope he will correct and expand upon her question passes by and leaves.

"Yes," the guest replied, "that has been my experience because there is a such a stigma attached to being Gay in the Black community."

Two things troubled me, besides the not-so-subtle heterosexist bullying that was going on. I am bothered by the idea of a monolithic "Black community" in which everyone is the same and everyone finds homosexuality so uncomfortable. I am troubled by how this brother buckled under this bullying without calling the talk show host and her guests out.

The common theme, however, in the discussions of HIV/AIDS in Black communities is limited to a discussion of Black men who have sex (more or less) with men and identify as heterosexual.

Blacks - both heterosexual and homosexual - make the same mistake in attempting to assess these men. They're not only looking at the issue wrongly but, seemingly, have a limited vocabulary and thought process when it comes to men on the down-low or "DL".

Men on the DL seem to understand what we forget about this postmodern world of ours: behavior does not dictate identity and identity does not dictate behavior. Indeed, identity is self-imposed and fluid, free from any interpretation aside from that we place on it.

Our cultural shift away from "Negro" to "colored" to "Black" to "African American" demonstrates how we, as a people, dictate how we are identified and what we are called.

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