Tameka Raymond’s recent tweets made her the poster child for black women who fear closeted African-American men. Having made headlines for tweeting that gay men should wear wrist bands to identify themselves, Raymond now claims her only inspiration for this branding is to protect women from being lured into heart-breaking relationships. Marking brothers on the “down low” would prevent what she calls their “trickery.”
Fear of falling prey to this bait and switch is common. Despite the sordid nature of this topic, the imaginary consequences of encountering black men who are secretly gay has been discussed for years in forums as lauded as The Oprah Winfrey Show. Such encounters have been mythologized in popular novels. Sherri Shepard has repeated the unfounded belief that closeted men lead the causes of HIV infection for black women, with few facts to support this demonization.
Closeted African-American men have been consistently portrayed as black women’s public enemy #1. Surely we have more pressing problems. Why the unfounded terror?
Thembi Ford, a contributor to black women’s web site Clutch Magazine, believes the reasons are twofold. “First, the idea was popularized in black pop culture in the ‘90s,” Ford said in reference to E. Lynne Harris’ successful series of books on “down low” brothers. Secondly, “because sexuality is so private, it’s been nearly impossible to get the facts behind those [stories], so the paranoia has been running on fumes ever since.”
Ford adds, “the down low is a convenient way to explain the disproportionately high rates of HIV/AIDS in the black community without putting any of the responsibility where it belongs — on our failure to practice safe sex.” Studies concur with her belief that it is “rare outside of Tyler Perry or Law & Order plots” for women with secretly gay partners to infect them with HIV.
Yet, the fear of being duped remains. When Terry McMillan infamously married a black gay man (only to have him realize it later), I am sure a collective “a-ha!” went up among African-American women. Surely her misfortune was proof of down low trickery run amok. This single example. Right…
Sisters: Isn’t it time to ask if we are being unrealistic?Don’t get me wrong. Being deceived in love is horrible. I have witnessed the emotional destruction that occurs when a woman gives her all to a man then finds he’s not sexually available. My freshman year in college, a friend had a beau she believed he was “the one.” Until I saw him at a gay club. Assuming he was being honest with her, I casually mentioned seeing him there. I was not prepared for the tortured scream she unleashed as she landed on the floor of a shower stall crying into the wall. Whoops.
But much like the case of Terry McMillan, dramatic scenes like this makes a great story but is not suitable proof. Let’s be real. LGBT people make up roughly 10 percent of the population. Even if every gay male in America wore some sort of symbol Nazi Germany style, the ratio of available black men to black women would remain the same — depressing.
For example: A recent article from The Economist states, “between the ages of 20 and 29, one black man in nine is behind bars. For black women of the same age, the figure is about one in 150.” In addition, many black women are outstripping their male counterparts in education and earning capacity creating a further divide. And as we all know, accomplished black men are more likely to marry outside the race than women. As a result, black women are the largest group of unmarried people in America. Gay men have nothing to do with this.
Concerns misplaced onto “down low” theories would serve us better if we used that energy to change the society that makes successful black men rare.
Yes, some black gay men keep their sexual orientation secret. But people withhold and change their minds in all relationships. Why are black gay men alone are expected to know exactly who they are and what they want at all times? Why are they criminalized for admitting that fluidity is a natural part of human sexuality? Conveniently, that lets us off the hook for the role our homophobia plays in leading some of them to deceive.
Holding them to these impossible standards of self-knowledge and honesty is easier than taking full responsibility for our relationship problems.
That’s called scapegoating.
Scapegoating a handful of black men won’t improve black women’s dire dating prospects. As hard as it is to admit that, we should take the moral high ground of facing our problems directly rather than engaging in these ultimately self-destructive fantasies of blame.
Protect yourself with condoms. Consider dating non-black men. Real solutions to our problems in love are the only solutions worthy of considering, discussing, or tweeting.