No More Down Low: Why Don’t We Talk About Straight Black Men With HIV

April 15, 2015  |  

Writer Taryn Hillin has an interesting article on Fusion about the often neglected face of HIV in America: straight Black men.

Yes, while all of pop culture and even various health departments and agencies have long targeted initiatives on the down-low Black men and straight Black women, we have forgotten about all the straight men out here infecting themselves and everybody else. As the article notes, Black men represented 68 percent of all heterosexuals who acquired HIV cases in 2011 alone.

In Hillin’s article, she mentions a new study from Healthy Psychology that studied the sexual lives of heterosexual Black men surveyed in Philadelphia. The study found that making safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention a gender and a sexual orientation issue is one of the major reasons why heterosexual Black men are contracting the disease at such alarming rates.

As Hillin writes about the study’s results, condom use is mostly contingent upon how men perceive the women that they are intimate with, rather than the focus being on protecting their health. More specifically she writes:

Rather than viewing condoms as a way to prevent STDs/HIV, the men largely viewed condoms as way to tell whether or not a woman wanted to trap them. Specifically, if a woman wanted to use a condom, that meant she wasn’t trying to trick her partner into pregnancy—and was thus deemed safe.

At the same, if the woman provided the condom herself, then her status reverted back to unsafe. The logic? A woman could poke a hole in the condom or otherwise tamper with it.

As Hillin writes, the straight Black men surveyed not only see sex safe as primarily the responsibility of the women but they also viewed us as the main carriers and reason for how the disease is spread. But even within that perception, many of the men surveyed still take a cavalier approach to condom use; opting to forgo condoms with their “main” female partners and occasionally practicing safe sex with their women on the side – because, apparently, being in a committed relationship and having another woman on the side is normal.

Likewise, some men surveyed treat a woman’s insistence on condom use as a game or even a challenge meant to be conquered or won. As one “man” said in the survey, “I have had some women who have insisted upon it [wearing a condom], but all the time I’m thinking of a way to get it off, you know?”

The article, which you can read here in its entirety, is a must-read. It is also very nauseating. As Hillin notes, at no point in the study do any of these men consider what part they play in the spread of the disease. And truthfully, why should they? No one holds straight men, regardless of color, accountable and responsible for the decisions they personally make in their lives and the harm they cause to other people. Not their mothers or fathers. Not the church and other religious institutions. Not even government agencies and various health departments. This is a (straight) man’s world and everybody else is considered a barrier to overcome or just here on this planet to serve them and their own agendas. Honestly, I’m actually shocked that none of the men surveyed mentioned how HIV is a conspiracy by the White man to turn them all into emasculated gay men in dresses. Don’t laugh: I have actually heard Black men say this before…

To me, this survey illustrates why the down-low narrative is so dangerous. And I wish folks like Lee Daniels, who has gone on public record many times to make the same erroneous connection between bisexual brothers and the spread of the disease, would stop promoting it. Not only does this narrative falsely paint gay men as bogeymen out here to dupe women, but it totally glosses over the jacked-up mentality of straight men, which we should be most concerned about.

If I sound jaded that is because I’m tired of catering to the ego of straight men who think it is the world’s responsibility to take care of them, and ourselves at the same time. What this study should reveal to us all is that misogyny and homophobia are at the root of why HIV continues to plague the community. And it’s time that the menfolk in our lives be held responsible. Just as there are anti-rape campaigns out now, which seek to take the burden of sexual assault prevention off the backs of women by teaching men not to rape, there also needs to be a social paradigm shift to teach men the importance of taking care of their own sexual health and well-being. For the sake of us all…

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