Hawking Tales of the Down Low

Chicago Sun Times continues trend of butchering epidemiology statistics

African American gay and bisexual men are about to get caught in a train wreck. I know this because the Chicago Sun Times just told me that in a December 4 story about men living on the down low.

In a roughly 1,300-word piece, reporter Cheryl Jackson introduced us to J.L. King.

Described as “good-looking, standing 6 feet tall and cleanshaven with cocoa colored skin,” King has authored a book titled “On the Down Low.”

That phrase—down low—refers to African American men who have sex with men, but do not identify as gay. In a series of mainstream press reports, really, really bad reports, these men have been indicted for spreading HIV among women. The Chicago Sun Times story was no exception.

Jackson gave us this little nugget high up in her story: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] connected black men on the down low with the rise of HIV infection rates among black women,” she wrote.

Of course, the CDC has never done any such thing. In 2001, an agency study found that “one in six young men who have sex with men had recently had sex with women, and nearly one-fourth of those men had recently had unprotected sex with both men and women.”

That means that roughly four percent of the 3,492 gay and bisexual men, ages 15 to 22, in seven U.S. cities who participated in the study were having unprotected sex with both men and women.

There has been some speculation that these men might be a bisexual bridge for HIV between gay men and heterosexuals. But let’s be clear. At four percent, that is a tiny bridge and those guys would have to be having sex with a whole lot of women to be driving America’s heterosexual AIDS epidemic.

Jackson, like so many journalists who have written about down low men before her, was undeterred by the facts. Having produced no evidence that down low men have infected anyone with HIV, she accuses the entire group of reprehensible behavior.

“Because they don’t identify as bisexual or gay, DL men are less likely to heed safe sex messages targeted at those groups, posing a health risk to themselves and their female partners, the CDC said,” Jackson wrote.

Then we get to the most abused statistic in HIV epidemiology.

In 2000, the CDC reported that in a sample of 542 gay and bisexual men in New York City, aged 23 to 29, 33 percent of the African American men were HIV-positive. Twenty-seven percent of the men in the study, or 146, were black. In other words, 48 black men were positive.

Jackson renders this as “About 32 percent of black men who have sex with men were found to be infected with HIV, according to a multicity study of men ages 23 to 29.”

That, of course, is wrong. The statistic applies only to the New York City sample. But let me get to the train wreck.

King’s book is due out in February. Jackson gives us the low down on that. That same month, King will be on “20/20,” one of the more wretched “news” magazines that pollute the airwaves.

King has a publicist who “is fielding constant requests for interviews,” Jackson writes. He is represented by the William Morris Agency and he has a media consultant.

“We’re working on body language and words that you choose,” Jackson quotes King saying. “She’s working with me to help me refine my whole image.”

King isn’t a human being, he’s a product. His function is to sell some story about how he used to live on the down low, endangering women, but now he is redeemed. No longer the sneaky faggot, King has been restored.

Jackson writes that he offers workshops on “The Five Personality Types of DL Men” and that he gets $4,000 per speaking engagement. King has a whole lot of incentives to keep flogging his tale of redemption.

So early next year there will be a rash of stories about these black homosexuals who affect heterosexuality and endanger the lives of women. They will feature J.L. King. And for African American gay and bisexual men, it is going to be just one more abuse they must endure.

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