homiesexual: probably an inevitable coining

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat May 1 18:24:44 UTC 2004

On May 1, 2004, at 9:36 AM, Nathaniel Thomas (nathanielt at airpost.net)

> The term I've heard, mainly from a NY Times article, is "on the down
> low", meaning closeted gay black men who visit gay bath houses (I
> think).  The article is not fresh in my mind, but the essential aspect
> is that this term does not refer to an openly gay, especially
> flamboyant, black man, rather one who continues to live in the hip-hop
> subculture, has a female significant other, and has sex with other men
> "on the down low".

that's something else.  homiesexuals are quite clearly black, gay, out,
proud, and identified with ghetto/hip-hop culture.  they're not
flamboyant, in the sense of outrageous, ostentatiously effeminate,
campy, etc.; they're home boys -- queer home boys, but still home boys,
with all the displays of hypermasculinity that go along with the homey
identity.  james earl hardy starts chapter 3 of B-Boy Blues with a
little lecture on this role from his protagonist, who has a jones for
these guys:

   ...[Raheim's] a B-boy -- or banjee/banji/banjie boy, or block boy, or
homeboy, or homie, or as MC Lyte tags 'em, "ruffneck." [pages of
exposition follow, ending with...]  They are the boyz who are the true
hip-hopsters, the gangstas, the menaces 2 and of society, the
troublemakers, the troubleseekers, the hoods, the hoodlums, the
hood-rocks, the MacDaddys, the DaddyMacs, the rugged hard-rocks...

in contrast, guys who are (or live) on the down low, the down-low, or
the DL, emphatically don't identify as gay or bisexual and don't
necessarily identify as homies (many are middle-class).  they're the
black contingent of a group that social services people have come to
label MSM, Men who have Sex with Men.  MSMs (yes, i know, an awkward
plural) in general reject the label gay as an identity label for
themselves (which is why the social services folks need another term,
if they're going to deal with these guys) and usually reject the label
gay for their sexual activity, which they describe as playing with, or
hooking up with, other guys.  they're not queer, they just like to get
it on (or off) with other guys now and then.  like closeted gay men,
they don't publicly disclose their interest in having sex with other
men, because of strong social disapproval for these activities, but
they'd never describe themselves as closeted, because the closet is a
gay thing.

when MSMs are willing to talk about the motivations for and
satisfactions of their sexual activities with men, they tend to stress
the male-bonding aspects of the thing, the celebration, even sharing,
of masculinity with their partners (sort of like sports, but with
orgasms).  in this they are *very* much like frankly gay men.  however,
the enormous weight that MSMs put on masculinity tends to make their
sex extraordinarily dick-centered, even more so than for frankly gay
men.  caressing and kissing are just not on the program for many MSMs,
because they're "too queer", too tainted with femininity; for many
frankly gay men, on the other hand, displays of affection play a
central role in sex.

living on the DL (described in those terms) is definitely a black way
of being, and most guys on the DL are looking for black partners.  it's
a black-on-black thing.  in part this is because these guys (in common
with many african americans) see "being gay" as a specifically white
thing.  and in part because in their sexual activities guys on the DL
are celebrating not just their masculinity, but their specifically
*black* masculinity.

i've gone on at such length about these identity categories because i
think it's important to try to understand the categorizations that
people use for themselves, rather than imposing an external
"scientific" classification (based on observable characteristics, like
actual sexual activity, or the nature of the objects of desire) on
people.  this is science too, social science in fact.  and, as a
practical matter, it's counterproductive to tell people that they are
*really* something other than what they believe themselves to be
(*really* gay, say, rather than just someone who plays with guys).

i've also tried to describe MSMs (and guys on the DL in particular) in
as sympathetic terms as i can manage.  frankly, their way of thinking
is just foreign to me, so this takes some work.  but then i don't
really understand the thinking of people who devote their lives to (as
they see it) god's work, or who sacrifice their lives for god, or lots
of other people.

in any case, living on the DL has been very much in the news, and there
are at least two books (which i haven't yet read) about the subject:
   J.L. King, On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of "Straight"
Black Men Who Sleep With Men.  [not an auspicious title.  there's the
quotation marks around "straight".  and the euphemism "sleep with",
which is especially off-kilter, since one thing that guys on the DL do
little of is actually sleep with other men.]
   D.L. Smith, Down Low, Double Life.
there's also the fiction of, especially, E. Lynn Harris.

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu), hoping he hasn't said this all before

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