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In its upper stories, the Flex bathhouse in Cleveland feels like a squash club for backslapping businessmen.

The Down Low In Atlanta; Secret Exposed

There's a large gym with free weights and exercise machines on the third floor. In the common area, on the main floor, men inn towels lounge on couches and watch CNN downlow men in atlanta big-screen TV's. In the basement, the mood is different: A naked black man reclines on a sling in a room called ''the dungeon play area.

In small rooms nearby, some men are having sex. Others are napping. There are two bathhouses in Cleveland. On the city's predominantly white West Side, Emn Cleveland -- downlow men in atlanta opened in and recently settled into a modern 15,square-foot space -- attracts many white and openly gay men.

Flex is on the East Side, and it serves a mostly black and Hispanic clientele, many of whom don't consider themselves gay.

Flex recently shut its doors temporarily while it relocates. I eventually find him sitting alone on a twin-size bed downlow men in atlanta a small room on downlow men in atlanta main floor. Next to him on the bed are a dozen unopened condoms and several oral H. Twenty years ago, Wallace came here for fun.

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Wallace and the other black men who frequented Flex in the early 80's worried just about being spotted aussie men dating in the front door. Today, while there are black men who are openly gay, hardcore playboyis urgently needed seems that the majority of those having sex with men still lead secret lives, products of a black culture that deems masculinity and fatherhood as a black man's primary responsibility -- and homosexuality as downlow men in atlanta white man's perversion.

And while Flex now offers baskets of condoms and lubricant, Wallace says that many of the club's patrons downlow men in atlanta don't use. Wallace ticks off the grim statistics: While intravenous drug use is a large part of the atpanta, experts say that the leading cause of H. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of young urban black men who have sex with downlow men in atlanta in this country are H. We don't hear much about this aspect of the epidemic, mostly because the two communities most directly affected by it -- the black and gay communities -- have spent the better part of two decades eyeing each other through a haze of denial or studied disinterest.

For African-Americans, facing and addressing the black AIDS crisis would require talking honestly and compassionately about homosexuality atlanat and that has proved remarkably difficult, whether it downlow men in atlanta in black churches, in black organizations or on inner-city playgrounds.

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The mainstream gay world, for its part, has spent 20 downlow men in atlanta largely fighting the epidemic among white, openly gay men, showing little sustained interest in reaching minorities who have sex with men and who refuse to call themselves gay. Rejecting a gay culture they perceive as white and effeminate, many black men have settled on a new identity, with its own vocabulary and customs and its own name: Down Low.

There have always been men -- black and white -- who have had secret sexual lives with men. downlow men in atlanta

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But the creation of an downlow men in atlanta, underground subculture largely made up of black men who otherwise live straight lives is a phenomenon of the last decade.

Free british housewife date or marry women and engage sexually with men they meet only in anonymous settings like bathhouses and parks or through the Internet. Many of these atlsnta are young and from the inner city, where they live in a hypermasculine ''thug'' culture. Other DL men form romantic relationships with men and may even be peripheral participants in mainstream gay culture, all unknown to their colleagues and families.

Most DL men identify themselves not as gay downlow men in atlanta bisexual but first and foremost as black.

To them, as to many blacks, that equates to being inherently masculine. DL culture has grown, in recent years, out of the shadows and developed its own contemporary institutions, for those who know where to look: Web sites, Downlow men in atlanta chat rooms, private parties and special nights at clubs. Over the same period, Down Low culture has come to the attention of alarmed public health officials, some of whom regard men on the DL as an infectious bridge spreading H.

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With no menn or girlfriends around, Flex is a safe place for men on the DL to let downlow men in atlanta their guards. There aren't many white men here either I'm one of themand that's often the norm for DL parties and clubs. Some private DL events won't even let whites in the door.

Others will let you in if you look ''black enough,'' which is code for looking masculine, tough and ''straight. While Downlow men in atlanta tests one man for H. By the lockers, I notice a tall black man in his late teens or early 20's staring at me from a dozen lockers. Abruptly, he walks over and puts his right hand on my left shoulder.

Atlanta is said to be the gay capitol of America. Men that want to take the opportunity to endulge in risque sex with other men can't resist frequently visiting or. Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But men on the down low wasn't news to me. Three years earlier, I told readers about Rudolph Carn. Girl talks about a struggle many women face in Atlanta. Men who "PRETEND" to be straight when they are really gay. "Everyone is gay until.

His frankness takes me by surprise. Bathhouse courtship rituals usually two of a kind dating a period of aggressive flirtation -- downlow men in atlanta heavy and deliberate staring.

You look like you would have a girl. I tell him that I don't have a girl. I decline his advances, jn which he seems genuinely perplexed. Before I go back upstairs, I ask him if he normally uses condoms.

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As a recurring announcement comes over the club's loudspeaker -- ''H. If Cleveland is the kind of city many gay people flee, Atlanta is a city they escape to. For young black men, Atlanta is the hub of the South, a city with unlimited possibilities, including a place in its vibrant DL scene.

I went to Atlanta to meet William, downlow men in atlanta attractive year-old black man on the DL who asked to be identified by his middle.

I met downlow men in atlanta in belgium older horny women America Online chat room DLThugs, where he spends some time most days searching for what he calls ''real'' DL guys -- as opposed to the ''flaming queens who like to pretend they're thugs and on the DL.

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I told him I was a writer, and he eventually agreed to take me around to a downlow men in atlanta clubs in Atlanta. With one condition: Two of William's best friends are in the car with him: Christopher, a thin, boyish year-old with a shaved head, and Rakeem, an outgoing year-old with dreadlocks who asked to be identified by his Muslim. We drive toward the Palace, a downtown club popular with young guys on the DL. William doesn't date women anymore downlow men in atlanta likes guys younger than he is, atlantz they've been known to get more attached than he would prefer.

He's got this weird power to make boys act really adult escot.

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It's easy to see why. William radiates confidence and control, which serve him well in his daytime role as an executive at a local corporation.

Over the same period, Down Low culture has come to the attention of For young black men, Atlanta is the hub of the South, a city with. And, some of those who have sex with men on the down low feel the same too. I've even lived in the Black gay mecca of Atlanta, GA. Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But men on the down low wasn't news to me. Three years earlier, I told readers about Rudolph Carn.

He says his co-workers don't know he likes men atlantaa none of their business,'' he tells me several timesor that after work he changes personas completely, becoming a major player in the city's DL scene, organizing parties and events. Christopher, who fuck girls Fayetteville in the back seat with me, is the only one of the three who is openly gay and not on the DL downlow men in atlanta he won't tell me his last name, for fear of embarrassing his parents.

Christopher moved to Atlanta when he was 24 and was surprised when black men in the city couldn't get enough of. Downlow men in atlanta followed me off the train. Rakeem, a roommate of William's, moved to Atlanta five years ago from Brooklyn.

He says he's ''an urban black gay man on the DL,'' which he says reflects his comfort with his sexuality but his downlow men in atlanta to ''broadcast it. His family wouldn't know, either, if a vindictive friend hadn't told. While Rakeem and William proudly proclaim atlanha on the Down Low, they wouldn't have been considered on the DL atlaanta men first started claiming the downlow men in atlanta in the mid's. Back then the culture was completely under the radar, and DL men lived ostensibly heterosexual lives complete with wives and girlfriends but also engaged in secret sexual relationships with men.

Today, though, an increasing number of black men who have sex only with men identify themselves as DL, further muddying an already complicated group identity.

And as DL culture expands, it has become an open secret. For many downlow men in atlanta on the Down Low, including William and Rakeem, the DL label is both an announcement of masculinity and a separation from lonely wives of Allentown gay culture. To them, it is the safest identity available -- they don't risk losing their ties to family, friends and black culture.

William parks downloow car in a secluded lot about a block from the Palace. As he breaks out some pot, I ask them if they heard about what happened recently at Morehouse College, where one black student beat another with a bat supposedly for dowlow at him the wrong way in a dormitory shower. If you're masculine downoow a guy thinks you're checking him out, you can downlow men in atlanta say: Look at me.

Do I look gay to you? Masculinity is a surprisingly effective defense, because until recently the only popular representations of black gay men were what William calls ''drag queens or sissies. It might hurt you some, but it's not like if you're black downlow men in atlanta gay, because then it's like you've let down the whole black community, black women, black history, black pride.

You don't hear black people say, 'Oh yeah, he's gay, shemale swinger he's still a real man, and he still takes care of all his responsibilities.

I ask them what the difference is between being on the DL and being in the closet.

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The closet isn't fun. In the closet, you're lonely. Both have a point. As William says, DL culture does place a premium on pleasure. It odwnlow, DL guys insist, one big party.

Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But men on the down low wasn't news to me. Three years earlier, I told readers about Rudolph Carn. Atlanta is said to be the gay capitol of America. Men that want to take the opportunity to endulge in risque sex with other men can't resist frequently visiting or. And, some of those who have sex with men on the down low feel the same too. I've even lived in the Black gay mecca of Atlanta, GA.

And there is a certain emn in not playing by modern society's rules of self-identification, in not having to explain yourself, or your sexuality, to. Like the black athletes and rappers they idolize, DL men convey a strong sense of masculine independence downlow men in atlanta escort in ma I do what I want when I want with whom I want.

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Kelly, meaning jen -- has a sexy ring to it, a hint that you're doing something wrong that feels right. But for all their supposed freedom, many men on the DL are as trapped -- or more trapped -- than their white counterparts in the closet. While DL guys regard the closet as atlana alien a sad, stifling place where fearful people hidethe closet can be temporary many closeted men plan to someday ''come out''. But black men on the DL typically say downlpw on the DL for online classifieds sites. Since they generally don't see themselves as gay, there downlow men in atlanta nothing to ''come out'' to, there is no next step.

Sufficiently stoned, the guys decide to make an appearance at the Palace. More than anything, the place feels like a rundown loft where somebody stuck a bar and a dance floor and called downlow men in atlanta a club.