One of my friends came to me this week and told me one of those stories that make you shake you head in disappointment. My eighteen-year-old male friend (For Blog purposes we will call him Timothy) was approached and asked out on a date by an older man (We will call him Bernis). Bernis was in his mid-thirties and initially seemed to be a nice person. After a couple weeks of interaction between the two of them Timothy realized Bernis was DownLow (which he understood to be problematic but Timothy did not mind dealing with that aspect.) Timothy stopped interacting with Bernis when he saw a picture of him at a Vacation spot with a woman and two kids. When Timothy asked him about the picture, Bernis came clean and told him he had a wife and two kids.
When situations like this happen, usually both the gay and straight community criticize and judge the DownLow man. In some sense I think those older men should be criticized, but I also think people need to understand why those men have hidden in the closet for so long and why they continue to drown in their infidelity with the same sex.
There are all types of DownLow men. I have talked to men on the DL who were “self-proclaimed” thugs, businessmen, lawyers, drug dealers, educated, non-educated, educators, Black, White, Brown, and everything in between. And I have been DL once upon a time. I tried to hide who I was and pretend to date girls so others would think I was straight. I’m just glad that I was strong and confident enough to break out of my “straight façade.”
It always involves a combination of these three aspects: The American Dream, Religion and/or Homophobia.
The American Dream is not a reality for many living in impoverished areas across the country. However, there is still a paradigm that consistently leaves remnants of ideas that root from our “countries dream” which causes any young boy (or girl) to not want to be labeled as “deviant.”
Things like growing up and having a wife and kids are programmed into the minds of individuals from the time of their birth. If you are apart of any lifestyle that deviates from what is considered normal, acceptable, or the status quo you will be ostracized and many have even been brutally gay bashed.(Read about Matthew Shepard)
People don’t decide to be DL once they reach adulthood. It starts when you’re just a teenager. When I was a young boy in middle school discovering how much discrimination existed towards black people in the past, I did not want to be discriminated against for two things that I could not control—Being Black and Gay. In middle school I decided early that it was best to suppress the thought and feelings I had for other men. And for the next six years of my life (from 12-18) that’s exactly what I did. I lied, had fake relationships, and stressed my masculinity so that I could be considered normal and not have to deal with the ridicule and judgment of society. In the black community, when oppressions develop in society, black people have a history of finding a haven within the church. But with gay oppression, that spiritual haven is non-existent, and the vulnerability of struggling gay men and lesbian women only escalates.
We live in a society where homophobes are displayed on news channels for beating and sometimes killing people for their sexual orientation, where the mentality of a mass amount of people believe it would be best to get married/make 2.5 kids, and where a church says your going to hell if you don’t change your sexual orientation. With all these different aspects going on at once, it would seem smarter and wiser to just stay in the closet for a lifetime in some sense.
The reason we have 35 year old men approaching 19 year olds males after being married with kids, is because we live in a society that ridicules those individuals who are courageous enough to decide to be out and proud. I am not condoning a cheating man’s actions, but I want to explore why a man could live half his life and still be hiding his true self. Bernis is just a product of what society says he should be. We can call him a coward, but the truth still remains, if people come out of the closet, they will have to face more hardships in life.
I decided to come out because I refuse to go through life under the oppression of anyone else’s opinions. I believe for a man (or women) to get to a point where they stop hiding, they have to stop caring what everyone thinks and feels (which is much easier said than done). When I came out, I had to not care what my family thought (the same family who fasted—literally stopped eating—and prayed for me when I told them I was gay), I had to stop caring what my friends thought (some of the same friends who abandoned me once they found out), and I had to re-evaluate my religion (a religion that had been the backbone of my life since I was a three year old in Sunday-school). I cannot blame Bernis for not wanting to deal with the oppression and rejection that gay and lesbian people encounter on a daily basis.
One thing I can take hope in is that things are getting better. The Laws (slowly but surely) are changing to support and protect all people. The first gay minister was appoint in the last decade, and people are starting to understand you can still achieve success and find acceptance as an out gay man or lesbian women. I suppose it is up to us (Straight and Gay people) to make sure our society stops giving such a negative and unnatural connotation to the word “gay” and everything that comes with it. Maybe then 35-year-old men will finally be able to accept their true identities.