He's got this weird power to make boys act really stupid.'' 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.
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A naked black man reclines on a sling in a room called ''the dungeon play area.'' Along a hallway lined with lockers, black men eye each other as they walk by in towels. (Flex recently shut its doors temporarily while it relocates.)I go to Flex one night to meet Ricardo Wallace, an African-American outreach worker for the AIDS Task Force of Cleveland who comes here twice a month to test men for H. Next to him on the bed are a dozen unopened condoms and several oral H. Today, while there are black men who are openly gay, it 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 a white man's perversion. While intravenous drug use is a large part of the problem, 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 men in this country are H. V.-positive, and 90 percent of those are unaware of their infection.
And while Flex now offers baskets of condoms and lubricant, Wallace says that many of the club's patrons still don't use them. 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.
Christopher moved to Atlanta when he was 24 and was surprised when black men in the city couldn't get enough of him.
'' They would hit on me at the grocery store, on the street, on the train, always in this sly, DL kind of way where you never actually talk about what you're really doing,'' he says.
Others will let you in if you look ''black enough,'' which is code for looking masculine, tough and ''straight.'' That's not to say that DL guys are attracted only to men of color. By the lockers, I notice a tall black man in his late teens or early 20's staring at me from a dozen lockers down. Bathhouse courtship rituals usually involve a period of aggressive flirtation -- often heavy and deliberate staring. '' I ask him.'' Nah, man,'' he says. You look like you would have a girl, too.'' I tell him that I don't have a girl. I told him I was a writer, and he eventually agreed to take me around to a few clubs in Atlanta.
'' Some of the black boys here love white boys,'' Wallace says. Abruptly, he walks over and puts his right hand on my left shoulder.'' You wanna hook up? '' Doesn't matter,'' he says, stepping closer. With one condition: '' You better dress cool,'' he warned me.Most 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 men are young and from the inner city, where they live in a hypermasculine ''thug'' culture.In its upper stories, the Flex bathhouse in Cleveland feels like a squash club for backslapping businessmen.There's a large gym with free weights and exercise machines on the third floor.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.