Author goes 'beyond' the hype in new book about the down low

You're probably tired of hearing about it by now. In fact, you may be sick of it. Keith Boykin is, too. But his reasons for being over the "down low" phenomenon might not be the ones you'd suspect. And it might even shock you to know that Boykin was originally approached by the previously unknown and now infamous "author" J.L. King and asked to ghostwrite his book, "On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of the 'Straight' Black Men Who Sleep With Men."
"I declined to do so," said Boykin, a graduate of Harvard Law School and former special assistant to President Clinton. "I felt that the message he was communicating was not constructive and not helpful to the dialogue that needs to take place in the African-American community. I felt his message was very homophobic and racist and problematic on a number of different levels."
Boykin's problem with King's book inspired him to write one of his own.
"The media has portrayed the down low as this sort of sinister plot by black gay and bisexual men to infect innocent, unsuspecting black straight women, and it's completely, completely speculative, untrue and unsubstantiated," said Boykin, who previously authored the books "One More River To Cross: Black and Gay in America" and "Respecting The Soul: Daily Reflections for Black Lesbians and Gays." "We need to really look at this step by step and understand exactly why that story is absolutely ridiculous and needs to be stopped."
In his new book, "Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies and Denial in Black America," which sits this week at number 31 on The New York Times Best Seller List, Boykin attempts to debunk the down low myths.
"The first thing is that the down low is just a fancy way of saying the closet," said Boykin. "It's not something that's new. It's been around since the beginning of time and we knew that all along and if we didn't, we should have. The second thing is that the down low is not just a black thing. The white man has been on the down low since forever as well. When [New Jersey Governor] Jim McGreevey and other people were on the DL nobody called them down low. They just called it what it was and moved on. But when black men do the same thing, we want to analyze, pathologize, investigate and interrogate it because it fits into our stereotypes of who black men are."
Boykin also said that the down low concept was originally a heterosexual one, popularized by songs like "Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)" by R. Kelly.
"The down low's not a gay thing, not just a gay thing," he said. "The word 'down low,' the term, itself, first entered the lexicon in the context of the heterosexual community. Back in the 90s, there were several R&B songs that were recorded about the down low and they all talked about heterosexuals cheating with other heterosexuals and we just laughed about it then. Then suddenly when we discovered that gay and bisexual men were doing the same thing, then we all got bent out of shape and we became alarmed about it. And the reason we supposedly became alarmed was because it was supposed to be the cause of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black community, which is bologny. There's no evidence to back that up whatsoever. And J.L. King and a few of his minions have been out there spinning that message to the media unfortunately, and the media bought it without every questioning or critiquing the stupidity of that assertion. It's just a reflection of how the lives of black gay and bisexual men are so undervalued that the media won't even bother to do the basic research to figure out when there are lies being told about us."
That's right, Boykin goes so far as to call King, whose new book, "Coming Up from the Down Low: The Journey to Acceptance, Healing and Honest Love," scheduled for release in April, a liar. He also points out the hypocrisy of the fact that King's ex-wife, Brenda Stone Browder, has just released a book of her own, "On the Up and Up: A Survival Guide for Women Living with Men on the Down Low," which King, himself, promotes and was actually written by the same ghostwriter that he used for his first book.
"It's a scam," said Boykin. "It's a huge scam and the media needs to point this out. The point behind her book is that she's supposedly giving the other side of the story, the women's point of view. How can you give the other side of the story when the same person who wrote his book wrote her book? Neither one of them wrote their own books. Karen Hunter was the ghostwriter for J.L.'s book and she's the ghostwriter for Brenda's Browder's book. If that's not a scam, I don't know what is. It's the worst type of deception and the media deserves a kick in the butt if they don't challenge both of them on what's going on."
Boykin questions both the accuracy and the relevancy of their stories.
"J.L. King and his ex-wife were married in the 1970s and divorced almost 30 years ago. Why is their story relevant to what's going on in the HIV/AIDS epidemic today? It has virtually no relevance. King makes a big deal about the fact that he didn't use condoms when he was on the down low but that was in the 1975 to 1982. Nobody was using condoms at that time to avoid HIV, because HIV didn't exist as a term in the popular discourse then. The public didn't even become aware of HIV until 1982.
"It's outrageous that the media hasn't pointed that out," Boykin continued. "It is the height of media irresponsibility not to investigate basic information about people who claim to be experts in fields that they don't really know anything about."
Boykin hopes his book will begin a conversation aimed at helping folks, not just further hurting an already marginalized minority.
"The real solution is if we want to end the down low in our community we have to end homophobia," he said. "We have to end the climate that encourages men to be on the down low in the first place. That's where we should be focusing our energies. Oprah Winfrey [who interviewed King] should do another show. She should do a show on men who are black and gay and bisexual who are not in the closet. Everybody assumes that it's so difficult for black gay and bisexual men to be out about their sexuality because the African-American community is supposedly so homophobic. If you really believe that, then why don't you show different images to create an image where people can see that you don't have to be on the down low. That's the next challenge."
Keith Boykin will be appearing at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 23, in the Hussey Room of the Michigan League. For more information, call 734-763-4186.