Every woman knows that when she gets involved with a new man there are a few questions she must ask to see if he’s the eligible bachelor she’s looking for. There are the standard questions about career, credit, mental health history, criminal background, family and relationship status — because no woman wants to be out with her new beau, only to have his wife storm in with a smelly brat on her hip screaming about child support payments. After years of trial and error, women have learned how to avoid this situation by asking the right questions in advance.

Similarly, ever since “Brokeback Mountain,” women have started slipping another precautionary three-word question onto our relationship application: “Are you gay?”

While we exhale after receiving a very relaxed response of “no,” what we fail to realize is that we have just been bamboozled. “Gay” is a very specific term. Although a man may have an intimate or sexual attraction to another man, he may very well not be gay. Sure, many people will argue that having any kind of attraction to someone of the same sex makes you gay, members of the LGBT community have clear definitions and terms, like bisexual, that differentiate one identity from another.

Unfortunately, dealing with this is like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” type of thing. If you ask him if he’s gay and he identifies as bisexual (or in many cases, he may not know), then he has a right to respond “no.”

So is he lying? No. However, is he being deceptive and unfair? Yes.

Here’s why. Many men and women in the LGBT community have fears and worries caused by their sexual identity. Many of us assume that sexual orientation is a black-and-white issue. Either you’re gay or you’re straight. But that is not always true. Men who are questioning their sexuality have their own identity issues they are trying to understand. They can’t give you a concise answer if they still have uncertainties themselves.

Furthermore, in many communities, especially the black community, being gay or bisexual is still considered largely immoral and licentious. Men can put themselves at risk of being completely alienated from their families, loved ones and the entire community if they come out. This leads some to feelings of loneliness, emptiness and despair. Fear of exclusion, partnered with the confusion about their sexual desires, could force any man to take a more avoidant approach in a sexual situation. That’s not to mention that hate crimes are still committed against gay people every year.

Sure, we can come up with plenty of reasons why gay or bisexual men might hide their sexual identity from the women they are dating. But regardless, it is still selfish and dangerous. By choosing not to disclose that kind of information, these men mislead these women emotionally. Furthermore, if sex is involved, they put their partners at risk of diseases and death.

In the black community, for example, HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death among black women between the ages of 25-34 in 2004, based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2003 study from the same source also showed that 34 percent of black men who have sex with men also reported having sex with women, whereas only 6 percent of black women reported knowingly having sex with a bisexual man.

This data reflects an issue especially pertinent in the black community of men on the “down-low,” misleading their partners and putting their lives at risk. While it’s safe to say that alienation from your community may make you feel bad, contracting HIV from a dishonest partner could kill you.

This is not only an issue that plagues the black community. This problem crosses all racial and socioeconomic communities. While I consider myself an ally of the LGBT community, I can’t support dishonesty and deception. Men who are dating both women and men and engaging in sexual activities with both are putting themselves and their partners at an even greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and deadly viruses.

Coming clean to your partner may cause you to suffer a broken ego, but continuing to hide your true identity may cause you to take someone’s life.

Shakira Smiler can be reached at stsmiler@umich.edu

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