Tyler Perry on 'Oprah': Jumping to Conclusions

Some black women thought Tyler Perry came close to saying he was gay on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' last week, but others heard something very different. Why the disconnect?

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As I watched Oprah Winfrey's recent Tyler Perry interview, during which the filmmaker talked about being sexually and physically abused as a child by both men and women, I was listening for something specific. Some girlfriends of mine who had already watched the interview said they believed that Perry practically admitted he was gay right there on network television.

As it turns out, that's not even close to what Perry was saying. He was talking about being victimized as a child and how that can severely tarnish how you see the world and how you see yourself.. But I have to admit, at first I heard what my friends heard.

Many black women probably had the same interpretation. That's because many of us are borderline paranoid about black men and their sexuality. Whether or not a potential love interest is gay has become a common conversation among my friends.

Many of us have learned to ask our dates if they've ever been with another man, especially if we identify certain mannerisms, speech patterns, activities or acquaintances that arouse our suspicions. Even though these qualities are not true indications that a man is necessarily gay or bisexual, a man who smacks his lips a lot when he speaks does make me uncomfortable.

I've never been told "yes" when I asked a potential love interest about his relations with other men. But I have walked away from a few relationships because, while I had no proof the man was gay, I could not convince myself that he was not. 

How did we get here?

Well, many women have had some kind of experience. My first happened in my early 20s. I learned, six months after I ended a relationship, that the man I had been sleeping with may have been sleeping with other men. My source? A gay friend who said that he'd slept with my ex on more than one occasion. He also said that my ex had slept with other men. I never suspected a thing.

I escaped that relationship with my heart intact, but some women are not so lucky. One woman recently posted this on an Oprah.com message board: "[I] am a 48 year old woman who found out that the love of her life was gay. That was 20+ years ago. To this day [I] have been unable to completely move past it. I am still single. I am obese. I am constantly depressed. How do [I] finally deal with this emotional blow once and for all so [I] can get on with my life?"

For black women, author J.L. King helped shape our education and our fears when he released his infamous book, On the Down Low, in 2004. He provided a front-row seat to the down-low phenomenon in black communities. This was followed by countless stories in the news, from friends and in the community about women finding out that their men were secretly having sex with other men. Many of these stories involved men passing along HIV to black women, who are being infected with the virus at nearly 15 times the rate of white women.

HIV/AIDS is still a big part of what has us so on edge about this down-low stuff. It doesn't help that there is still much confusion about whether the alarmingly high number of black women with HIV/AIDS is due mostly to men on the down low.