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Chapter 3 41 Matteo’s every move as a gay Black man is carefully planned to steer the course of racism. His daily life working as a health educator in San Francisco involves speaking to mostly Black men and women across the city—in high schools and shelters, community centers and crack houses, wherever anyone will listen to his message—about those fun things: sex and protection. “I get to go around and talk about sex all day,” Matteo laughs, a moment of ease in an otherwise painful story of community and personal struggle to speak alternate sexual stories to those he renders through the twin tales of Brokeback Mountain and the down low. Matteo’s cautionary tale finds, in essence, that white men do it, and they win awards.1 Black men do it, and they are killing women: You know what burns me up? This shit about the damn down low. I’m gonna tell you somethin’, two stories in one year. And this is just America and how America does its own people. Now last year we got bombarded with the down low and these women gettin’ infected. And how all these Black men are just horrible for doin’ this, that, and the other. Same year, Brokeback Mountain comes. A beautiful love story about two white men with flowers and hills and trees. And it was beautiful. America just loved that. They could accept that. But when you get two brothers together, oh no. “They on the down low!” And excuse my language , people been fuckin’ around since the beginning of time. This ain’t nothin’ new. It’s just another way to target out a specific group of people. In the world that gives his stories meaning, Matteo shops only at Goodwill for his clothes to avoid the profiling of the downtown department stores, the Never a Black Brokeback Mountain Sexual Silence and the “Down Low” in the Age of AIDS eternal security following me around. He dresses up to play the part. He is well educated, employed at an established community organization, respected in his professional and personal lives. And still, reflecting on the depth of racism he feels every day as a middle-class Black man living with HIV in San Francisco, he remarks it’s like I gotta put on a three-piece suit to go to Safeway. Despite his analysis of racism as being at the core of the HIV epidemic, he talks readily of deadbeat dads, drug-addict parents, and the breakdown of African American families in this day and age. The discourse of individual responsibility within these heteronormative paradigms may seem distant to him, but when it comes to the responsibility narrative of the down low, Matteo’s story— and the stories of others—opens up a framework for the structural intimacy of sexual silence as the rhetorical and material worlds constitutive of Black sexuality amid racism, classism, and gender inequalities. Returning to the rugged terrain upon which this book started, to Brokeback Mountain, this chapter examines stories that reimagine Black male sexuality in the era of that discourse of blame, the down low. The elusive cultural image of a Black Brokeback Mountain suggested by men in these interviews raises the question of how Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar’s story is, at its most damaging, one of personal betrayal safely kept within the private domain, understood sympathetically within the glaring constraints of compulsory heterosexuality. A Black Brokeback Mountain, however, would demand public intervention. How does the imagined terrain of Brokeback Mountain come to represent yet another manifestation of white America’s simultaneous fascination with and aversion to Black male sexuality? How do men and women come to articulate a story of sexual silence—a social theory that narrates the structural and cultural silencing of Black gay and bisexual men’s sexuality? This chapter claims that speaking these cultural silences fits in Black lives and imaginings as a process of sexual story-making to understand HIV’s place in their communities in the face of the national and community trauma of the epidemic.2 This chapter situates sexual silence in complex interplay with other modes of symbolic and material inequalities that condition—or structure— people’s lived experiences and ways of knowing. Attending to the “evidence of things not seen,” as Philip Brian Harper (2005, 115) has named the affective experiences of racism through “felt intuition,” as well as to the insistence of material conditions, is...


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MARC Record
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