BY MPHO KUHLMANN
Ask any Gaborone woman what her biggest fear is and the likely answer is “being single forever.” Now, there’s a new bogeyman in town: a Mr after Nine clothed as Mr Right.
BONELA Gender Officer, Botho Maruatona explained that the “after nines” is a metaphorical term used to refer to men or women who are involved in heterosexual relationships but secretly engage in same sex relationships.
“Some are open homosexuals who have secret heterosexual relationships; others may be bi-sexual and looking to explore their sexuality. Others believe sexuality is fluid, therefore why not explore,” she said.
For some men, the attraction to having sex with men is fuelled by their wives’ refusal to have anal sex. The advent of ‘after nines’ is also fuelled by sex work, as there are some homosexuals out there who are willing to offer a happy ending for cash. This also fuels the myth that homosexuals have money”, she said.
Such trysts have become so common in Gaborone’s underworld that they have come to be known as the “On the Down Low”
Imagine you have finally met Mr. Right. He’s handsome, sexy, charming, intelligent, articulate, and financially successful. He even plays the role of an excellent father to boot. You marry him and buy your dream house in the suburbs. Your children attend the best schools and you live in a wonderful neighborhood. You’re finally living your dream until one day your dream world comes crashing when you wake up to realize that your prince charming is really a lying Queen. Welcome to the salacious lifestyles of Gaborone boyfriends. On the Down Low is the term for a man who is in a committed relationship with a woman and nevertheless sleeps with men. It is an organized and underground subculture largely made up of men who otherwise live straight lives.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecture at the University of Botswana says this behavior isn’t just harmful to a relationship; it can also be life-threatening to the man and his partner. “Women, college students and people over the age of 50 are at greater risk than ever before, and men living on the down low may be one reason why. Many down low men find it difficult to see themselves as gay because of the stigma attached to homosexuality in the community. Because these men have so much at stake in keeping their sexual activity secret, it is unknown how many there are and it is difficult to trace the sexual history of their female partners. The longer these men lead double lives, the higher the risk for their partners.”
There is what you see on the surface, and then there’s what you get when you dig a little deeper. Most down low men date and even marry and engage sexually with men they meet only in anonymous settings like hotels, clubs or through the internet. Many of these men are young and hyper masculine. Other DL men form romantic relationships with men and may even be participants in mainstream gay culture, all unknown to their colleagues and families. What makes the down low phenomena unusual is that these men believe they are straight. They do not identify themselves as bisexual or homosexual. They don’t want to be associated with the stigma of being called gay. Men living on the down low almost always need an accomplice ÔÇô a woman. They don’t want the world to think they are gay, therefore they need a cover-up. It is rare to see a down low man without a woman in his life. She is his cover.Most women who are married to or dating a DL man have no idea that their man is on the down low. And there are many women who will never know. The rise of the down low lifestyle, the families and marriages it destroys and the very real danger it poses to women is somewhat unspoken and kept secret.
The DL phenomenon has given rise to a burgeoning male prostitution industry in Botswana. Coordinator of Man for health and Gender Justice Thatayotlhe Molefe was recently quoted in the media saying they are aware of the male sex workers in Botswana. He explained that unlike their female counterparts, male sex workers mostly operate discreetly making it difficult to help them. “We have programmes that are earmarked at helping them to access health services care and treatment,” he said.
Molefe said that male sex workers are not selective whom they have sex with as long as they get financial rewards. According to Molefe most of male sex workers sell to truck drivers especially in Palapye, Francistown and Kazungula which are stopover towns for truck drivers.
Refilwe Chokwe who works at City Radio in Gaborone says the down low culture in the city is very real. “A man will stay on the DL because obviously society is homophobic. Being on the down low for a lot of black men is not because they are ashamed of who they are, but because the black community does not accept queer people.”
Kutlo Dambe of Delta Insurance Agency says it is demeaning and wrong for guys on the down low to keep their girlfriends in the dark. “Some of the heartache that women go through at the hands of their partners could easily be avoided. I think a lot of these men who are on the down low should just be honest right from when the relationship starts, the fact of the matter is that they are having sexual relations outside their union which is cheating. Why not just come clean with your woman and avoid the drama?”