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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.

Moving on.

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?

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20 responses

  1. Dervin

    Once again i must say good post.

    Now for my view. I do agree with you that if the stigma is removed there wouldnt be a difference bcuz there is still the fear of what society will think of you. if you eradicate the subject matter does it change anything? For example in For Colored Girls, the woman who was raped, even though she knew the man had died, she was still fearful of going out in public. A bit farfetched but you get the point.

    And also is a married man who has sex with a man different from a married man who has sex with another woman? We shouldn’t disassociate the two, even though one seems to get more social sanctions than the other – it’s still cheating/adultery, and is therefore selfish.

    Assuming that a man who has sex with another man while being married to a woman is adultery, it is right? if not, what do you call it?

    May 20, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    • Yes, it is adultery. However, I think a woman, though angry at the infidelity, would be far more comfortable with a man cheating a woman rather than with another man. This could lead to feelings of inadequacies on her part. And I was even reading an article that says she may entertain thoughts that she “turned” him gay. That can’t be easy. Thanks for your thoughts Dervin. 🙂

      May 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm

  2. Tash

    Good Post!
    This DL phenomena is really something that we need to openly talk about in our society, if it is we ever wish to deal with problems associated with that community- such as high HIV/AIDS rates.
    I disagree however, that removing the stigma would not serve to eradicate this type of community’s existence. Because as humans, I believe we do have a thing for the forbidden and removing the taboo surrounding homosexuality wouldn’t make it so forbidden anymore.

    May 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    • Thanks for your thoughts Tash. And yes, open and honest dialogue is definitely needed.

      May 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm

  3. Christina

    Good post Mr. Editor. I see you changed ur name. Anyways Idk wat to say…. This surely remind me of For Colored Girls. Idk if anything will change if we become accepting of homosexuals. Maybe/ Maybe not.

    May 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    • Yes! 🙂 I liked “Mr. Editor” so much, I decided I’d go with it. Hahaha. Thanks to you.

      May 20, 2011 at 9:38 pm

      • Christina

        Yeah. U didnt add me o fb….smh

        May 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm

  4. Scott

    AMMO HAVE TO LOOK INTO THIS ENUH.. ITS NOT AS PLAIN AS ONE WOULD THINK.. #PROMISCUITY #PLEASURE #SHAME #CARELESS #RECKLESS #DOWNLOW #STRESS ??? ALL OF THOSE ARE CONTRIBUTORS….

    May 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    • Contributors to what? To being on the downlow? Or for having sex with men?

      May 20, 2011 at 10:01 pm

  5. TinyDivaNas

    If the stigma is removed, the thrill would be decreased and, I think, the frequency of men on the down low would be decreased. I’m not sure about with women because there seems to be a thrill for men to think of their woman with another (or so they say. I believe a different tune is sung when it actually happens ’cause no man ants to me emasculated like that).
    As humans, we are sexual beings but, to be honest, a lot of experimenting is going on because people think it’s the thing to do especially as far as females are concerned, in my opinion. I say check back with these women in 5- 10 years and see if they’re still gay.
    As for those who are confused, while I can try and sympathize with their plight, it gives them absolutely no right to drag others into their misery. Cheating in any form is taking away the choice of your partner. They made a commitment to a faithful spouse who is sexually and emotionally faithful/exclusive to them. It is beyond selfish to deceive in such a manner and if you are confused and you commit these acts, imagine how lost they will be when they find out. Imagine your partner asking you the simple questions of “why?’ and “how could you?” and you being unable to answer with certainty and complete honesty.

    May 21, 2011 at 12:03 am

    • So you think women are identifying as “lesbians” or “bi”, just to get attention? Because it seems like the “in thing”? Mhm. That’s possible, I think a lot of people, interestingly, have started to take a similar approach to oral sex. Just saying they do, cuz it makes them look cool?
      “Cheating in any form is taking away the choice of your partner.” I’ve never thought of it that way. Yeah, it really is selfish to pull someone else into your misery and confusion. And even when they confront you, you still can’t be honest. Thanks for your thoughts Mother Reason 🙂 lol.

      May 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

  6. TinyDivaNas

    U’re most welcome. Oh, and, to clarify, I think SOME of the women who are gay are just trying to be “in”, no pun intended 😉

    May 21, 2011 at 10:55 am

  7. Ricardo

    well personally i think if if the stigma were removed it would be decreased as tindydivas said. no one chooses his or her sexuality and society is stupid to believe that is true. why would someone choose to be isolated, ostracized and teased? do you believe people hate themselves that much? gay, straight bi, we are actually born that way or maybe we just all have tendencies. whatever the reason, it is society that causes people to engage in this downlow culture as it is very unsafe for 2 gay men to live together much less raise a family. so you cant exactly blame these men. some of us all have that desire to have children and someone who love us. and at the same time we want sexual satisfaction. so do you really blame them for coming up with a jagged edged jigsaw puzzle of the downlow life style?

    May 22, 2011 at 7:28 pm

  8. minoramp

    It is all about choice, and unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world so, with choice there are consequences and risk no matter what those choices are. I personally think it cruel to abuse persons for a personal choice they have made that will affect only them and to a some extent their families, thus the need to legislate. However, it is also my right to choose who i wish to socialise with at whatever level and even though that creates rejection, which can hurt deeply emotionally it is the choice they made and they must live with it.

    Being pretentious and practising “down low” for any reasons, no matter what, is wrong and should be vigorously discouraged. They should all step up to the plate and face the road, the law of averages will balance things out, cause not every one out there will choose to alienate.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    • When you say it is cruel to abuse persons for a personal choice they made, you’re speaking of choosing to be on the DL?
      And yes, I agree the subculture should be discouraged. If for no other reason, because of the effect it has on those who are led to believe that man (or woman) is being faithful.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:48 pm

      • minoramp

        No, i am talking persons who choose to be homosexuals or any other personal choices for that matter, that persons make that are frowned up on. Bleaching, false hair, piercings etc etc

        May 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

  9. minoramp

    To put things into context if you choose to live the life of a homosexual then you should not hide it. No matter the rejection and possible abuse you might face. In other words why participate in oral sex and then deny it and condemn it. Be true to yourself. Face the consequence.

    May 24, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    • I don’t think it’s that black and white though. Do we know for sure that these people “choose” to be homosexual? And would they, knowing the abuse and discrimination they could face?

      May 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm

  10. minoramp

    Okay lets put in this way ,,,Paedophiles it is said is born that way too or we can throw murders in the mix eg. psychopaths, definitely born that way. They are required under law to exhibit behavioural pattern that are in line with the law or face the consequences of their actions. However, they still do what they do knowing the abuse and discrimination they are gonna face.

    June 9, 2011 at 10:31 pm

  11. Jessica

    Thank you for your article, I recently found responses to ads from craigslist with my now ex-fiancee. It was devastating. The sheer amount of emails, his initial denial. Health risks. Etc…I place all responsibility on him for his actions, not the gay community, craigslist or any other venue but this is most difficult subject to try and grasp. I’m a strong supporter of the gay community and realize that coming out can be a very difficult challenge. That, I sympathize with. Thank you again, I’ve been searching and trying to find information on this, my ex-fiancee is from Ohio, white and moved to CA and started getting involved within this.

    September 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm

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