Monday, August 2, 2004

Sex: the most felicitous habit in history?

Black Men On Down Low Send Wrong Message (Global Black News - 18 May 2004 - Wilanda Akil)

In an attempt to stay edgy, newspapers and magazines are revealing stories on what they consider to be new to the black community: "Brothers on the Down Low or DL". According to these publications black men who are on the down low sleep with both men and women, but do not admit they are homosexuals. Their sexual relationships with other men are never discussed or openly acknowledged, hence the term "down low." ...

Instead of promoting awareness and tolerance for gays in black communities, these articles seek to spread fear and suspicion toward people with different sexual habits. If you read one of these articles you will be led to believe that black men who have sex with both men and women is a new phenomenon, or most black men are gay, or gay black men have HIV/AIDS, or black bi-sexual men are spreading HIV/AIDS. ...

In the attempt to create a dialogue about homosexuality in the black community media has once again failed to humanize this segment of the population. Although the shock method attracts huge ratings and book sales it shows a lack of concern for the dignity of people. ...

Media must understand that black communities are not in denial of homosexual activity. Black communities just like other communities understand fully the changes that are occurring in today's society. Our communities do not need to be frightened or shocked into the acceptance of homosexuals. However, society as a whole does need to be educated on tolerating differences in race, gender, culture, as well as sexual orientation.

I appreciate much of Akil's work, paticularly her efforts to reverse the demonization of (black) HIV/AIDS patients. It's not my intention to address Akil's pluralism in this article. She does not seem to be a raving homosexual propagandist, but merely wants us to respect the differences we have little chance of erasing. Fair enough.

I would simply like to note how coyly Akil collapses moral (and sexual) choices into "habits." In so doing, she reverses all the previous talk of "humanizing" people of every stripe. Humans are morally responsible beings, not mere creatures of habit. At the very least, we are moral creatures of habit.

Akil says highlighting DL sexuality undermines people's dignity. I can't see how. First, simply acknowledging the risks -- the major risks -- inherent in bisexuality is not degrading. It's mature; it's good sense; it's what any momma would tell her daughter to avoid. Men that have sex on both sides of the street need to be avoided; it's that simple.

Second, far from degrading DLers, stating plainly that their sexuality is not just a habit, but is in fact a freely chosen way of life (albeit perhaps with some inborn dispositions), is one of the most morally ennobling things we can do. What's more degrading? To say someone just a has peculiar habit, like biting someone else's toenails, or that she has, as a matter of objective fact, chosen a morally inferior path? The former may be less grating and confrontational, but at least the latter fits human beings, not mindlessly masturbating lab monkeys.

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