Can You See Me In The Closet?
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Can You See Me In The Closet?

Understanding the Biblical Narrative of Rahab to Combat The Down Low Culture

Can You See Me In The Closet?

As I sat motionlessly across my bed inside my mother’s third floor apartment, I was hit with a dose of reality. The reality that I was presented with was not the realization that I was a part of the lower-middle class. The reality that I was presented with was not even the realization that my skin tone was darker than every person advertised on billboards, commercials, and magazines. This realization was not even the understanding that I was included in the statistic that stated every 1 in 3 black males will go to prison during their lifetime. The reality that I was presented with was so troubling that it paralyzed me and brought upon a great sense of fear. It was the reality that I was different than my high school friends that I had played varsity football with. I thought, how would I ever tell my mother and what would my father think of me if he knew this? The moment I became conscious that I was a homosexual and that homosexuals were not welcomed in the christian faith community, my world had froze.

Society and poorly interpreted theological beliefs has caused people to mask who they are in order to maintain a sense of stability. In a study conducted by Dr. DeMarquis Clarke, he explains in his dissertation, “Growing Up Gay in Black America: An Exploration of the coming out process of Queer African American Youth”[1] that a sense of tolerance or charity is given to queer African Americans as long as they do not disclose or display their sexual orientation. Dr. Clarke goes on to argue that African Americans often struggle with accepting their queer identity because they have not yet fully accepted and embraced their racial identity. As an already marginalized group, the fear of further marginalizing themselves scares queer people of color, thus pushing them into a closeted or "down low" lifestyle. The word "down low" was coined in the early 2000’s. Its meaning was given to men who identified themselves as heterosexual; however they are secret partakers in sex with men. Dr. Greg Millett, behavioral scientist in the epidemiology branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed his own definition of down low. Dr. Greg suggest that a down low man is heterosexually identified and has sex with other men without the knowledge of his female partner (Boykin, 2004).

Queer black men who have decided to live their life on the down low have done so in order to maintain their skewed definition of what manhood really is. In order to “fit” this definition of manhood, down low men of color have built up a defense system that shields the outside world from actually noticing who they are. What good would it be for these down low brothers to voice their sexual orientation when society is already set up against them? The U.S. Bureau of Justice[2] reported that Black males made up 5% of the college population, whereas their White male counterparts made up 30%. In 2010 the U.S. Department of Labor[3] reported that Black males, age 20 and older, had an unemployment rate twice as high as that of white males. However, the statistics does not stop there; in 2006, U.S Department of Commerce[4] reported that black males, age 18 and older, have lower income than white males with similar educational backgrounds.

Black males are socially disadvantaged no matter their social economic status or their educational achievement. While studying the Hebrew Bible, I found a few connections between a socially ostracized women named Rahab, and the socially disadvantaged down-low African American male. When we look at the story of Rahab, most people would never consider connecting her to the LGBTQ community. Rahab, according to Joshua 2, was a prostitute who lived on the city the walls of Jericho. Jericho was the land in which God had promised unto Moses after Moses had freed the Israelites out of the land of Egypt. As Joshua and the Israelites waited outside the city of Jericho, they did so knowing that God had promised them the city. What is amazing to me was that God gave a promise to a group of people who faced rejection, years of abuse, and who had no political power from the land they came out of. With no political and financial power, the only thing that Joshua and the Israelites had was just a promise from God. Hence, God's promise was with those who were rejected by society. If I might use biblical hermeneutics to explain this part of the text, I would infer that Rahab knew of the promise on the other side of the wall and could not allow her social disadvantage to restrain her purpose. Rahab, a lower-class prostitue unmarried woman from Jericho, understood that her chances of climbing higher in her society was almost impossible as long as she remained comfortable within the confines that her society had created for her. In effort to escape the closet that society held her in, Rahab had to reclaim her time and create a space for the promise that was waiting on the other side of the Walls of Jericho.

The text goes on to describe that when Joshua’s spies came to her she negotiates with them on the behalf of her household. The writers of this text does a huge injustice to Rahab by attempting to lower her status by emphasizing her status as a prostitute and overlooking the various positions Rahab could have had. Despite the writers attempt to highlight Rahab in a negative way, I am inclined to think that there was more to Rahab than what we were told in the text. If I could put this into a modern day example, to best help support the notion that Rahab was not just a prostitute, I would ask the question, “Have you ever heard a prostitute, living in the ghetto, was able to negotiate a deal with a foreign leader or diplomate?” Many of us, if not all, would say no to that question off the premise that a prostitute does not have diplomacy skills (among other things). The fact that Rahab was able to negotiate a deal with foreign power forces me to believe that she was not an ordinary prostitute. Rahab was a boss! She was the head of her household and she did whatever she could to maintain her household, even if the cost of it was her life. If anyone in the city found out that Rahab was in conversation with foreign spies, she and her family would have been killed. Rahab had to live in Jericho with a false identity because the people around her could not appreciate the gift that was inside of her. A prostitute was the least thing I believe Rahab was. I believe her identity was much more complex then what the writers had created her to be.

What amazed me about Rahab was her ability to remain true to her calling regardless of what people decided to recognize her as. Rahab knew that a "prostitute" was not all that she was. In fact, that was the least of who I believe she was. What keeps down low men in the closet is that they are afraid that being identified as "gay" will ruin their chances of reaching their goals. The idea that one must hide who they are in order to reach their ideal image of success is simply ludicrous. You will never become who you were created to be as long as you remain comfortable living in the closet. Regardless of if you are reading this and is currently living on the down low, or if you are reading this as a heterosexual, you will never reach your fullest potential staying closeted about who you actually are.

What would have been said of Rahab and her family if she decided to blend in with people she ultimately did not fit in with, just so that she could get by?The bible tells us that only Rahab and her family was spared the day that Joshua took the city of Jericho. Had Rahab not decided to embrace all of who she was, and concentrate on her status as a prostitute, she too would have been victim to the fate that was coming upon her city. As an openly gay male who once lived on the down low, I would like to encourage those who are living in the shadows of their false self, to become like Rahab by refusing to allow someone else to define who you are. The moment you embrace all of who you are, is the moment that God releases the promise that is waiting for you. Hence, God could not execute the promise until Rahab was willing to embrace who she was and not focus on who people said she was. As such, when she decided to embrace herself, she not only unlocked the promise over her life, but she unlocked the promise over the life the Israelites. Embracing who you are, and who God created you to be, is not just essential for your future, but it is also essential for someone else. As long as you stay in the closet, groups of people are being held back because of your inability to have the capability of being who God said you will be. Your responsibility is not only to yourself, but it is to those that are awaiting you to come alive and reclaim your time.

[1] Clarke, D (2011). Growing Up Gay in Black America: An Exploration of the Coming Out Process of Queer African American Youth

[2] Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2009). A Call for Change. Figure 6.8

[3] U.S. Department of Labor. (2010). A Call for Change. Figure 6.2

[4] U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau. (2006). A Call for Change. Figure 6.6

[5] Millett, G., Malebranche, D., Mason, B., & Spikes, P. (2005). Focusing “down low”: bisexual black men, HIV risk and heterosexual transmission. Journal of the National Medical Association, 97(7 Suppl), 52S–59S.

[6] HIV incidence among young men who have sex with men--seven U.S. cities, 1994-2000. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2001 Jun 1;50(21):440–444

[7] Sánchez, F. J., Westefeld, J. S., Liu, W. M., & Vilain, E. (2010). Masculine Gender Role Conflict and Negative Feelings about Being Gay. Professional Psychology, Research and Practice, 41(2), 104–111.

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