Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work and Social Research


Recent surveys indicate that a number of men who identify as straight have sex with other men, aka “On the Down Low.” This study focuses on the discordance between sexual identity and behavior in a sample of such men in Philadelphia. Intensive interviews with 33 African American men were conducted to further understanding of why some men who have sex with men still choose to identify as straight. Participants typically defined gay in ways that did not include them. Among this population, gay is: feminine; or playing the receptive role in sex; or dealing exclusively with the same sex. They also did not choose bisexual as an identity because it was not sufficiently distinguished from gay and because the participants expressed ambivalence about accepting any of the currently established categories of sexuality identity. The study probes the problem of stabilized sexual identity by using the theoretical frames of performativity and liminality. The analysis demonstrates that the narratives provided by the study participants provide ample opportunity to trouble essentialist notions of discrete sexual identity categories and provide the basis for further thinking about sexuality beyond fixed identities.


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