Keep It Low
Confused About My Friend
The expression "on the down low" is mainly used to refer to black men who have or want sexual relationships with women, but who secretly also have sex with other men. Stereotypically, they do not identify as gay, and are attracted to other "straight" men. They deny that "DL" is just another name for "in the closet," figuring it's a way to play both sides of the street without risking the loss of masculinity. I know a white guy who fits this description too, but he identifies himself, perhaps more honestly, if also more unhappily, as a homophobic bisexual.
I truly don't care what consenting adults do together, but the initials "DL" can also stand for "deliberate lying," frequently with deadly consequences. Because they refuse to think of themselves as gay, these guys sometimes ignore safe-sex warnings and have "raw" unprotected sex, which can lead, unsurprisingly, to HIV infection, which, also unsurprisingly, they can pass on to their unsuspecting wives and girlfriends. No matter what cute slang euphemism they want to use, that's as criminally irresponsible as shoving a loved one blindfolded into a busy intersection on the theory that if she can't see the traffic, she won't get hit by a car.
Since you didn't describe what is making you think your friend is on the DL, I can't offer any opinion about it. People have been known to act strange for a lot of reasons having nothing to do with sex. And, since the whole point of the DL is secrecy, chances are that if he is, you won't get an honest answer out of him even if you do ask. But if the time ever comes that you do become romantically involved with this man--or anybody else for that matter--before you hop into his bed, you have an obligation to yourself to ask him about any and all his sexual activities and to refuse to have unprotected sex with him. It may feel uncomfortable to bring the subject up, but how much more uncomfortable would you feel explaining to the doctor--and admitting to yourself and your family and friends--that the risk of dying an early and ugly death was preferable to a few awkward moments with someone who cared more for protecting his secret than he did for preserving your life.
I read your response to Awake and Afraid (Think Mink, Jan. 21). My partner used to snore and toss and turn all night long. I too wanted to shove a pillow on his face. He was seen by a doctor and participated in a sleep study. Since then he has used a CPAP machine and sleeps soundly all night long, has loads more energy, and doesn't fall asleep in front of the television anymore. I never thought this science-fiction-looking machine could change my life, but it has. I urge anyone who lives with, or who is, a "snoring beast" to get checked out. The benefits could be much more than a good night's sleep.
Thanks for your letter. When I was researching my answer to AAA, I relied primarily on the Internet and my own very healthy skepticism toward anything that looks like it had been designed by a team of snake-oil salesmen at a sci-fi convention. I have known a few world-class snorers, and none has ever, to my knowledge, experimented with any of these contraptions. Too bad. Perhaps if they had they might still be alive.
CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is a recognized, legitimate treatment for sleep apnea. There are several types, but they all consist of some variety of a mask and a pump that forces air into the breathing passages. They're weird-looking all right, and they're not a miracle cure, but although they invariably require a period of adjustment, they seem to help a lot of people. Anyone interested in more information should check the American Lung Association Web site and other sites, where I found several testimonials from happy, well-rested users, as well as questions and answers about the difficulties of getting used to the machine.
I'm not a doctor, and I'm not recommending CPAP to anyone. I am, however, reiterating what I said in the previous column, which is that anyone with a serious snoring problem should get him- or herself to a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders as quickly as he or she can. Like you said, SS, there's more at stake than just a good night's sleep.
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