Gay, Bi and The “Downlow” Phenomenon
The Jamaica Observer recently published a series of articles which sought to bring attention to the plight of homosexual teens. These young men and women expressed that the pressure of living in a homophobic society has caused them to hide their sexuality from those around them. After reading the articles I began reflecting on the “downlow”culture which by all accounts, is becoming quite prevalent. I wish to discuss a few points related to this issue :
(1) Is this culture inspired by society’s rejection of homosexuals?
(2) Are gay men, and women, selfish by misleading their heterosexual partners?
(3) If the stigma attached to being gay is removed, would this solve the “downlow” problem?
According to a submission made to The Journal of Bisexuality, (yes, there is an academic journal devoted to the subject of bisexuality. I came across it in my research for this post.), the term “downlow” or “DL” refers to a subculture among men who identify as heterosexual, but have sex with other men. The journal goes on to explain the origins of the concept. It states that the culture emerged among “young, urban African American males”, and eventually found it’s way into other races. And yes, here in Jamaica.
Apparently the subculture is a “black” one. That is to say, it is generally practiced by men of African descent. The journal further opines that this is due to the overt masculinity expected of black men. We all should be familiar with the perception of black males as “stullas”, “mandingo”. The “epitome” of man. Because of that perception, homosexuality is so taboo among blacks, that men who find themselves attracted to other men, had to create an entire subculture through which to live their lives.
So is this society’s fault? Have we forced homosexuals “downlow”?
It’s my opinion that the expectation of compliance with heterosexuality forces homosexual and bisexual men to lie. As stated in the Observer articles, these individuals are afraid to express their bisexuality openly for fear of rejection and possibly being murdered. In essence, we create closets and force homosexuals into them. The more stigma we attach to something, the further we force it underground, and the more problems we create in the long run. It’s like marijuana, we have sanctioned the usage and now find ourselves dealing with a criminal underground empire. Would this exist if we had open and honest dialogue on it’s legalisation?
The article from the Jamaica Observer quotes a Dr. Pearnel Bell, who argued that it is important for these teenagers to have a place of solace, and pleads with parents to be that place. This, she argued, would go a far way in helping to combat the downlow culture. This makes sense. One’s sexuality is, after all, a private affair and really shouldn’t be the concern of the wider society. However, the love of family may be needed to combat feelings confusion and frustration.
However, one of my greatest arguments against the “downlow” culture is the impact it has on marriages and family life. I cannot even begin to imagine the devastation this causes to a woman who finds out her husband is having sex with other men. Or alternately a man who realises his wife sleeps with other women. Then again, some men would perhaps celebrate that information. Heh. It is that much worse if there are children involved. If that information becomes public, these children could face extraordinary stigma and ridicule. In that sense, lives are ripped apart and people are hurt. So yes, from that perspective, it is absolutely selfish. While it may appear “necessary” to maintain the façade of marriage, it cannot be acceptable that one would so willingly and knowingly mislead and deceive someone they entered into a union with. That’s selfish in my opinion. One should be mindful of how this secret lifestyle affects those around and those who are led to believe they are loved and respected. Still, if they could be open and honest, would this make a difference? Would it perhaps lead to open bisexual relationships? Or am I being too liberal? Yes? I am? Ok. I withdraw that suggestion. Studies have also repeatedly created a causal link between the “downlow” culture and the high HIV rates in the caribbean, indeed in the African American community. The unsuspecting and trusting wife often finds herself infected by the husband who has been engaging in unprotected sex outside of the marriage. I believe the movie “For Coloured Girls” gave a fine example of this.
So yes, what if we remove the stigma? Does the downlow culture die? I say no. I don’t accept that it’s exclusively a problem of stigma. I think it has a lot to do with the taboo. I think human beings like to meddle in things that are forbidden and we relish the opportunity to be naughty, if you will. It’s like a happily married man who buys prostitutes or one who enjoys shutting himself away from his wife and engaging in some good old “self pleasuring”. It’s about the thrill of deviance, the thrill of leading a normal life by day and being the freak, however abnormal that is, by night. I may be wrong of course, but that’s just my opinion. You’re free to disagree.
This is a an issue we have to begin to have open and honest discussions about. It is ruining families and ruining lives. It creates secret personalities and may be contributing to the spread of a dreaded and feared disease. What say you on the “downlow” or DL Phenomena?