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The Disappearing B, Literally: The Issue with Language

8 May

Reflection: Identity, Media, Cultural Capital, Language and Its Constant Change

            I decided to look more into the emergence of the Down-Low and the debates surrounding the term. I thought it would go along very nicely with our debate over the disappearing B.  I feel like the main debate over this term, like many other terms, has to do with language. On the positive side, I liked the fact that the Down-Low identity was presented by some researchers as a way for individuals to express their identity and be understood quickly. For example, as Jake showed us online, the implications of saying “Down-Low” on your profile, how would that draw/push away viewers, would this make it easier for individuals to communicate with others with this identity? In addition to this, my research showed how the term was very common during the 1990s, which leads me to compare the use of language/terms and its interpretation at different times in our history; 1990s vs. today. How does the creation of this term in the 90s affect our interpretation/portrayal of it today? Despite the lack of focused research specifically analyzing the impact of the Down Low and the HIV epidemic, I do see the correlation between them. However, I believe the media has blown it out of proportion to negatively affect men who have sex with men.

On more negative sides, I see how the term Down-Low has become associated with crime and urban pathology, affecting a specific group in society negatively. As Gonzalez explained, “The Down-Low debate has the necessary ingredients to sell: Concealed non-normative sexualities, a subaltern genre of explosive culture (hip hop), a pandemic caused by a sexually transmitted agents, innocent victims (heterosexual women) and a population often accused of misbehavior (men of color). Based on my research, I observed that Latino and African American males and the Down-Low were used excessively to explain the increase in HIV cases in these communities. These individuals are portrayed as the SOLE reason for this increase: leaving out social issues of poverty and lack of government prevention services that have also been key to the spread of HIV as well.

Finally, the main issue I had during all of my research was the constant interchange of terms used for identification. For example, the Down-Low was associated with MSMW, yet, in my research, the term MSM was used to explain concerns with HIV. Bisexuality was used so often when analyzing individuals who identified as heterosexual and had sex secretly; identity v. action, is this okay? When critiques emerged of the absence of the term bisexuality in academia because of the Down-Low, MSM, and MSMW, I understood the point because bisexuality was used to define all the terms but never used to see how bisexuality solely affected HIV rates for example. I even found a different bisexual definition, coined “Latin Bisexuality,” should there be a difference? So much term confusion pushed me to question the issue with language we encounter and how imposing a term without concrete definition can lead to the creation/misinterpretation of identities not just by researchers, but also by the popular media. What do you all think? My brain hurts.  Here’s a brief summary of my findings!

Where did it come from, the Down-Low?

           Social repercussions due to sexual orientation has led many Latino and African American gay and bisexual men to identify as heterosexual while secretly engaging in sex with men (Brooks). The notion of keeping a “low profile” characterized Latino and Black bisexuals in United States. Bisexually identified men of various ethnicities are less connected to a gay community and less comfortable with their sexuality, have fewer family and friends who know about their sexual behavior (Brooks).  Based on my research,it seems that the label of the Down-Low emerged in African American and Latino urban communities approximately ten years ago. The connection between youth of color was consistent with linguistic assessment that placed it emerging in the early 1990s, and delineated the sexual identity and behavior of a population at a specific historical moment (Gonzalez, 27).  Although the first journalistic reports about the Down-Low included Latinos, they quickly faded from discussion and focus shifted to African Americans. The lack of participation by Latino communities and HIV awareness groups are heavily accounted for the absence of the Down-Low in relation to Latinos. (Gonzalez)

The Increase in Media Involvement

            Published articles described the Down-Low as young men unfazed by the tension between their non-normative sexualities and their otherwise conventional Black & Latino working-class male identities. The core of their secrecy was their refusal to politicize their intimacy that is, to adapt a public gay identity (Gonzalez, 26).  To many, men who said they were “on the Down-low” had sex with other men without self-identifying as gay, homosexual, or bisexual, and strived to maintain a low profile of their sexual activities or attraction to same gender patterns (Munoz, 773). On April 16, 2004, the Oprah Winfrey Show aired, A Secret World of Sex: Living on the Down Low. The show featured a married African American man who had sexual encounters with other men secretly (Dodge, 1). Few could have known the impact a single episode would have on the sexual culture in the U.S. Essence magazine expressed DL as a common interpretation of bisexuality. Jet magazine argued that their refusal to identify as “gay” prevents these men from heeding prevention methods to the gay community.  Health experts explained it was a learned lifestyle in prison, which continued after being released. In 2002, Paul Baker’s Fantabulosa: a Dictionary of Polar and Gay Slang published in London, “defines DL, as initials of Down-Low and an adjective in African American slang referring to Black men who appear heterosexual in public, but have gay sex”  (Gonzalez, 27). A concrete definition of the Down-Low was never created.

The Down-Low versus Bisexuality versus MSM versus MSMW

            To some, labels such as “men on the down low” or “DL” and the negative attention that these labels have received in the press reflect our general lack of understanding of sexualities that operate outside the traditional accepted binary between heterosexual and homosexual (Munoz, 773).  The term men who have sex with men, MSM, came into existence as an acknowledgement of the fact that there are men who engage in sexual activity with other men who still identify as heterosexual. This term, MSM, has led to absence of any recognition of bisexuality in academia, with a focus on behavior rather than sexual orientation (Dodge, 6) It is impossible for bisexual men to “not exist” and simultaneously be the driving force of disease transmission between hetero and homo.

HIV Statistics in Relation to These Identities

            Despite making up 13% of the United States population, Black women disproportionately make up 72% of all women with HIV/AIDs. The highest HIV positive group among Black men is Black MSM making up 30 – 50% of all Black male cases. In terms of HIV risks, Black MSMW are 30 times higher at risk to get HIV and 13 times higher for Black MSM.  Evidence of the Down-Low phenomenon in the HIV epidemic among African American rates is lacking while Black male bisexuality in association with HIV transmission hasn’t adequately described these behaviors and associated risks. Bisexual Black and Latino men are at significantly higher risk for HIV infection and transmission in comparison to both exclusively heterosexual and homosexual/MSM men. (Dodge)

Posted by Maria L”


Pardon the Glossolalia… Are you down with the LQP?

2 May

It’s part of our explanation of who we are: “We are academics and queer theorists. In that, we understand that sometimes we use language in a way that does not fit popular definitions or understandings.” However, if we insist that all visitors and contributors “be explicit” in the use of terms, I think it wise to attempt to come to some agreement upon what these terms mean. Therefore, realizing that we have been using words but may not have been providing that which is needed in order to critique our contributions, I have attempted to assemble a glossary that I hope will be useful for those in the capstone as well as those who are just passing through as we find our way.

This glossary should be, must be, a living document; it should in no way be misinterpreted as the all-inclusive, definitive authority on meanings or interpretations – that would be impossible. Please feel free to interrogate the concepts, clarify the ‘definitions,’ and/or refocus the connotations as you see fit. Did I miss something? Please, let me know. After all, we are all finding our way, but if you don’t know what I am saying or vice versa… we might have an issue or two as we move forward – that is, assuming we can agree on which way is forward…

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Queer Theory, Bisexuality, and Politics of Passing

8 Apr

Initially I wanted to conduct a(n) general study/inquiry surrounding bi-phobia . I thought about keeping it small, interviewing close friends of mine, whether they ID as some form of “queer” or not.My specific question came from an intense frustration of mine:

This is how I feel after writing this post...

“Why the hell is this pansexual boi paying me attention?”

My apprehension comes from a fear of being “duped” by the self-proclaimed bi/pansexual. As a queer identified male who loves dick, the thought of intimately engaging with a bisexually identified individual makes me nervous. How am I supposed to trust that “X” will genuinely honor me as an individual? How can I trust that he actually understands the privileges allotted him when “the world” is able to read him as straight? The fact that this person is questionably polyamorous is another element of the situation; but I’m not gonna go there for now, for reasons of space and confidentiality – Madison is really frigging small… and that’s not the point anyway…Okay, so this post has become intensely personal, really fast.

I’m no longer interested in conducting a survey on this issue…the fact of the matter is that my apprehensions and judgments towards cute bisexual boys are part of a long trajectory of struggle, trauma, and mistrust among queers. This is an issue that I must recognize and contend within myself, prior to cocking my neck in anybody else’s direction.

This post is going to function as a response to a thought provoking, academic article that I read in The Journal of Bisexuality. In 2009, Jessa Lingel (Rutgers University) wrote an article entitled “Adjusting the Borders: Bisexual Passing and Queer Theory.” The title of the article piqued my curiosity for 2 reasons:

  • I’m interested in engaging in conversation regarding the functionality of “Passing,” specifically within bi/pan-sexual relational contexts.
  • As a queer studies kid, and theory fag, I’m pretty interested in figuring out ways to apply heady, academic discourse to real (my) life.

In synthesis of Lingel’s general argument, I will summarize the points I found to be most compelling…

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It’s Time to Think About Bisexual Youth

4 Apr

Israel, Tania. “Bisexuality and Youth: Introduction to the Special Issue.” Journal of Bisexuality. 10:4 (2010): 359-365).

In “Bisexuality and Youth: Introduction to the Special Issue,” Tania Israel summarizes the research on bisexual youth that is being presented in the current issue of the Journal of Bisexuality. Israel then suggests a variety of topics concerning bisexual youth that should be explored, and how they should be explored. Topics include, but are not limited to: defining the population – “what do we mean by bisexual youth?”; including the voices of youth in research reports; safety and health concerns (such as mental health, interventions in “reducing risk and promoting protection,” and how bisexual youth can partake in designing those interventions); include and analyze intersectional identities (including race, class, etc.); male vs. female bisexual youth; and finally, creating resources for schools, families, therapists, etc.

After reviewing Israel’s article, I started to wonder what resources are out there for bisexual youth to consult and what are some ways for researchers to get in touch with bisexual youth so their narratives could be included in research studies. I began google-ing “bisexual youth support groups,” “bisexual resources,” and “bisexual youth,” and about 10,200,000 results came up. Here, I have generated a list of a few websites concerning bisexual youth, some of which also include resources for lesbian, gay and/or questioning individuals. There were many things I loved and felt uncomfortable with while reviewing these websites, which I address after each listing. I, in no way, consider myself to be an expert on all things bisexual; thus, my judgment of the websites is based on discussions I’ve had with my classmates and friends who identify as LGBTQAI and study LBGTQAI related topics. I am learning as I do my research and welcome critiques of these resources and my critiques of them. Also, all of these sites passed my anti-virus inspection and opened safely on my computer – just in case you were worried about viruses or spam.

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What is the “Bisexual Bridge”?

29 Mar

My initial interest for this project was sexual health screenings of individuals who self identify as bisexual. As I was searching for articles, I kept coming across the term “bisexual bridge” and I became curious as to what that was and how it applied to bisexual individuals. Here are five articles I found describing what the bisexual bridge is and how it has been studied in the past five years. The two articles I would recommend are the two articles written by Malebranche. Malebranche provides hir readers with an in-depth critique of previous research, raising questions I had as I read the other three articles I have included in my bibliography. In hir study, Malebranche did not over generalize hir findings to all bisexual men; rather, Malebranche explicitly states that the men in hir study reflected particular behaviors and practices and further research was needed to see if they were more widespread in the bisexual community. One problem I had with many of the studies I read was how the authors used bisexuality as an identity interchangeably with bisexual behavior. In some cases, sexual behavior was being used to define participants’ sexual orientations, which leads to a total disregard of the participants’ self proclaimed identity all together. I felt it was important to include problematic articles in my bibliography so that readers would question how the research has been presented and where future research can improve, as Malebranche and I did.

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