Why Stella Lost Groove

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The "down low" exists because of every deprecating and hateful comment ever made about gays in the workplace, at the dinner table, in line at the grocery store, at the nail shop, on the courts and everywhere else. For every sissy, faggot, bull dagger, batty boy and sodomite that fell off of someone's lips within earshot of others, another person pushed themselves deeper and deeper into the closet. We created the "down low."

Author Terry McMillan has filed for divorce from her 30-year-old Jamaican husband Jonathan Plummer, who inspired the 1996 novel "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." McMillan who is 53, says she decided to end her 6 1/2-year marriage after learning her husband is gay and accuses him of using her to gain U.S. citizenship. With R. Kelly's recent exploitation of mainstream America's "down low" phenomenon—and I say mainstream America because the "down low" is nothing new to the gay and lesbian community and only gained popularity with the arrival of J.L. King's book Living on the Down, Oprah's DL show and the revelation that men on the "down low" could be blamed for the rising number of African American women contracting HIV/AIDS—it's starting all over again. I can hear it now. "All the good men are taken or gay." McMillan's troubles are sure to spark the next "down low" alert for Black women and Black men both gay and straight will take the heat and begin a new wave of anti-gay stereotypes among heterosexual black women. Seldom admitted is the fact that most women have no problems with the "Jack's" (Will & Grace) of the world. In fact, it's been an increasing trend now with women to have gay male friends. No, the problem lies with the "Omar's" (HBO's The Wire).

The men, that women find themselves attracted to but the feeling isn't mutual. The men who cannot be "clocked" at first glance. But what about McMillan's soon to be ex-husband? Born and raised in Jamaica (which is known for it's homophobic culture) he can never return home for fear of being murdered, now that it's public knowledge that he's gay. Gays and lesbians of Caribbean descent have been fleeing their native countries for years for fear of being viciously beaten or murdered. Deeply religious and conservative, Jamaicans simply do not tolerate "batty boys" and "sodomites." Some of our most beloved reggae recording artists spew lyrics of killing gays over their hypnotic beats. But still, it's not that far fetched of an idea to believe that Plummer did marry McMillan to gain his U.S. citizenship so that he could live long enough to see his 25th birthday and beyond.

However, I am more inclined to believe that Plummer married McMillan for different reasons. Many gays and lesbians get involved with someone of the opposite sex in hopes of being cured from their "sinful" and "wicked" ways. In fact, heterosexual family members and friends often encourage it. It's very possible that he did love McMillan, but realized that he wasn't in love and being true to himself. Therefore he decided to break free. That coupled with living in a country that doesn't murder gays on site, (we only damn our gays to hell), probably gave him enough strength to come out. Nevertheless, he is going to be the one blamed in the public's eye, but don't be so quick to vilify all gay men.

While McMillan's husband is of Jamaican descent, American's have shown that they aren't so accepting of any sexual orientation other than heterosexual as evident in the last Presidential election where President Bush intentionally used the issue of gay marriage as a scare tactic and wedge in the African- American community. If I weren't already out as a lesbian, I probably would never come out, considering today's climate. While everyone's so quick to jump on the "down low" bandwagon, there are very few voices speaking on why the "down low" exists. It's assumed that you are straight and anything different means that you are not normal. We encourage safe sex and HIV testing, but not the disclosure of sexual preferences if it's anything other than heterosexual. The "down low" exists because of every deprecating and hateful comment ever made about gays in the workplace, at the dinner table, in line at the grocery store, at the nail shop, on the courts and everywhere else.

For every sissy, faggot, bull dagger, batty boy and sodomite that fell off of someone's lips within earshot of others, another person pushed themselves deeper and deeper into the closet. We created the "down low." So in the coming week's as this story grows bigger and bigger and we find ourselves engaged in casual conversation around it, we should think before we speak and choose our words carefully. Terry's situation is unfortunate. But I have no doubt that she will get her groove back, write a book about it and sell the movie rights. Who knows? Maybe Terry and J.L. King's ex-wife will write a book together.

Jasmyne Cannick is a board member of the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation's only Black gay civil rights group and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She can be reached via her website at
www.jasmynecannick.com For more reports please click on “subscribe� or call (212) 481-7745 to order the newsstand edition of The Black Star News

 

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