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On the Down Low: a Journey Into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep with Men.

by J.L. King Broadway Books, May 2004 $21.95, ISBN 0-767-91398-1

We have this expression "on the up and-up." I think we all know that means truth or being open. Believe me, after 20 plus years of practice as a family psychologist, I know that truth is the cornerstone of a healthy love relationship. Truth and honesty are what create emotional safety, which promote intimacy between a couple and in a family, but also within a community. It is the real foundation of the integrity that gives us strength of character as echoed by Albert Einstein who said, "A life without integrity is a life without beauty." So what does this have to do with on the down low?

Mr. King is speaking his truth in On the Down Low, and I applaud him. But I have to lay out three difficult issues we all need to face if we are going to be on the up-and-up.

First do not follow check up-on-your-man advice. Are you kidding? Who has time or energy for stalking their partner? Stalking is dishonesty. Stalking also can be part of a codependent addiction. As with all addictions, it will stop your life from moving forward with all of your creativity and power available. I can't think of a faster way for two people to fall into resenting one another than to "check up on one another."

Second, what creates a happy, healthy love union isn't stalking or vigilance--it's the work the two of you do up front. Among black couples who seek counseling, the divorce rate is 23 percent, as opposed to 69 percent for black marriages, generally. This is where issues get worked out of you realize there is an incompatibity. Good "couples work" can be reading a book and discussing it together or taking a class. It could also be deep couples therapy with a relationship specialist. This includes gaining insight--what patterns exist in my family and how have I carried them on--and skill building, loving communication, conflict resolution and positive spiritual tools. If your man has a hidden issue, you are much more likely to discover it and to work that out if you build a solid relationship up front. If you have questions in the spirit of creating a truthful relationship, put them on the table. Use some basic communication skills. You might say something like, "Hey Babe, I read an article on the down low and I have to admit that it shook me up. Do you mind if we talk about it a little? I'm not questioning your manhood, just curious; what are your thoughts about this lifestyle?" Keep it open-ended. This is an exploration, not an indictment. The average man is not going to be happy about this discussion, but this doesn't mean that he is hiding something.

If you discover that he is actually bisexual or gay, it's no one's fault. Certainly, it is not a reflection on your femininity or sexuality.

Which leads back to my third point: Are we, as a community, as churches, as families, as friends, being honest? Maybe it's time for us to grow up! When throughout history and through scientific study we know that pretty consistently 10 percent of the general population is homosexual and another 10 percent is bisexual, shouldn't we be holding open dialogue with our brothers who fall into those categories so they can live in the open? When there is acceptance and support, gay and bisexual people are thriving members of the community and more likely to form relationships based on truth.

Like it or not, we have a part to play. I recently interviewed a young woman on my TV show, Black, Renaissance (KBHK San Francisco), who had lost her gay brother to AIDS. He could never tell his family his truth for fear of losing their love. Why? I asked, "Didn't you talk with him?" She said she was afraid of invading his privacy. Now she has realized he probably hastened his end by having to live without family support during his illness.

Gay and bisexual men have the courage to speak your truth. Women and all couples do your relationship work up front so you can destroy negative patterns, learn the skills necessary and live in the truth together. Communities and churches, open your hearts to our gay and bisexual brothers (and sisters) so we can all live on the up-and-up.

Dr. Brenda Wade is a family psychologist in San Francisco and coauthor of What Mama Couldn't Tell Us About Love (Perennial, July 2000).
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Author:Wade, Brenda
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:761
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