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Beyond MonogamyPolyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities$
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Mimi Schippers

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781479801596

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479801596.001.0001

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Black Respectability in a Perfect World

Black Respectability in a Perfect World

The “Down Low,” Polyamory, and Bisexuality in E. Lynn Harris’s Invisible Life

Chapter:
(p.71) 2 Black Respectability in a Perfect World
Source:
Beyond Monogamy
Author(s):

Mimi Schippers

Publisher:
NYU Press
DOI:10.18574/nyu/9781479801596.003.0003

The author presents the “down low” as both a mainstream media construction and as described by E. Lynn Harris in his novel Invisible Life and argues that the secrecy and marginalization of African American men on the DL reveal the centrality of monogamy in definitions of both black respectability and homonormativity. The contrast between the mainstream media construction of TheBlack Man on the DL on the one hand and Harris’s personal account of secretly loving a man and a woman on the other sheds light on how dominant constructions of the DL not only perpetuate racism, heterosexism, and hegemonic notions of gender, but also mononormativity. The author demonstrates how narratives of The Black Man on the DL rely on compulsory monogamy to maintain race, gender, and sexual hierarchies and to displace anxieties about promiscuity and HIV transmission on to the bodies of young black men. In constrast, Invisible Life is a polyqueer narrative of the DL in that it offers a critique of compulsory monogamy and a vision of a world in which bisexual African American men would not have to choose to be either gay or straight.

Keywords:   black respectability, down low, E. Lynn Harris, homonormativity, polyamory, bisexuality

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