Living on the down low: stories from African American men

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University of Alabama Libraries

This study examined the lived experiences of African American men who publicly identified as heterosexual, but privately engaged in intimate relationships with other men. These men are identified by several terminologies including Down Low (DL) and men who have sex with men (MSM). Seven men participated in the study which consisted of three audiotaped phone interviews over the course of three months. One of the participants withdrew from the study before his last interview. The participants identified themselves as being African American, over the age of 19, and having lived, or are currently living, on the DL. The participants were interviewed about their experiences including family of origin beliefs about people who were gay, influences in the African American community that shaped their sexual identity construction, their lives on the DL, mental health issues that they may have experienced, and disclosure and non-disclosure of their sexual identity. Phenomenological research methodswere used to collect and analyze and data along with the theoretical methodological framework of Critical Race Theory (CRT), which was used as a tool to identify how factors of race, gender, and sexuality play roles in the construction of African American DL and MSM. QSR NVIVO qualitative research software was also used to code categories and identify relationships that resulted from coding the transcripts. Themes that resulted from the data analysis included how the African American family and community (including the church) influenced the construction of sexual identity of African American men. Other themes included masculinity, mental health issues and the issue of disclosure and non disclosure of sexual identity among African American DL and MSM. The CRT concept of counterstories allowed the men to discuss pivotal stories that marked a defining moment in their lived experiences. Research is still needed to further explore sexual behavior of African Americans. Counselors and mental health providers are encouraged to educate themselves about the sexual identity construction of African Americans, and how factors in the African American family and community continue to shape the sexual identity of its members.

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Health Sciences, Mental Health, Behavioral psychology, Black studies