January 23, 2006


As the gay columnists and bloggers (including me) rush to defend BROKEBACK as a triumph of homosexual subject matter rightly taking it's place in the mainstream, this is a fascinating if troubling read which sheds light on a different perspective--a black woman who's saddened by the thought of her man cheating on her with another man, and aware of the dangers involved. Of course, AIDS didn't exist in the time period in which BROKEBACK was set, which explains the hot barebacking scene with spit for lube. Ah, memories of dad... And for an even wronger perspective than that, the pornflick BAREBACK MOUNTAIN is actually about be released:



The phenomenon of black men cheating on women with other men is
fuelling a relationship panic in the US

From today's Guardian, by Gary Younge

This is a tale of two love cheats and the many paths yet to be cleared
on the road to Brokeback Mountain. The first is the former governor of
New Jersey, James McGreevey. On August 12 2004, with his wife at his
side, McGreevey confessed: "At a point in every person's life, one has
to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique
truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but
as it is. And so my truth is that I am a gay American." McGreevey, who
opposed gay marriage, had allegedly given his lover a high-paying
job for which he was totally unqualified. His gay partner repaid the
favour by blackmailing him.

The second is Jonathan Plummer, the former husband of the novelist
Terry McMillan. McMillan fell for Plummer, who was less than half her
age, when she was on holiday in Jamaica. She took him home and wrote a
bestselling novel about their romance called How Stella Got Her Groove
Back, which became a blockbuster film. Last year, about six years after
they were married, Plummer told McMillan he was gay. McMillan tried to get
him deported and, Plummer says, wrote "Fag juice, burn baby burn", on a
bottle of Jamaican hot pepper sauce. Plummer,
disingenuously, responded as though McMillan's rage was entirely
misplaced. "She is an extremely angry woman who is homophobic and is
lashing out at me because I have learned I am gay," he said. The two
parted ways until their very public acrimony in the courts mellowed
into a very public resolution on Oprah's couch.

McGreevey is white; Plummer is black. Although McGreevey was a public
official, his transgression was generally regarded as a personal flaw.
Although Plummer was a private citizen, his infidelity was regarded as
part of a public health crisis. McGreevey's infidelity drew a mixture
of contempt and pity; Plummer's betrayal fed a moral panic. McGreevey
was being unfaithful; Plummer was on the "down-low".

The down-low refers to black men who are in committed heterosexual
relationships and then slip off to have sex with other men on the sly.
Like "political correctness", it is one of those media constructs that
gained currency but never acquired real meaning. Articles mentioning
the term "down-low" in the context of black gay life ballooned from six
in 2002 to 114 in 2004 in the American mainstream media. The New York
Times magazine ran a cover story on it; the hit show Law and Order
based an episode on it; the Village Voice opened "The Great Down-Low

Black radio stations buzzed with it. "I'm disgusted by the whole
down-low thing," Jennifer Shamwell, a 31-year-old single woman, told
the Philadelphia Inquirer following news of Plummer's infidelity. "It's
a horrible deceit to live a secret life as a gay man - and then get
married." She had a point. Deceit is a terrible thing. But, for all the fanfare,
the "down-low debate" was never that "great". The term, as it was
coined, never stood up to even the most basic scrutiny. Infidelity is
nothing new. Nor is the idea that married men might have affairs with
other men. McGreevey was not alone in proving that race had nothing to
do with it. Mark Oaten's predicament (BUNNY NOTE: Oaten is an english
politician who just last wek stepped down from office after his affair with male
hooker hit the press.) suggests this issue will be with
us for some time. Rock Hudson, Michael Barrymore, Ron Davies, Elton
John - the list of married men who turned out to be gay goes on and

What was Brokeback Mountain but a brilliant film about two men on the
down-low set to glorious music and enchanting scenery? "It's pretty
clear that if they had been two black men it would have been a
different reaction," says Keith Boykin, the author of Beyond the Down
Low. "It would have been an evil, nefarious story about deception and
disease. These are guys who blatantly cheat on their wives with other
men. There's no way it would have been called a love story if they were

Left there, the down-low would be just one more attempt to pathologise
black male sexuality - a titillating riff on the long-held myth of the
untamed bestial urges that increase with the melanin count. But the
down-low is different. It has gained legitimacy and traction in the
African-American community because of the dramatic rise in HIV among
African-American women. In 2003 the rate of Aids diagnoses for black
women was 25 times that of white women, according to the US
government's Centres for Disease Control; between 2001 and 2004 black
women accounted for 68% of new HIV infections. HIV/Aids is now the
number-one killer of black women aged between 25 and 34. The leading
cause of infection, says the CDC, is heterosexual contact. Meanwhile
other CDC studies reveal that a "significant number" of black men who
sleep with men still "identify themselves as heterosexual".

Put it all together and it is little wonder that the black women's
magazine Essence insisted that "brothers on the down-low pose a serious
Aids risk to black women".

That is certainly true if they are having unprotected sex. But not
otherwise. The down-low may be a component in fuelling the epidemic.
But since it is neither new nor racially specific and has not obviously
changed over the years it is unlikely to be the main culprit. Indeed
between 2000 and 2003, the very period when the media interest was
ramping up, infection rates among black women fell by 6%. Other
explanations might include the high rate of incarceration of black men,
who contract HIV in prison where gay sex is the only sex available and
protection is rare, and the gender imbalance between black men and
women in the nation at large.

Thanks to exceptionally high rates of murder (which was the biggest
killer of young black men at the end of the last century), Aids/HIV
(which replaced murder in the top slot at the beginning of this
century) and imprisonment (at current estimates one in three black boys
born in 2001 will end up in prison), viable and available black men are
relatively scarce. According to the census there are 30% more black
women than men in Baltimore, Chicago and Cleveland. In New York the
figure is 36%; in Philadelphia 37%.

Discrimination, segregation and societal collapse have created a
perfect storm for a higher turnover of sexual partners than would
normally be the case, and heterosexual women feeling pressure to lower
their standards and demands where men are concerned.
Beverly Guy-Sheftall, a professor of women's studies at the
historically black women's college of Spelman in Atlanta, told the Los
Angeles Times: "Many of the women on campus are panic-stricken because
of the feeling of scarcity. I see a lot of problematic sexual
decision-making among black women across class and age lines."

Which brings us back to Brokeback Mountain - a film that sensitively
illustrated how even our most intimate human relationships are framed
and shaped in no small part by the power, prejudices and conventions of
the world around us. It is the only movie I have ever heard of where
women cry, in sympathy rather than anger, at the sight of two men
routinely betraying their wives, set in a place that embraces rather
than stigmatises human frailty - where people cheat because the rules
are stacked against them. On the down-low up high in the hills.


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