All The Gay Men Are White, All The Black Men Are Straight: Black Homosexuals’ Identity Formation Within A Racialized And Gendered Society
Kenneth Terrence Oliver
Thesis DT 3.5 2006 O458
ix, 113 leaves; 28 cm
Recently, the media have fostered negative images of the ultra-masculine Black homosexual man who lives on the “Down Low.” J.L. King, author of On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of “Straight” Black Men Who Sleep With Men, details his secret double life as a married man who engaged in sexual relationships with men. He describes the conflicting identities of “DL” men as they struggle with concepts of sexuality, masculinity and manhood. These men have distanced themselves from anything related to contemporary notions of what it means to be gay in the United States.
By fostering monolithic notions of the “down low,” the media have problematized and sensationalized sexualized identity formation, naming practices, and self-affirmation among homosexual and bisexual men of African descent. The down low, as a sexualized identity for Black men who sleep with men, has meant many things within same-gender-loving Black communities. More important, within same-sex Black communities, men who live their lives on the down low are not necessarily deceitful or injurious to women. Nonetheless, the media would have all of us believe otherwise. The problematic that has come to be known as the down-low phenomenon raises several issues both within and outside of the Black community. These issues include racism in White gay communities and the United States as a whole, homophobias in Black communities, gay mainstreaming, as well as social constructions of gender, masculinity, gay identity, and queer identity. This thesis re-conceptualizes the down low as an attempt to re-name and affirm the lives of same-gender-loving men of African descent. It addresses what informs the decision to identity as gay, queer, or same-gender-loving within a racialized social construct that genders sexual roles. More important, it investigates the decision of some homosexual Black men not to identify as homosexual at all (leading to such phenomena as the “Down Low”).
As gay culture in the United States emerged and institutionalized itself in areas including San Francisco, Greenwich Village, West Hollywood, and other enclaves, Blacks continued to suffer racial oppression in those spaces. At the same time, because of homophobias in Black communities and the Black church, same-gender-loving people of African descent were silenced and marginalized because of their sexuality. The lack of acknowledgement and support in Black communities has led many same-gender-loving people of African descent to retreat to White communities. Consequently, they are forced to endure racism, isolation from their own communities, oppression, and cultural insensitivity; in addition, they are being forced to truncate their racial and ethnic identities.
Finally, in the spirit of self-naming practices that have taken place in Africana feminisms, this thesis posits the down low, same-gender-loving (SGL), and homo-thug, among others, as viable alternatives to gay and queer as sexualized identities for Black homosexuals and bisexuals. These terms speak to specific racial and ethnic realties. More significant, they were introduced to enhance the lives and illuminate the voices of homosexual and bi-sexual people of color; and to provide a powerful identification not marginalized by racism in the gay community or “homophobic” attitudes in society at large.