By Quentin Johnson
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Consider Sean Combs. Puff, I mean, P. Diddy. Recently in an interview with E!, P. Diddy explained the breakdown of his name (identity) as it corresponded to his behavior. "P. Diddy" is the name for the identity that represents his behavior as an entertainer.
"Puff Daddy," however, refers to the name of the identity that represents his behavior as an entrepreneur. "Sean Combs," finally, is the name given to the identity that represents the behavior as father, man, lover, and son.
What is clear, from Puff Daddy/ P. Diddy/ Sean Combs is that his life, his understanding of himself, a self that does so much, is so much, and wears so many masks, created different identities to deal with his different behaviors.
Like Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Sean Combs, I believe that men on the DL carry different identities to accommodate their different behaviors. We, as Black Gay men, should understand this as we move through Black communities, White communities, and Gay communities shifting our identities as need and behavior dictates. How could we not?
There aren't many spaces where we can be ourselves and bring all that we are to the table - even with one another. Men on the DL are no different. In fact, I argue, that Black men have had to create/discover identities that concede with various behaviors since setting foot in this country amongst a dominant White culture.
White masculinity forces Black men to carve out an identity that is either on par with, or eclipses that of White men. Because of this, save a few remarkable exceptions, sensitivity, malleability and non-aggressive sexuality is all but missing from the paradigm of Black masculinity, which isn't to say that it doesn't exist, but that it has gone underground. For "soft" masculine features to show means a certain death in the face of stereotypical Black masculinity.
Even small boys know this as they form gangs and acquire guns to defend themselves, defend that small "DL" aspect that makes them, makes us, human. Men on the DL are nothing more than victims of a racist, heterosexist society, unevolved masculinity, and our misconceptions about identity, behavior, and sexuality.
While it angers and frustrates me to watch or read dialogues about HIV/AIDS in Black communities where "bisexual" and "homosexual" are used interchangeably.
I know this practice to be common and stubbornly stuck. We need to educate heterosexual Black people - and each other - about bisexuality and homosexuality outside of a White/Eurocentric matrix.
Explain that bisexuality is real and different from homosexuality and that both are valid and acceptable forms of sexual connectivity - even if they don't want to hear it.
Black Gay men need to advocate for men on the DL and learn the lesson of identity versus behavior and understand, really understand, that what a man calls himself is irrelevant.
We should know, unlike our White counterparts, that numbers do not equal support, acceptance, or tolerance. We know that the man on the DL needs to know and understand the risks he is taking and protect himself regardless of whether he identifies as straight, bi, or Gay.
Perhaps, if we were a little less concerned about how he identifies himself, we could learn to reach out to everyone - women included - through a comprehensive understanding of sexuality, which reaches and teaches everyone about sexual survival without anyone having to identify as anything.
Although, on the surface, this looks like, "going back in the closet," it isn't because talking across all expressions of sexuality leaves all open and nothing closed. But, instead of working together to slow down the destruction of HIV/AIDS in our communities, it seems we are hastening its destruction by trying to figure out who's to blame.
Blame rests on all of our shoulders because we are our brother's keeper. If our brother can't talk to us, any of us, then we have let him and ourselves down. If we cannot find a way to unite and see through and understand the differences, we just might find ourselves rolling, rolling, rolling on that river.