In April 2004, J.L. King introduced millions of Oprah Show viewers to the phrase "living on the down low." During the show, J.L. opened up about the dirty little secret of men who have relationships with women but have sex with other men.
Throughout his entire dating life and eight years of marriage, J.L. said he had sex with multiple male partners. Sometimes, these undercover encounters happened in his own home while his wife slept upstairs.
When Oprah first met J.L., he denied being gay, but over the past six years, he's changed his story. "I have accepted the fact that I am a black, gay, proud man," he says. "Fear is what kept me on the down low. The fear of losing my family. The fear of losing my children. The fear of hurting my parents. The fear of losing my relationships with cousins and extended family and the church."
After meeting some strong, gay men who gave him a "gay crash course," J.L. says his opinion of homosexuality changed. "[They] taught me and showed me that who you sleep with does not define who you are," he says.
J.L. also wants to make it clear that the term "down low" is used a lot in the black community, but it applies to all ethnic groups. "It's not just a black thing; I want to be real clear about that," he says. "Down low is not a black thing."
When J.L. told Oprah he wasn't gay back in 2004, he says he wasn't lying—he was in denial. "I knew I was living a lie," he says. "I would do all I could to change who I was. I had this double life: I had girlfriends on the side. I had women, and I would always deny who I was."
J.L. also admits that he had unprotected sex with men while he was still married to his high school sweetheart, Brenda. After hearing the story of a woman who contracted HIV from a man living on the down low, he says he's angry with himself and all men who live this double life. "It's just by the grace of God that I did not get infected or hurt anybody else," J.L. says.
Before J.L.'s secret life was exposed, Brenda, then his wife of eight years, says people thought they were the quintessential couple. "I had blinders on," she says. "J.L. was my world."
After dating through high school, Brenda and J.L. got married and had two children, Ebony and Brandon. But, after five years of marriage, Brenda says she was no longer feeling the love. "I thought there was something going on," she says. "Perhaps another woman that was in his life."
One day, J.L. was supposed to be watching their children, but Brenda discovered that he'd hired a babysitter. To see if her suspicions were justified, Brenda went out looking for his car and found it parked at a club in their small town.
When J.L. came home, Brenda confronted him. Thinking his secret was out, J.L. told Brenda there was someone he wanted her to meet, and he took her to the home of one of his lovers. "When I saw this man, I knew that J.L. was having a relationship with this guy, that this guy was homosexual," she says. "I was hurt. I was scared, and I was screaming and hollering. ... I told him: 'I want a divorce. You're gay. I hate you. You lied to me. Get out. Leave me alone.'"
Eventually, Brenda discovered that J.L. had been having affairs with men for years, but she says she never suspected anything. Despite this shocking discovery, Brenda says there was a moment when she considered staying with J.L. "Then I thought, 'No, you're denying yourself, and you're denying your children a home life,'" she says. "It would not work. I couldn't share."
Since J.L. came clean about his homosexuality, he says his relationship with Brenda has evolved into an honest friendship. "I still love her," he says. "I still care for her. She's still my baby mama."
J.L. also maintains that their relationship was not a lie. "The desire was there," he says. "The bad part of what I did, I think, was the cheating, and I wish now I had sat down with her and could have said to her: 'Brenda, I am dealing with these desires. I need you to help me either get past them, or you and I need to work through them or I need to leave.'"
Brenda agrees. "We had pillow talk, and we would talk into the wee hours of the night about everything," she says. "And for him not to share that with me and see if maybe we could work through it—whatever would work for us—that was hurtful."
J.L. says fear of his father was one of the reasons he lived on the down low for so long. "My father was one of those Baptist deacons who would, as a grown man, whip my behind even if he thought his son could have been, in his words, a 'sissy,'" J.L. says.
J.L. and his family tried to keep his first appearance on The Oprah Show a secret from his father, but J.L. says someone from his church called to let him know. J.L.'s father confronted him about it, but then walked away. "I did not want this to kill him," J.L. says. "He was already sick, and he had never understood [homosexuality]."
Thankfully, most of his family members were more accepting, but J.L. has learned to cope with those who still judge his sexuality. "I don't live my life for other people," he says.
For Brenda, forgiving J.L. for his actions was a long process, but she feels she has succeeded. "I need to forgive him in order to continue with my life," Brenda says.
J.L. tells Brenda how thankful he is for this second chance.
"[Thank you] for giving me a chance to stay in your life, to make sure that our children still love and respect me as a father," he says. "To all the men who hurt and still hurt all the women because of living this secret, double, ugly denial life, please understand that the fear keeps men doing what they do. ... To all the sisters, all the women—white, black, brown, green—understand that this is not your fault, that you should not take this as your fault."
Six years ago, J.L. wasn't the only man willing to talk about living on the down low. But, another guest was in such denial, he only agreed to be on The Oprah Show if his identity was disguised.
Though he was involved in sexual relationships with both men and women, this man—who's now stepping forward to reveal his face and his name, Ulandsey Peterson—also didn't define himself as gay. "I had to accept the truth that I am physically, emotionally and sexually attracted to men, and it was a difficult truth to accept at the time," he says. "I am gay."
Even now, Ulandsey says he's worried about the reaction he'll receive after announcing his truth on national television. "What I'm going to get is rejection on a massive scale," he says. "I'm concerned about the effect this is going to have on my mother and on my sister."
"Why are you doing this?" Oprah asks.
"I need to do this," he says.
Ulandsey says speaking out about being on the down low will help him grow as a person. "This needs to be talked about," he says. "This is destroying our community in a very big way. I'm taking responsibility for my role in this conversation. My hope is that I'm able to talk to other men and to tell them to take responsibility for their truth as well."