The February 2005 Identity featured an interview of Keith Boykin, whose recently published book BEYOND THE DOWN LOW: Sex And Denial In Black America takes a critical look at JL King's book ON THE DOWN LOW: A Journey Into The Lives Of 'Straight' Men Who Sleep With Men. For a short while I wondered if JL King would write another book or at least an article to refute all the strong criticism Boykin has for him. Instead, the third book out with a perspective on the issue is ON THE UP AND UP: A Survival Guide For Women Living With Men On The Down Low by the ex-wife of JL King, New York Times Bestselling Author Of On The Down Low, by Brenda Stone Browder. Stone is her maiden name and Browder is the name of her second husband.
When I first got this book I was hopeful it would tone down the emotional rhetoric and be a reasonable and even rational path to reconcilliation between bisexual men and their female partners.
Brenda Stone Browder opens by saying 'For more than fifteen years I kept his secret. For more than fifteen years I lived with a lie—his lie that had become my life. Perhaps I felt even after all of those years that I was responsible somehow for what had happened to me. Perhaps it was the feeling that I was all alone, that I was the only woman in the world who had this happen to me, that also kept me silent. But after fifteen years of secrecy, I am ready to speak ... .'
That opening to this book set the tone. It is a book about one woman's personal journey and struggle to understand things never taught to her by family, church, school or her husband, who did not like his attraction to men. Brenda Browder makes it plain that JL King has made so many efforts not to be himself that he has called himself by several names over time; JL, James, Jimmy, Jay as he went thru many changes in life. She tries to get closure by not blaming herself for her husband's confusion about self identity by saying: 'Today I realize that I wasn't woman enough for Jimmy. I was too much of a woman for him. Because the truth is my womanhood or womanliness was not what he was seeking. And I could have been Halle Berry or the Queen of Sheba and Jimmy still would have done the things that he did.'
While Keith Boykin puts the blame squarely on homophobia, prejudice against, and ignorance about, gays, Brenda Browder minimizes how homophobia causes men to be on the down low.
She says, 'Looking back, Jimmy probably never should have gotten married. But because we live in a society where a gay lifestyle is not accepted—especially in the Black community—Jimmy never felt like he could openly explore the feelings he'd probably had since he was very young. But that's no excuse for what he did. That's no excuse for putting someone you love through years of hurt and self-doubt—not to mention the impact it had on our children.'
Regarding her ex-husband, though, Browder says later in the book, 'JL King must be applauded for putting a human face to a very inhumane behavior. He must be applauded for having the courage to tell his story and let thousands of women know that they aren't crazy.'
While Browder's book gets off to a good start, it will be subject to the same kinds of criticisms Keith Boykin levels at JL King's book. There are many generalizations and opinions presented as facts. For example Browder says there are 'types' of women who are more likely to get involved with men on the down low. She never uses the politically incorrect term 'fag hag' but does say: 'You will see a lot of DL men with women who are very overweight. If a woman is struggling with obesity, she has some self-esteem issues. You can't possibly love yourself if you are eating yourself to death. That fat is a symptom of a greater ill, and men on the prowl prey on that.'
One friend who saw a copy of this book was so curious to read it that he read it cover to cover in one afternoon. He said he couldn't put it down, but that Browder will truly stir a lot of controversy with it because she seems to be on a mission to convert Black gay men to become heterosexual. I was able to read her book with an open mind until I got to page 119. After that page Browder lets her feelings of frustration with, or anger against, same-gender-loving men show very clearly. She lifts up gospel singer Donnie McClurkin as a perfect example of how and why gay men should change.
Why doesn't she understand that her marriage to JL King, which she says was so hurtful, is exactly what happens when a same-gender-loving man tries to become a heterosexual? Her entire Chapter 7 'Yes, He's Gay' is a long series of one contradictory statement after another. Browder writes with the frame of mind of someone who does not know or does not care about the profound social changes of the last 35 years which began with the Stonewall revolt in 1969 and brought on this era of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender pride.
As of press deadline, my repeated requests to interview Browder were not accepted. I'd like to ask her if she has ever heard of liberation theology, Unity Fellowship Churches, Metropolitan Community Churches, affirming congregations of the United Church of Christ or Chicago's own Church of the Open Door. Her old tired 'hate the sin, love the sinner' comments on the morality of lesbian and gay relationships are behind the times. She shows no awareness of the historic context in which the Old Testament Hebrew Bible was written. She does not acknowledge that Jesus Christ does not say anything about homosexuality in the New Testament. Browder, who is from Ohio, probably voted in November 2004 for that state's Constitutional ban on gay marriage, yet she criticizes gay promiscuity.
What this book shows is that people with progressive attitudes about LGBT issues have a long, long way to go. Yet still I do find hope in the fact that the issues regarding the down low are being discussed like never before.
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