Progressive. Queer. Feminist. Opinionated.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Tom, Dick, and Harry

Revisiting my Bisexuality Revisited post, today's Oprah Winfrey Show was a replay of what looked like a 2004 episode called A Secret Sex World: Living on the "Down Low".

While an interesting introduction to the world of heterosexually-committed (largely black, but in some cases white) men having secret sexual encounters with other men, I found it tough to watch.

First there was, on my part, the feeling that it's our damned culture at work again. The speaker of the day was J.L. King, author of On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep with Men; his feelings on the subject of homosexuality are incredibly fascinating, bringing in the whole labelling issue and sort of turning it on its head. He doesn't want to be labelled as gay because, despite the fact that he's sleeping with men, "gay" isn't something he can be for reasons of ethnicity and, well, sexuality.

"Why do I have to label myself to make you comfortable? …The act of the sex is homosexuality, but I don't want to get caught up in the whole gay culture, because the media and people look at gay people as being less than a man [in the black community]. The media has let white gay people feel more comfortable in their skin and it's accepted. The greatest taboo is to be black and homosexual, and I refuse to be labeled and classified that folks will look at me as something different. I am a man."

Okay, so, not gay. All right. So you're just a guy who wants to have sex with men, but stay in the closet?

Well, no. Not precisely. These folks seem to be Not Gay, and since they really love their wives, they Must Be Straight. Except where's bisexuality in this mix? You love your wife, you like sex with men, heck, maybe you like sex with your wife too and that guy over there might just have been the secret love of your life -- but apparently it's all or nothing in this world. You're straight, you're gay, or you're-- on the down low.

Add to all this: If you're having gay sex, then you're gay, right? Uh oh. So, in a lot of cases, it can't be gay sex. In fact, maybe it's not really sex. Maybe it's just "getting physical" or "letting off steam" or "satisfying the urge" or whatever. So no sex of any sort is going on whatsoever with anyone who isn't your wife or girlfriend. Excellent. Why, by that logic, you're being monogamous. And the first thing that comes flying off in merry monogamy land is the condom. Not to mention just the random reckless behavior that comes from leading a secret life. So let's add that in there, with a dose of Phill Wilson, the Director of the Black AIDS Institute, saying:

"The other issue is that the terms get translated into different behaviors. One is the kind of men that J.L. is talking about—a man who doesn't acknowledge that he's bisexual. Then there are also young men that are experimenting, they're coming into their sexuality and finding out where they are. The third group of men isn't having sex with women, but they reject the notion of being gay because to them, gay equals white. We perpetuate that myth. Young men and women get messages that black men are players, that it's wrong to be gay, that if you're gay, you'll be rejected. That leads to denial and silence. Black women get messages that you have to have a man, that there are too few good men, you need to do whatever you can to keep a man and you should not expect a lot from men. That leads to silence and low expectations. All of that spreads HIV in our community."

So yeah. HIV and AIDs are on the rise, and in really weird groups, too -- like female senior citizens. There's a lot of secret sex going on, and by God, it all has to do with these gay people or bisexual people who are tricking our honest women and ruining America and--

Ah. And now we arrive at my rage with Oprah today.

It's the gay plague fear again. The tone for the episode maintained a steady state of "look at what hides among us." And yeah, there're a lot of problems with the DL phenomenon. But Oprah opened up a whole other avenue for this can of worms to spill into, and I'm not liking it. Says "tanyla" of the Oprah message boards (which, by the by, are an interesting read all by themselves, bringing up many of the points I'm raising here, and then some):

You are the first to express what I consider to be the most disgusting part of Oprah's interview on this subject...This sick "bi-sexual" was so PROUD of his deceit, despite the pain that he is causing his family. I could see the hurt in his daughters eyes when she was commenting about her father's lifestyle. It was as if he were waving this in the face of black women, and pleased to create a feeling of helplessness and distrust. The other sad thing, though not surprising, is that this lifestyle is perpetuated in our churches. However, the bible proclaims that there is no new thing under the sun. So as saddened as God may be He is not suprised and He will deal with those who live outside of what HE commands. I rest in that fact. At the same time I used this show to create an opportunity to have a family discussion on the issue. The worst thing that we can do is to act like this doesn't exist and not protect ourselves and inform our children. Be encouraged--as hard as it may be!!

There's fear of the diseases that unprotected sex can bring, and horror at the deceitful aspects... and then there are the fears of the "sick bi-sexual." Finally, and let's not forget this: we must always protect the children.

From who?


Anonymous Johnicholas said...

"Why do I have to label myself to make you comfortable?"

is really a silly statement. You can obviously control your own speech, and you can get angry at anyone who addresses you directly by a label you dislike.

But in general, labels are what other people choose to call you. Most of the time, you don't get to pick.

Possibly the person meant something like "I implore all sympathetic viewers to refrain from using such language", but I doubt it.

(Just to pick one thing that annoyed me and jump on it, like a typical internet person.)

9:21 AM

Blogger Cass said...

I can understand some annoyance with people saying something like, "So, uh... what are you? Gay? Bi?" I mean, why should they have to have something to call you?

On the other hand, I see that as an attempt by the questioner to actually do the right thing, and the fact that this dude gets all uppity with it says more about him and his issues than it does "society."

11:05 PM


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