May 29, 2009
Digging Deeper About Down-Low Living
I went to a poetry slam tonight with Marcos. Things started off real good. There were some standout poems and the evening looked promising. Then a poet, that I've heard before, came up to do her thing. She's very popular, provocative and nothing is taboo. I've applauded in sincere appreciation of her performances in the past.
Tonight she recited a poem about men who are on the down low. I got nervous because I know that when this topic comes up, you can go two different ways. She went down that path I was hoping the poem would not go. Basically, she's pleading to men that like to "pack fudge" to come out the closet, and she wishes a "real man that loves women" would come into her life.
She mentions in her poem her intentions were not to gay bash. However, the crowed ohhed and wowed at the more salacious parts of her poem. The overall experience left me with the impression that the poem kept this issue stuck in a contemplative-free zone by oversimplying the issue. Plus I smelled homophobia when I'm left with the phrase "packing fudge" which to me denotes that gay men are doing something dirty. Then to hear "real men" are males that love women, in that bump and grind way.
The poet calls for these men to come out and be truthful. I can dig that idea. As an out and proud queer man I know my life is so much better when I decided to be honest to myself and others, while flaunting my feathers. I feel pity for the down low men and the women that fall in love with them. Living with secrets and doubts is not an easy life.
However, the solution proposed in the poem assumes being "honest" is an easy thing to do. Within society, and in particular within certain communities of color, coming out of the closet can lead to a person putting their life at risk. Homophobia can be brutal, deprive liberty, and dehumanizing.
Here's my suggestion on how the down-low dynamic can start to be chipped away in order to free the men and women trapped within in it. Why don't we encourage a culture that respects the full spectrum of sexuality and gender expression. Let's find ways to love and raise gay, bi, transgendered, or lesbian children within families and communities that won't force them into being ashamed of themselves. At some point most GLBT kids get a comment or slap across the face that sends them into that closet.
By encouraging a person to grow into adulthood being out, proud of who they really are, should make the closet and living on the down-low an option that seems absurd. Moreover, if we start to embrace the diversity of sexuality, people can have more free and honest discussions with potential partners about what turns them on.
When I began the process of coming out I was terrified. I worried my family would disown me. I also feared the fellas in the neighborhood finding out, because it could have meant me catching a serious beatdown. And, since there were no gay role models in the community or popular culture, I thought life as a queer man would be lonely and tragic. Thank god I found Christopher St. in NYC. I found a community that embraced me and a culture that empowered me to continue my journey to living my life authentically.
Men on the down-low are living within a distorted sense of self, that was not entirely of their own making. I'm not excusing their behavior. What I am doing is looking deeper in order to see all the moving parts that were constructed overtime to create the trap. By having a greater understanding of what creates this mentality you can dismantle the situation and free some souls.
The situation at the event went from awkward to just plain disappointing. I took the poem like a real man. Hey, it challenged me and gave me insight of one person's view. Art doesn't always have to be cute, fuzzy and easy. However, right after the poem one of the MCs got up and asked the women in the audience to standup and look to a man and say "I am a Woman!" and then he asked the men to stand up and look at a women and say "I am a Man!" The man on stage felt it was necessary to reinforce the male-female heterosexual normative. At one of the tables in front of us, the guys actually thumped their chest when they said it.
Marcos and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes, then sucked our teeth. Back in the day we probably would have gotten a bit loud, well actually Marcos would have said something. We decided to get up and walkout. The vibe changed for us, and we didn't want to clap anymore. So, we came home, had a little chat, watched a movie, and played with Gino. We move forward instead of going down or low.