Synopses & Reviews
African American men who have sex with men while maintaining a heterosexual lifestyle in public are attracting increasing interest from both the general media and scholars. Commonly referred to as and#147;down-lowand#8221; or and#147;DLand#8221; men, many continue to have relationships with girlfriends and wives who remain unaware of their same-sex desires, and in much of the media, DL men have been portrayed as carriers of HIV who spread the virus to black women.and#160;Sexual Discretionand#160;
explores the DL phenomenon, offering refreshingly innovative analysis of the significance of media, space, and ideals of black masculinity in understanding down low communities.
Inand#160;Sexual Discretion, Jeffrey Q. McCune Jr. provides the first in-depth examination of how the social expectations of black masculinity intersect and complicate expressions of same-sex affection and desire. Within these underground DL communities, men arenand#8217;t as highly policedand#151;and thus are able to maintain their public roles as and#147;properly masculine.and#8221; McCune draws from sources that range from RandB singer R. Kellyand#8217;s epic hip-hopera series Trapped in the Closet to Oprah's high-profile exposand#233; on DL subculture; and from E. Lynn Harrisand#8217;s contemporary sexual passing novels to McCuneand#8217;s own interviews and ethnography in nightclubs and online chat rooms.and#160;Sexual Discretionand#160;details the causes, pressures, and negotiations driving men who rarely disclose their intimate secrets.
andldquo;McCuneandrsquo;s Sexual Discretion
is an exciting, timely, and important study that blasts the now encrusted mythologies about the so-called and#39;down low,and#39; advancing our understanding of the mass mediation and lived experiences of sexually nonconforming African American men while also stretching and challenging ethnographic methodology and racial theories of sexuality. The book explores an impressive range of social venues andndash; from the Oprah
TV show to the inner workings of a popular Chicago nightclub; from online chat rooms to the sexual contests occurring across black literary history. As McCune tracks how African American men adopt, resist, and disavow the DL as a meaningful sexual identity, he handles these different sites with analytical rigor, deftness, and sensitivity andndash; important given the constant barrage of misinformation fueling the DL controversy. This is a must-read for anyone interested in getting a handle on the complex, fast-changing sexual and racial politics of contemporary U.S. society.andrdquo;
and#8220;Sexual Discretion contributes to a powerful and emerging effort to rethink and#8216;the down lowand#8217; as a way to make sense of black masculinity and the public threat it ostensibly represents. McCuneand#8217;s ambitious argument provides a critical and#8216;architextureand#8217; for explaining how the DL is constituted along various mass-mediated trajectories, helping readers to consider, more critically, the ways in which we continually reproduce essentialist/counter-productive notions of race, gender, sexuality and their inextricable linkages. Part of what makes Sexual Discretion so interesting is its effort to keep traditional participant-observation in productive tension with textual, discursive, literary, and media analyses. The bookand#8217;s radical investment in mixed qualitative methods is extremely effective. Moreover, McCune's discussion of and#8216;The Gateand#8217; reads as a powerful ethnographic portrait of Chicago night-life that represents a wonderful new addition to canonical sociological and anthropological forays into that famous city. This is an excellent book that works in the classroom and far beyond it.and#8221;
and#8220;McCuneand#8217;s Sexual Discretionand#160;is a brilliant study of discrete race, gender, and queer, sexual politics. McCuneand#8217;s exceptionally probing and original account of the down low makes this work both unique and essential reading. Sexual Discretion enriches African American studies and gender studies with an exquisite excavation and finely tuned analysis of multi-layered representations and performances of black masculinity.and#8221;
and#8220;Sexual Discretion is the first scholarly treatment of straight-passing black men sleeping with other men. McCune's provocative book is an exposand#233; not of the sexual practices that have become part of contemporary discourses about black male sexual life but of the will to truth that continues to haunt sexuality in general. This must-read book is a welcome addition to the evolving field of black queer studies.and#8221;
andldquo;Profound. . . . The textsandrsquo; appeal goes beyond mere intellectual engagement whereas McCune delivers a cultural analysis that can be easily consumed by the general public.andrdquo;
andldquo;Academic yet accessible, McCune takes to task the mediaandrsquo;s contemporary discourse on the andlsquo;down lowandrsquo; by examining the issue through interviews and surveys of 60 DL men, the mediaandrsquo;s fascination and handling of the subject, and a look at the subject in the context of the andlsquo;passingandrsquo; literature.andrdquo;
andldquo;In this superlative study, McCune addresses the concept of the andlsquo;down lowandrsquo; in a sophisticated manner that transcends any of the popular literature on the subject.andnbsp;A combination of ethnographic study, media analysis, and theoretical work, the book challenges both the media hysteria regarding the down low and what this concept actually is. . . . Sexual Discretion is a must read for those working in the fields of sexuality, race, and gender studies. One hopes that McCune will continue to revise his research in this rapidly changing culture. Highly recommended.andrdquo;
When her wedding to John “Basil” Henderson didnt come off as planned, Yancey Harrington Braxton flew off to L.A. and remade herself as mega-diva Yancey B. And Basil started concentrating on his career as a high-powered sports agent. But then Yanceys first single, “Any Way the Wind Blows,” hit the charts, and now it threatens to blow Basils cover--if anyone learns who its really about. And it looks like the gorgeous (and ambitious) hunk Bart Dunbar might just have it all figured out.
The latest from E Lynn Harris.
About the Author
E. Lynn Harris is a former IBM computer sales executive and a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He is the author of seven previous novels: Any Way the Wind Blows, Not a Day Goes By, Abide with Me, Invisible Life, Just as I Am, And This Too Shall Pass, and If This World Were Mine. His most recent novel is A Love of My Own. In 1996, Just as I Am was named Novel of the Year by the Blackboard African American Bestsellers, Inc. Abide with Me and If This World Were Mine won the James Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence. In 2000, E. Lynn Harris was named one of the fifty-five Most Intriguing African Americans by Ebony and inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. Harris divides his time between New York City and Atlanta.
Table of Contents
One / Introduction: Discrete/Discreet Acts, Goinand#8217; Down Low
Two / Yoand#8217; Daddyand#8217;s Dysfunctional: Risk, Blame, and Necessary Fictions in Down-Low Discourse
Three / and#147;Outand#8221; in the Club: The Down Low, Hip-Hop,and the Architexture of Black Masculinity
Four / Goinand#8217; Down Low: Virtual Space and thePerformance of Masculine Sincerity
Five / The Pages Are Ridden with Discretion:and#160; Pedagogy of the Pass and Present
Conclusion: From Sexual Discretion to Sexual Suspicion
Reading Group Guide
1. The novel opens with each of the three main characters giving a quick sketch of themselves. Is there a particular sentence or section in each description that conveys the essence of each persons character?
2. Bart says, “At twenty-one, I believed in love lasting forever. At twenty-eight, I know nothing lasts forever . . . except maybe revenge” [p. 11]. Is this a common point of view? What examples can you give from your own experiences, your observations of the world, or literature that support it? Do you think Yanceys reasons for wanting revenge [p. 73] are more understandable and more justifiable than Barts?
3. Basil and Rosa talk about having a child together, even though neither of them wants to get married [p. 14]. In your opinion, is either of them ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood, given the nature of their relationship and the way they handle the revelation of Rosas pregnancy?
4. In talking about his friend Wylie, Bart says, “I remember a time when intelligence was considered hot in a man. . . . Today its beauty, sex . . . or wealth” [p. 35]. Is this “dumbing down” unique to the gay black community or is it prevalent in American society in general? Do you agree with Bart that heterosexuals have more opportunities for real love than gay men do [p. 37]?
5. Windsor plans to keep her baby whether Wardell decides to marry her or not [p. 71]. Do you think this is the right decision? Is it better, as she says, “to be a product of a broken home than to live in one” [p. 71]? If you have read about the recent, controversial studies of children of divorce and other kids raised in single parent homes, discuss how you feel about the findings and how they relate to Windsors decision.
6. Do you think Basil represents the majority of bisexual men? To what extent do the unspoken rules of society contribute to his insistence on hiding his sexual orientation? Do you think that he is serious about his quest to find a mother for his children, or is this simply part of his cover-up? How does the way he talks about women support your viewpoint?
7. Basil cockily declares, “With all the talk of brothers who swung both ways, women still hadnt learned all the games” [p. 136] and “Men, even gay men, knew how to separate love and sex, even if women couldnt” [p. 156]. Are women as naive as Basil believes? Is there a difference between men who date more than one woman and men who “swing both ways”?
8. What is your reaction to Yancey and Basils reunion [pp. 171-175]? Does it fit your expectations or were you surprised by either Basils or Yanceys behavior? Which character appears in a more sympathetic light? Why do you think Harris chooses Yancey to describe the meeting?
9. Two secrets—Basils sexuality and the existence of Yanceys child—and the threat that they will be revealed lie at the heart of the novel. Which do you think is the more damaging secret? Is the media (embodied in the character of the gossip columnist LaVonya) overeager to feed the publics fascination with scandal without considering its effect on the individuals concerned?
10. What incidents or relationships show that both Basil and Yancey have a softer, more human side behind their tough exteriors? Do you think that Yanceys new romance and the birth of Basils child will bring about permanent changes in their personalities?
11. What roles do Wylie, Windsor, and Raymond play in the novel? To what extent do they act as moral consciences for the main characters? Are they realistically portrayed, or are they a bit too perfect? How does Harriss depiction of them compare to his depiction of Bart and Ava, the villains in the novel?
12. If you are familiar with current television programs that feature gay men [p. 37], discuss how well they depict the reality of gay life in America. Do the creators of shows such as Queer As Folk and Will & Grace and other forms of popular culture have a responsibility to instruct as well as entertain? How do you think E. Lynn Harris would answer the question?
13. How do Harriss other books compare to Any Way the Wind Blows? Does this novel represent a change in Harriss style or in the nature of the themes he explores? What do you think the basic message of the book is?
14. The same characters appear in many of Harriss novels, sometimes in leading roles, sometimes in cameos. Which of the characters in Any Way the Wind Blows would you like see in his next novel and why?
Packed with more drama than a hurricane at a Fourth of July picnic.” —USA TODAY
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your groups discussion of Any Way the Wind Blows, a hip, high-flying novel about revenge and redemption. Written by bestselling African American author, E. Lynn Harris, its a wicked romp through showbiz and the world of big-time sports agencies. As Harriss fans might expect, it also peeks into the bedrooms of men and women whose sexual adventures are as supercharged and complicated as their career moves.