The “Down-Low”. A uniquely African-American slang term used in reference to an insidious subculture of deeply closeted African-American homosexual and/or bisexual men who, while carrying on their normal, day-to-day, public lives as heterosexual men, simultaneously lead secret lives engaged in sexual relations with other men. The meaning of the term, however, has expanded over the years to include all closeted African-American gay and/or bisexual men. Originally the typical “DL” man identified as “straight” despite his same sex attractions and liaisons. Today, many “DL” men accept that they are either homosexual or bisexual despite what they may tell the rest of the world.
Defined by its “cult of masculinity”, the “DL” lifestyle shuns the traditional trappings of LGBT culture for secrecy and discretion. Many “DL” men are deluded into believing that they can somehow remain in the closet forever, carrying on a double life in secrecy for as long as they like. This of course seldom, if ever, works. These things invariably have a way of being exposed eventually. The “DL” lifestyle itself is symptomatic of the shame, fear, and ignorance that plague the African-American LGBT community. The African-American community itself, overwhelmingly Christian and therefore bound hopelessly to patriarchal beliefs and behavior, is not very welcoming to homosexuality.
The struggle to “come out of the closet” is nothing new. It is a transition that every gay and or bisexual person, African-American or otherwise, will have to experience. However, there is something different about the experience in the African-American community. It seems that heterosexism is even more densely concentrated amongst black people than it is amongst our white counterparts. We’re deeply mired in a cult of hetero-normativity, devoted to a fallacy constructed by patriarchy. So much so that we’ve produced this dangerous “DL” subculture. A factor which has helped turn the African-American LGBT community into this backwards satellite of the wider mainstream LGBT community.
A friend once told me that sexuality is a “private thing”. That it was ok to be in the closet or “DL” because no one needed to know your sexual orientation. Especially since, as he saw it, being gay made things harder. The notion is not entirely without merit but it sets an unfair double standard. Why should my sexuality be private? After all, if you approached a heterosexual male or female and asked “Are you straight?” chances are they will respond honestly. If my sexuality is private, am I supposed to lie? Why should I advance heterosexism by keeping my sexuality “private”? After all, unless I indicate otherwise, most people would automatically assume that I’m heterosexual. I don’t want that. If you’re not free to be who you are then exactly how free are you?
Besides, how exactly are we to dispel the negative myths and stereotypes, eradicate the stigma and ignorance, and achieve equality by hiding? If we act like we have something to be ashamed of, people will treat us like we have something to be ashamed of. We must abandon the false notion that heterosexuality is superior. This is, in itself, the very root of many or our problems.
The plight of LGBT people has come a long way since June 28, 1969, when those brave pioneers of the gay rights movement stood up to this country’s institutionalized oppression of sexual minorities. On December 18, 2010, the discriminatory “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy which prohibited gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces was repealed. American society has become very open, welcoming and tolerant, and with each year that passes the excuses for hiding dwindle in number and significance. Its 2011 and you’re still so called on the “DL”? Excuse my use of common black vernacular but “Nigga please!” That is so last year.
I’m not hiding. I’m proud, I’m happy, and I’m free. Thank You.
Dexter Smith is a sophomore Political Science major at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.