Blog Spotlight | Panache Report A DOWNLOW SHAME By Christina Royster-Hemby

hiding hip hop book dean vl Blog Spotlight | Panache Report A DOWNLOW SHAME  By Christina Royster HembyWhile surfing for my morning cup of celebrity gossip on the various gossiping blogs in Cyberspace; I came across an excellent blog post on Panache Report that deserves to be repeated again, again and again about the download lifestyle. This activity is happening in my own backyard. This is especially an issue among African Americans and I think it is about time folks need to start discussing and snooping to make sure they don’t become a victim of a down-low relationship. I remember back in the day going to clubs in Washington,, D.C. and Philly with my gay brothers to get our groove on at the various underground gay clubs. I was blown away at the number of gorgeous black and white men in the clubs. They called me a fag hag in those days…not sure if that is the same term used today to describe straight women who hang out with gay men. I can’t tell you how many times I was the only female in the club and these gay men were getting their swerve on despite my presence and after the club closed, they all went back to their normal lifestyle. Back then the conversation about being a gay man and out was not a mainstream conversation among the gay, straight nor bi-sexual community. They were still getting over the shock of AIDs, surviving and dealing with not being accepted by their family. Nowadays being gay is not as taboo as it once was….it is my silly opinion that there is absolutely no excuse for folks being on the down-low……downright grimy if you ask me!

While I am for men and women being out of the closet, I don’t agree with folks on the down-low.  Men and women who frequent the down-low lifestyle unbeknown to their partners is an quiet and often not discussed among the African American groups and the black church. Down-low individuals are deceitful, sneaky and very untrustworthy. Come out the closet or go somewhere else with that nonsense….it is a doggy doggy shame for someone to get into a relationship with an heterosexual and then be perpetrating a down-low background and probably thinking that ish is funny!

FYI: I would probably have a fit if my husband decided several years into the marriage that he wants to come out the closet and then expect me to be the understanding partner. Hell to the naw.…I would need Jesus and the police to help me move out with a quickness after I had a bitch attack! Somethings I don’t want to know and that would be one of them, especially after dating for a period of time before I married him. A brotha had a chance to reveal his orientation. See there is a different knowing about one’s sexual orientation and when you don’t know that someone is down-low, that is a serious problem. I am not eluding that my husband is gay…..I am just saying what my reaction would be if he decided he wanted to come out the closet to me! I can’t be held responsible for my reaction….perhaps this is something couples really need to clear about before they take the plunge and keeping it real with one another should be number 1 on the list of things to reveal before getting married or settling into a permanent life partner situation.

I would not wish a down-low lifestyle on my worst enemy….it is absolutely unacceptable to betray someone on the down-low. Thoughts?

Alicia Keys – Unthinkable


by: Christina Royster-Hemby

It’s a warm but cloudy May afternoon in leafy Druid Hill Park (2nd photo). The fact that distant thunder threatens a downpour doesn’t deter the owners of the cars and vans that line a shady lane, tucked away so that it could easily be missed by those driving by. People congregate and socialize comfortably, giving the stretch of road the air of a familiar meeting place.

But there are no women or children here. In fact, there are only black men. And they are trying to pick each other up, eager to engage in sexual acts, either in their cars or in the underbrush beyond. Handsome, average, and less than average, light and dark, thick and skinny, old and young—they look at the faces of brothers who drive by and peer into parked cars to see if there’s any interest from another man. Their ages appear to range from 20s to 70s. Some are prostituting themselves, but some seem to be taking a break from more respectable professional lives. There a couple of company vans among the vehicles, and several men look like they may have left jackets or ties in their cars.

Many wear wedding rings, and some of their backseats sport car seats and other kid paraphernalia—signs that they have women and children in their lives.

“Keep it on the down low/ Nobody has to know,” R&B star R. Kelly crooned in his 1995 hit “Down Low (Nobody Has to Know).” The lyric spawned a catch phrase that has come to describe anything kept a secret, but which has now been singled out to refer to black men who have sex with men but still identify as straight instead of gay or bisexual. The other all-important piece of this notion of the down low, by this definition, is that these men do not tell their wives and girlfriends that they are sleeping around.

Others seem oblivious. Two men wearing face-obscuring sunglasses and baseball caps stand near the side of a field near the trees. Their hands hover near their crotches as they talk. They walk toward each other, walk away, and then toward each other again, before going their separate ways.

Some of the parked cars have tinted windows. Through the dark windows of one black car, however, you can see the outline of a man’s white T-shirt through the tint. You can see that the passenger is turned sideways toward the driver, positioned strategically to put his head in the driver’s lap.

For a thugged-out DL brother like Jay, pimping is easy. (Like many of those interviewed for this article, Jay asked that a pseudonym be used.) Even though this 6-foot-4, 195-pound, 34-year-old, easy-on-the-eyes chocolate brother from West Baltimore goes to the park or the other local cruise spots to meet men on occasion, he doesn’t have to. He says he doesn’t even have to go to gay clubs. In fact, he says he gets propositioned everywhere—at the gas station, at the mall, at the gym, while driving down North Avenue late at night, even at the church he attends. To Jay, the thrill of DL sex excites him enough to take the risks. In fact, it’s the risks of getting caught that provides the most excitement. “It’s just like Russian roulette,” Jay says.

Jay says a certain look and maybe a wink or a smile lets him know that another DL brother is interested. This is usually followed by a greeting that many people use every day, but which picks up a certain inflection in these cases. The pick-up line? A simple “Wassup.”

“It’s all in the eye you give them,” Jay says.

Looking around the scene at the park, Jay says he could pick up someone right now. But if he really wants to “holla,” or talk to a brother, a “fitted” (a fitted baseball cap), a team jersey of some kind or a “throwback” (a vintage jersey), and some expensive tennis shoes or “butters,” an expensive kind of Timberland boot, make it effortless. With this he has donned his “thugged out” persona. While he doesn’t dress that way everyday, he says the thugged-out image gets him more attention from other DL brothers.

Jay says that although DL brothers seek out sex with other men, they are not interested in what he calls “sissy boys,” the stereotypical effeminate gay man. They want to be with other straight-acting men—the straighter the better. Or even better, straight men.

“Anybody can be had, if the element is right,” Jay says. An ostensibly straight man full of a certain amount of drugs and alcohol, out at 3 or 4 in the morning, high and horny—who knows what he’ll do? But the flip of that situation, Jay says, is that drugs and alcohol give guys something to blame their behavior on. “They wake up saying, ‘I don’t know what happened last night.’ But they know what happened,” he says. “They weren’t that drunk or high.”

Jay believes that the thugged-out look has become so popular because of the pervasive influence of hip-hop on the black male’s speech, dress, and means of self-expression. Whatever the case, he says his thugged-out image is what DL brothers want. And while these men are having sex with each other, they still have an image to keep. They still have to be “hard.”

The code of the DL brotha is that we have to be hard, because of the stigma that comes with being gay,” Jay says, adding that he subtracts five to seven years from his age and gives a different name when he’s “doing his thang.” “In today’s society, it’s cool for certain people—white people, women of all races—to be gay,” he says. “But for us, we’d just be regarded as gay.”

Not all DL brothers are thugged-out. For some, maintaining their “straight” identity is plenty. This is closer to the experience of 42-year-old Kareem, a teacher who lives in Northeast Baltimore and says he’s your “average daddy type,” a little thick around the middle.

Kareem doesn’t want to meet in person. He is more comfortable with a telephone interview, as he is concerned about his identity being exposed. But he doesn’t mind talking about his life on the DL. He says that during his 20s, he had sex with men and women indiscriminately—“wherever I could hit it.”

Kareem confirms a life similar to Jay’s. A DL brother could meet another DL brother anywhere—“gyms, churches, strip clubs, adult bookstores,” he says. Kareem says strip clubs are especially good; after taking in all that female flesh, guys are often horny and ready for anything.

But there are always other places. “I could go to the [New] Haven and have a drink, and things could just happen from there,” Kareem says of the longstanding jazz club in Northeast Baltimore. “There are no codes, no secret handshakes—it’s all in the way he looks at you. It’s in the energy that you would notice when you would meet a guy.”

Kareem says he’s not on the prowl right now, but when he does “hit it,” he says he practices safe sex about 50 percent of the time. He says he is not infected with HIV. (So does Jay.)

While most of his recent encounters have been with men, Kareem says he could settle down with a woman, “if the right one came along.” He would be in good company. He estimates that about half of the DL guys he sees are married or have a girlfriend. A small percentage of those guys are having a one-time experience—as far as he knows.

One of the codes of the DL brothers is that they don’t tell. But back at the park, Jay tells all. With braggadocio, he says that he is a “top”—the one who penetrates during an encounter—which goes along with his tough-guy image.

As Jay speaks, a 40ish man standing by a gold Acura 15 or 20 feet away puts his shirt back on and buttons his pants. A much younger man, who Jay calls a “young shorty,” appears—perhaps from the backseat of the man’s gold Toyota.

Shorty sees he’s being observed but acts oblivious as he walks by and up the street and hops in the passenger seat of a dark red Ford, which soon pulls away.

Jay says he noticed something interesting. Shorty was wearing $175 boots. “You’d probably see him around the way slinging that rock,” Jay says.

Meanwhile, the dude in the Acura cranks hip-hop as he motors back down the lane. Hat down over his sunglasses, the man who was probably getting a blow job from Shorty, is now the “hardest” brother on the street again.

Next to Jay, that is, although he neglected to don his thugged-out look before coming down to the park today. Despite his pink polo shirt, he still gets lots of looks.

At that moment, a white man with silver-white hair to match his white BMW drives down the street. This sparks a thought in Jay. He says that there are white guys on the DL, but the terminology predominantly refers to black men. And it most affects black women—Jay’s soft spot.

Jay says he is telling his story, because he is concerned about the health of unsuspecting African-American women who don’t know that their men are having unprotected sex with men and so don’t request that their partners wear condoms. For this reason, Jay says he is concerned about the welfare of his mother, his sisters, his aunts—and his ex-wife.

Jay was married for five years. But, he stresses, he always practiced safe sex while on the DL so that his activities wouldn’t put his wife at risk.

Why? Because Jay is an outreach worker. He has seen firsthand how HIV/AIDS has affected the African-American community, and he believes that DL brothers who don’t practice safe sex are “loving women to death.”

feature 1 000 Blog Spotlight | Panache Report A DOWNLOW SHAME  By Christina Royster Hemby

One rainy April day in downtown Baltimore, 22-year-old Antoinette (pictured above) sits down to lunch. This woman-child is oddly well-composed, but two things give her away—the youthful sky-blue sweat suit she wears with white tennis shoes, and the whimsy with which she swings her feet as she allows them to dangle from the stool. Somehow she has managed to save a measure of childhood innocence. Anyone who saw her lunching would think she was a baby whose life had just begun.

She says her former fiancé, Jimmy, was on the DL, which was only one of many important details that Antoinette didn’t know about the man she loved. When she was 17, she not only learned that Jimmy was on the DL but also that he had lied about his age.

“At the time he was actually 31. But he was supposed to have been 23,” she says with lingering disappointment in her eyes.

One day she found four different IDs bearing his face and four different names and ages. (Jimmy dealt drugs, which Antoinette knew.) Jimmy was also hiding the fact that he was sleeping with two other men and at least one other woman.

Jimmy had been Antoinette’s first love, the only person with whom she had ever had sex, when she found out she was HIV+. By then, it was too late for her to start taking AZT, a drug known to suppress HIV, because she was pregnant. Had she known she was positive from the beginning of her pregnancy, her 4-year-old son would have had a good chance of being born disease-free.

Antoinette had already had a rough life when she met Jimmy at age 10. Though still a child, she scrambled for money to help keep food on the table for her mother and three brothers and sisters, since her mother had heart disease and could not work. Still, her mother told her often that she was not wanted. So when an attractive man came along and gave her a job cleaning his house, she jumped at it. Later, when she was 13, they became intimate.

“I was so happy to get away from my family, the Pillsbury Doughboy could have come by and said ‘I love you,’ and I would have gone off with him,” she says.

Antoinette says she was not concerned about Jimmy’s dishonest career. “Back then I felt like he wasn’t doing anything wrong,” she says. “Everyone else was doing it. He was just taking care of his family.” And she says she never suspected that Jimmy was sleeping around at all, much less sleeping with other men.

“We had a very regular sex life,” she says. “There were no red flags. So, when I found out the truth, I thought, That’s not possible.”

How does she feel about the man who is the father of her children now (she also has a 7-year-old daughter who is not HIV+), as he takes 35 meds a day in a jail cell? “I hate him, but I love him,” Antoinette says. “He bought me things I didn’t know it was possible for me to have. He took me places I didn’t know that black people could go.” She smiles. “And at the time, I was ecstatic. I was in love.”

But Antoinette doesn’t have time to worry about the past. She has children to raise and is focused raising the money she needs to buy a house in a “nice” neighborhood—away from the project like dwellings she lives in near Johns Hopkins Medical, where “somebody got shot right outside of my door.

“I promised my daughter that she would have her own room by her birthday,” she says. “I had to break that promise, but I won’t break the next one.”


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