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September 21, 2005


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Don't know if you noticed, but you contrasted black men with suburban men.

Don't know much about the topic - haven't researched it in detail, but there are a few things that seem to recur.

There is a class element to this conversation - as well as an element of historical notions of freedom and liberty tied to homosexuality - in the European "mind." or at least the literature. I didn't realize it until I read Plato's Republic in graduate school. I'll send more on this, but the down-low thing, from my understanding, is not simply married cats gettin with dudes. I was under the impression that is was more involved - and in many respects related to the notion that you don't have to be effeminate to be gay. I think that's also a big part of it. I'm way off my area of expertise, so I'll send you the Plato stuff if I can find it - and take it from there.



Here is a single link. I can do better, but I believes this gets at the foundation of the class/freedom issues that I was raising before. And so, it's not clear to me that among relatively wealthier white folks that homosexuality actually represents an "evil practice." It is such a fundamental part of the culture...wherever you look in European culture, homosexuality is central in the intellectual and military life of the West.

I don't that will come up in a conversation about black attitudes on gay life or of HIV, but there is more to the conversation than gay-bashing, ostracism and social taboo. J. Edgar Hoover was not an exceptional figure in his homosexuality. And please don't forget about the gay prostitute hired and shielded by the White House not too long ago. I don't think this stuff is 'external to,' I thinks its fundamental - and is part and parcel of long-standing institutions like schools, academies, gymnasiums, universities, monasteries, youth clubs, boy scouts, war colleges, etc. Not trying to pull you off your project, but I see a linkage - after all, Alexander "the Great" didn't see a conflict between homosexuality and warfare - neither did Hoover - so, somewhere along the line, these meanings have been modified to suggest that gay is weak - or even that down-low is hiding. That may not be the case at all.

Lester Spence

I contrasted "black" and "suburban" on purpose. Because in this article--and in most articles written by whites, "suburban" MEANS "white" just like "urban" means "black."

The whole concept of "sexual prejudice" with men is wrapped up in notions of what it means to be a "man" as well as what it means to be "heterosexual." To the degree that "being gay" may be very different from simply "having sex with men" there is something important we're missing when we talk about sexuality in these fixed ways (bi, hetero, homo).

Reading the article, very similar images are evoked. Just as in talking about "down-low" behavior we're talking about supposedly "straight" men who just happen to like sex with men. For the SUBURBS the space they choose is a relatively private one--private to outsiders. And they themselves don't broadcast their activity. There is even the concern with safety.

But NOT the explicit tie to HIV/AIDS. And here's where the urban/black phenomenon becomes important. Urban space is not only home to severe poverty and cultural depravity, it is home to DISEASE. Down-low behavior leads to high HIV/AIDS rates. What these suburban guys are doing? Well, some of them may not be safe, but they're really just doing this because of ennui.


I would argue you should just say white if you mean white and just say urban if you mean urban...because urban can be conflated to include latino, asian, and the urban gay communities that are established and sustained in places like NYC, San Francisco and Atlanta. In these contexts, urban and gay take on a meaning that transcends race.

Further, given the fatality rates of Black women due to HIV/AIDS, my question would be that if black men are engaging in a behavior that leads to high rates of death for black women - and white men are engaged in ostensibly the same behavior (regardless of the reason), should not the infection rates of white women more closely approximate those of black women who contract the disease from men on the DL? I don't know if the numbers are similar or not. I don't know if there are multiple factors leading to "disproportionality." I don't even know if research has been done to control for these factors. That, however, would be one of my questions to you when you're done.

By the way, you're not straight if you enjoy or have sex with dudes. Otherwise, the term loses all meaning. I've heard that argument before (and I'm sure it's not your argument). I know you hit it up with quotes. It seems interesting to me, however that the Times article hit on this very point. That's nuts. If you like nuts and you have nuts, you're gay.

I also gotta say that while the suburbs may not be the home of severe poverty, they are CLEARLY the home to Cultural Depravity. Next summer, you should come up and we can roll to the Hamptons. And there are the associated diseases there - what's missing is the nexus between disclosure and disgrace...and what's present are doctors, regional discretion and the desire of "would-be" revealers to actually (and actively) participate in that depravity.

I believe it is precisely at these intersections (of class, race, and sexuality) where the questions of how HIV/AIDs now disproportionately kills black women must be centered. Clearly the operative issues transcend homosexuality and go directly to your main point - the problematics of urban space.

The CDC website has some slides on infection and fatality rates based on race, gender and sexual orientation that are absolutely devastating. It seems as though white males have effectively discovered a mechanism to insulate the time-honored Western tradition of homosexuality from the ravages of HIV/Aids. The same is not true of the urban poor. If this is simply a matter of socio-economic status, then it's no different (in essence) from the question of lead paint poisoning in children or the question of territorial murders over narco-trafficking. What do you think?



Don't know if this helps, but it may go a long way to explaining why you can't find a "catchy phrase" within the euro-american paradigm. The phenomenon is neither recent nor extrinsic. It is long standing and flows through the life-blood of greek, roman, germanic and american society.



a little on the germany connection - especially as it relates to masculinity and nation-states.


I guess I'm saying that the connection between HIV/AIDS and homosexuality is not necessarily compelling. Most deaths attributed to HIV/AIDS don't result from homosexual sex - even indirectly. Moreover, there is compelling evidence that Belgian/American/British scientists had a good deal to do with the spread of this disease.

So, where are you going with this? Are you trying to make a connection between how black folk feel about homosexuality and the willingness of the community to respond to HIV/AIDs crisis issues?

Lester Spence

When NYT journalists write "suburban" they mean "white." When NYT journalists write "urban" they mean "non-white" and most likely "black." They SHOULD say "white" when they mean "white." In my case, the "suburban" is important in as much as they're packing a great deal of subtext into that term.

The number of men who themselves claim "straightness" while "liking sex with men" is on the rise. If we just look at behavior in prison we see these identities are much more fluid than we'd recognize.

I've written on the DL thing before. The most likely cause of the high HIV/AIDS rates is not DL behavior, but a combination of hypersegregation and concurrency.


I think I see where you're going, LK.

There probably is a racial component in characterizing suburban homosexual trysts as 'cruising' but identical behavior in urban areas as 'on the DL'. 'Cruising' sounds so much less taboo as if these men are merely meeting up for a game of handball (no pun intended). And I'll agree 'suburban' is a mild euphemism meaning 'predominantly White' just as 'urban' has become a code word for 'predominantly Black' (or, 'non-White').

I sort of see T3's explanation for the dissonance. Only I'm not sure how that jibes with America's particularly homophobic society. I do, however, understand Black culture's repulsion of homosexuality and the collaterial denial of HIV/AIDS as affirmations of manhood against a larger emasculating canvas.


LKS. I'm not sure where this going but in Rouge park similar occourence happen normally at night with the blinking of head lights as a signal.I remenber some 16 or 17 years ago a young Bro. mistakenly blink his lights on the way home from partime work.See you and the crew tomorow.


It's been a while, but Francis Cress Welsing described the behavior in the context of a system of white supremacy, where a black man who is not strong enough is relegated to the position of the baby, the boy or the woman. Too many black men have accepted the boy or baby role, but I can't quite get a handle on assuming the woman role.


cruising is simply cruising and has always been, just that - it's the same in the suburbs, the ghetto, it's the same among whites and blacks, it's the same among women and men

it happens in certain parts of prospect park in Brookly, it happens in certain parts of central park, it happens on christopher st. - this is not in the same context as the "DL" craze that has caught on fire

crusing can be done by people who are not in the closet or on the "DL"

to peep real knowledge on everything you are discussing here, please check out keith boykin's book beyond the down low http://keithboykin.com/

Lester Spence

Hey Lynne.

Boykin and I are on the same page. The entire "DL phenomenon" is one that has damn near no validity in anything other than Oprah inspired research. There was one piece where some cat went to the club and asked some questions...and then used the answers to make larger arguments, but that's about it.

But the NARRATIVE has two components that fit here. Individuals who engage in DL behavior are people who are "publicly heterosexual" but then engage in sexual activities with men in private. Activities that they do not disclose to women.

The subject of the NYT article was not men who identify as "gay" cruising...but rather men who identify as "straight" cruising. FOR MEN.

There are two differences between this behavior and what is known as "DL" behavior. THis behavior takes place in the suburbs, and it takes place between whites.

There is no other substantive difference that I can peep. The entire DL meme hurts our ability to mobilize around HIV/AIDS.

Frances Cress Welsing? She may not be ON crack. But most of her theory is...crack like.


I kind of figured someone would put her down, but I'm in the middle of a discussion on interracial relationships and why there are so few "marriageable black men" for the "marriageable black women" who would prefer a black man.

The men who are "marriageable" are neither boys, babies nor women--but a hell of a lot of our brethren are. We can either blame it on absent fathers, overbearing mothers, white supremacy, all of the above, or none of the above. Yet our sisters, who seem to have a stronger vested interest in the black nation than our brothers, are the ones left out in the cold.

Lester Spence

i've been trying to wrap my head around that question and don't quite have an answer. i know it isn't overbearing mothers, nor is it absent fathers.

most of the black women-white men combinations i'm familiar with tilt towards the sister. so i think that whatever the brothers decide to do the biggest problem with the viability of "the black nation" won't be intermarriage.

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