Two Stories of Rising Above the Down Low

May 17, 2013 Full story: Advocate

Tarrodd is a vivacious, pansexual 23-year-old entrepreneur living in Akron, Ohio.

Full Story

Chantilly, VA

#1 May 18, 2013
Rising Above the Down Low

A new MTV special profiles two young, black men in Ohio who are living secretly queer lives. Before the True Life episode airs Wednesday, both men reached out to The Advocate to share their stories.

Coke and Tarrodd
Tarrodd is a vivacious, pansexual 23-year-old club promoter living in Akron, Ohio. He dated his girlfriend, Jamie, for six years and then got engaged. But Jamie never went over to her boyfriend's house — because Marvin lived there.

Marvin knew only vague details about Tarrodd's relationship with Jamie. But Jamie didn't know Marvin even existed. The truth is he’s Tarrodd’s boyfriend. Conflict and distrust bred in both of the relationships until Tarrodd finally decided it's time to be honest with his loved ones.

By mainstream standards, Tarrodd had very much lived life “on the down low.” He’s a young, urban black man terrified that coming out will separate him from his family, his friends, and everyone he holds dear. That fear led Tarrodd to hide his sexuality and pursue multiple partners of different genders without telling his fiancée. And while the so-called down low reached the height of public attention years ago, it hasn’t just faded away.

Author J.L. King appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2005 to discuss his best-selling book — On The Down Low: A Journey Into The Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep with Men — and the nation was collectively introduced to a secretive phenomenon, and added a powerful new derogatory term to its cultural lexicon.

"The down low, as we know it, has a negative connotation," says Earnest Winborn, executive producer of the award-winning web series NoMoreDownLow TV, which first launched in 2010. "A lot of people feel that it is a term used to vilify bisexual black men."

That vilification is brought to light with heartrending clarity in next Wednesday's episode of MTV's documentary series True Life Presents: Living On The Down Low: Secrets, Lies, and Sex. The episode drops viewers into the complex, secrecy-filled world of Tarrodd, and a 23-year-old bisexual man nicknamed Coke.

When we meet Coke, he's living in his mother's house in Cleveland and dating a woman named Tam, who is pregnant with the couple's first child. Tam doesn't know that Coke works as a male escort for extra cash. He identifies as bisexual but has strict rules about what kind of sexual conduct he's comfortable with, and it's obvious Coke struggles with immense shame about his identity, even worrying it’s caused by having been sexually abused by a family member as a child.

"When it comes to a boy that I'm sexually attracted to, I like them," says Coke. "But when it comes to doing stuff with them, I can't do it. I know what I like. But in the back of my head, I'm like, This ain't right. I just can't do it."

Coke's girlfriend, Tam, reacted almost violently to his coming out, hurling antigay slurs before storming from the car. They have barely spoken since.

"Tam is acting like I'm the devil in her eyes," says Coke. "[Like] I'm just the worst thing to ever happen to her… but she won't even let me explain myself…. I never did anything to jeopardize her. A lot of people out here, they're doing some nasty stuff… doing some boys without a condom — a lot of stuff I know that goes on. But I never ever did anything to jeopardize her."

“My thing was like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” says Coke, explaining why he doesn’t consider himself on the down low.“If Tam would have asked me, are you gay or are you bisexual? Then I would have told her. It never ever came up. Never.”

Coke's mom took the news that his girlfriend was pregnant with strikingly more grace than she did her son's announcement that he is bisexual.

Progress on views about being gay, or on marriage equality for example, has shown striking speed among black voters

Queer Faker

Gardena, CA

#2 May 18, 2013
tOO frekIng SICK! jamie was swallowing mavin's seed!
May Fong

Akron, OH

#3 May 18, 2013
That tough to swallow.

Marco know the down lo on CrAkron. He been giving it to Sponge-san for years.

Akron, OH

#4 May 19, 2013
you can bet this prostitute is putting out. he just says hes not.

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