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FEATURE: Honesty
by Max Smith
2005-09-01

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There are few things most people would more carefully avoid than to hurt their own mother or father. When I was 18 my mother asked why I didn't want to take a young Iady to my high school's junior-senior prom. Maybe I was too brutally honest. For the first time I told her that I am gay and did not want to date women any more. She said that I was unfair, that I had not given the right woman a chance. That conversation continued for over an hour until my mother finally said that I'm too 'hard-headed.' She got up from the couch. Her eyes were brimming with tears. She walked into her bedroom. I could hear her crying.

I felt terrible. I had hurt my mother by coming out to her. I felt that I had hurt her with words as badly as my father had hurt her with his fists in repeated acts of domestic violence that caused her to walk out of her marriage to him and to get a divorce when I was a baby. I could not stand to hear her cry. I walked out of the house and kept walking 10, 20, 30 blocks from home and did not return for several hours.

The next day I apologized to her, as the conversation continued over dinner. My mother explained that she was afraid, in fact very very afraid for me because she did not want me to become an alcoholic. An alcoholic??? I questioned her. She explained that a distant cousin, Robert, was a homosexual. Robert, the family found out, went to what she called dirty, seedy bars and drank hard liquor nightly to the point of sickness. Robert died of liver failure at age 45 in the 1970s. She hated the idea that I would follow a self-destructive path of loneliness, sadness, social rejection and premature death.

I did the math and realized her image of gay men was what may have been the prevailing image of those who came out, like Robert, in the very socially oppressive 1950s. I vaguely remember Robert getting drunk at family reunions and drinking too much wine at holiday dinners, when I was a child. Not until my mother outed him did I understand that he was suffering from the effect of homophobic oppression.

Years later, when my mother had come to terms with my being an out, self-supporting mature adult who drinks socially and responsibly and not compulsively did she disclose her other concern. She said she cried that day when I was 18 because she truly wanted to enjoy 'grandmothering.' At 18 I did not know and could not imagine gays and lesbians having natural or adopted children.

Fast forward to 2005.

Over the past few years there has been a continuing public and private discussion on what seems to be all aspects of men on the down low. Hetero women complain that they were lied to by men they married who have secret affairs with men. Gay men complain that men on the down low should just come out. Hetero men equate gay with weak without understanding that internalized homophobia and self-hatred from anti-gay prejudice lead many people like my late cousin Robert to be too weak spiritually and emotionally to avoid trying to escape life's problems with bottles of booze ... or, in recent years with lines of cocaine or crystal meth.

What I do not hear are stories of how down low behavior is rooted in a sincere desire of would-be gays to avoid hurting their parents with brutal honesty, as I hurt my mother. Also, down-low men may have a sincere desire to meet their parent's expectations of having grandchildren.

The most strident gay voices on this matter seem to come from gay men who do not view feminine attributes as 'weaknesses.' Yet the deeply entrenched, mucho macho sexism, particularly in Black communities, most certainly does view it that way.

If a would-be gay man, at age 18 or 20 or 23 feels heavy social pressure to date women, to have a primary social circle of hetero friends, and to have children to prove his manhood, that is going to happen. If he does not have the money or the motivation to move away from home or from the neighborhood where lots of people know him, and he fathers children, another issue kicks in. That gay or bisexual man is going to love his children and the woman who gave them birth. He is going to avoid doing things, or going places, or being seen reading LGBT literature that would lead his hetero friends and neighbors to call him a punk or a fag. He may be on the bisexual fence deep inside, but will easily find much more social approval on the hetero side. This is especially true if he is even slightly more attracted to women than men to begin with.

Among men who are significantly more attracted to men than women: the two generations to come into adulthood since the Stonewall revolution of 1969 are the first to have freedom to be out. With freedom to educate ourselves with consciousness-raising LGBT literature, movies and community support organizations, we have advanced beyond meeting the basic food/clothing/shelter needs of life to develop a sense of independence, self-esteem and creativity of being self-actualized.

Then HIV/AIDS devastated us.

If all the gay and bisexual men who died of AIDS were alive today, the LGBT community would be several times bigger, more powerful and far more influential culturally and politically.

The two basic solutions to these deadly dilemmas I've proposed repeatedly in print, at public forums and in personal and private conduct are very very unpopular: 1. Men who have sex with men should not have anal intercourse. 2. Be totally honest with everyone in your personal and private life. Never let fear of embarrassment or social pressure to live up to hetero expectations be more important than honesty.

Maybe over time, discussion of down-low behaviors will bring on change. Maybe the next generation will have more success with HIV prevention efforts. And maybe we will again see gasoline at 99 cents per gallon later this year.

Contact MaxsonnCS@aol.com .


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