Sharing Black Life, Statewide
Web of Deception
LaJoyce Brookshire, ‘Soul Food’ author, tells of betrayal she felt after learning of husband’s ‘down low’ life
BY STARLA VAUGHNS CHERIN
In the 1980s and 1990s, not many people fathomed the thought of purportedly straight men having sex with men. Many still looked at HIV/AIDS as a gay White man’s disease. But when author LaJoyce Brookshire discovered her husband was dying of AIDS, the idea was all too real.
Brookshire’s professional success as author of the book “Soul Food” and the first African American to novelize a major motion picture did not diminish her pain. It has taken her more than 10 years to heal from her husband’s betrayal.
During that time, she has heard and talked to many women who found they were in the same situation—in a relationship with a “down low’’ brother. It prompted Brookshire to tell her story in “Faith Under Fire: Betrayed by a Thing Called Love,” her first non-fiction work.
Married four years before her husband’s death, Brookshire said that when she met him he had just been in the hospital for bleeding ulcers. He was 31 and attributed it to a bad marriage and stress on the job. When he died, his T-cell count, one of the measurements used to gauge the body’s ability to fight off infections, was four. (People without HIV infections have ‘normal’ T-cell counts of 700 to 1,000.)
“That means you have to count back 10 years,” Brookshire told the Florida Courier. “I realized he knew all along and had been trying to infect me. He had some idea we were going to die together, but God had something better in store for me.” Later she found out his mother and sister had known all along.
Brookshire looks back at what she now calls “signs” that indicated her husband was living a ‘down low’ lifestyle.
“He was extremely homophobic. My gay friends never got a chance to put their “gaydar’’ on him because he would always leave. He never wanted me to be out of his sight. Putting a wedge between family and friends, eavesdropping and the disappearing acts.
“It doesn’t sneak up on you. I was able to piece it together,” she said. “Sores that won’t heal, shortness of breath, colds, bronchitis, recurrent pink eye, diarrhea. There are so many opportunistic viruses that prey upon a person with HIV or AIDS.”
He never told her about his sexual orientation, and Brookshire had no concrete proof her husband had sex with men. She would remember the times when two of his best friends would come to town and he would stay out all night with them, sometimes not coming home and going straight to work. After his death in 1995, she never saw these best friends again and they didn’t come to the funeral.
“All of the women who were caught say they were wined and dined and swept off their feet,” Brookshire said about those who admit they were in “down low’’ relationships. “That is a smokescreen and most likely in the excitement of it all, you are not paying attention to a lot of things.’’
Brookshire said a marriage proposal came five months after meeting her “honeydip.’’ She realizes a lot of her focus was on planning the wedding, not on the relationship she was entering.
“When you’re planning a wedding, there is no courtship,” she said. “I was swamped. Your mind is on the details of the wedding. I saw he had a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality. He was sweet and then the opposite. Constantly complaining. Nothing was ever good enough. He would rant and rave to get his way and his road rage was out of control. Several times I got out of the car and took the subway home.
“This is how crazy I am about getting married. I would make excuses for him and his behavior. Like he’s under stress. Telling myself, ‘Once we get married it will all go away. Everything will change and get better.’ Lie, lie, lie, lie.”
It got worse. On their honeymoon in Hawaii, the campaign to destroy her self-image and self-esteem began.
“He complained about the way I looked, my clothes, my hair, my weight and mocked me because I brought books with me. He was sadistic and selfish; it was all about him,” she added.
Brookshire also takes responsibility for the part she played in allowing her love and desire to be married overshadow what was in front of her.
“I was ripe and ready for a relationship. When they prey, they prey on those that are the most needy. I was 28 and had always been the bridesmaid and
never the bride. He looked to be everything he wasn’t,” she said.
“I thought he was a victim of his own promiscuity. He had proved to me over and over again that he was a womanizer. I thought, ‘See, this is what happens to you.’ It wasn’t until shortly before he died, I found out he had known all along, and I wanted to kill him.”
‘Down low’ gospel truth
J.L. King, author of “On The Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of ‘Straight’ Black Men Who Sleep with Men,” says most men on the “down low” don’t know or care if they have the HIV virus.
At the National Conference on African Americans and AIDS and Prevention last year, King said those men say, ‘I sleep with men, but I am not bisexual, and I am certainly not gay. I am not going to your clinics, I am not going to read your brochures, I am not going to get tested.’
“I assure you that none of the brothers on the down low are paying the least bit of attention to what you say,” King explained.
The 67 percent of African American women with HIV contracted it from heterosexual sex. The two ways that the virus is contracted heterosexually to Black women is through intravenous drug use and African American men on the down low.
King writes in his book that many of his partners were pillars in their local churches.
“There are gospel conventions throughout the nation for churches. There is one for ushers, Sunday school departments, music departments and ministers. These events allow men to meet men and to have sex while away from their hometowns. Many midnight concerts turn into affairs where brothers are cruising each other. I’ve been there, seen it and done it,” King states in his book.
Brookshire says before marrying her husband, he always thanked God he met her.
“I was impressed by that because God has always been a special part of my life. I call myself ‘God’s Girl’ because He delivered me through this with my physical and mental health. I did not contract HIV.” She later married her childhood sweetheart and the two have a daughter.
Chosen for ‘Soul Food’
Brookshire credits her writing success to her love of reading and journaling.
“My husband Gus gave me my first diary when I was 12. That was in divine order. It is where my real storytelling skills began to come out. I wrote blow by blow what my friends and I did. You don’t realize that something you do habitually as a child can become a profession,” she said.
“They do this with White movies all the time. This was the first time it had been done for a Black movie,” she said.
Career started early
She always wanted to be an author and received her first recognition at 11 when she won the Ebony Jr. Magazine prize for a story about friendship. She jump-started her career in communications while she was still in high school.
The Chicago PBS radio station, WBEZ, held citywide auditions for a two-year course that would have students produce a weekly radio show. Brookshire was one of just 15 chosen out of thousands.
She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in speech and Spanish from Eastern Illinois University before moving to New York to work in radio at Sheridan Broadcasting Networks as an entertainment reporter, covering the party scene for the syndicated show, “On the Beat.’’ Later, as director of publicity at Arista Records she promoted performers like Aretha Franklin, P. Diddy, TLC, Tony Braxton and Usher.
In 1997, she was chosen by HarperCollins Publishing to write the novelization of “Soul Food” from the movie script on the strength of her novel, the suspense drama “Web of Deception.” Though the book sold 180,000 copies, Brookshire says her experience with the major publisher was disappointing.
“I had to plan my own tour for that and raise my own money,” she said. “I got four national sponsors. I sold most of those books hand-to-hand. Twenty-five cities, 40 events.”
With “Web of Deception,” she eschewed the major publishing route and went independent, duplicating the model she’d used for “Soul Food.’’ She sold 100,000 copies. She plans to follow a similar path with “Faith Under Fire,’’ her third book, using print-on-demand services from Author House.
“My attorney was a little concerned with me going with print-ondemand. This story is too important. I need it to be taken seriously in the publishing business,” Brookshire said “I said, ‘You know what, let the publishing business come to me.’ This story has sat in every publishing house, has been to every Black editor and many others, and not one of them thought it worthy enough as a body of work to be published.
“They’re publishing Black erotica by the handful. …The publishing industry is falling victim in many ways to what they think Black people want to read. …But there are some of us who want to read things that truly help us, empower us and set us free.”
LaJoyce Brookshire: Faith In The Face of AIDS
By Angela Bronner, BlackVoices.com
LaJoyce Brookshire has certainly been through the fire, but thanks to her unrelenting faith, came out unscathed.
The former power publicist turned author (she novelized the black film classic Soul Food and also wrote Web of Deception), ordained minister and doctor of Naturopathy, recently released a powerful piece of non-fiction — a deeply disturbing, though increasingly common story, about courage, AIDS, marriage, deception and ultimately, redemption.
In Faith Under Fire: Betrayed By a Thing Called Love, Brookshire shares the riveting true-life account of marrying a man with full blown AIDS, and using her rock of Gibraltar faith to get through an ordeal which would have broken most. Brookshire opens up with BlackVoices.com.
What was your process in coming to write the memoir?
I wrote ‘Faith Under Fire’ primarily because the statistics for HIV infections were continuing to rise. And I heard my story over and over more times than I even cared to. So it was time that I broke the silence and stopped trying to keep the privacy of a dead man, and let people know some information that could possibly save their lives; because for the people who are most at risk, I have the most information.
And who are the people most at risk, black women, married?
Black women are highly at risk, yes . And heterosexual women of all walks of life are highly at risk.
How did you maintain your Christian faith when you knew that this man knowingly had AIDS and still slept with you?
You know what it is, honestly…because I didn’t know that I was being deceived until he was almost dead. It was easier for me to maintain my Christian faith, because I was staying true to my wedding vows. And I thought back to the day of my wedding, when the only tear I shed was when I said, “through sickness and in health”. That was the only tear. And we ironically got married on World AIDS Day in 1990- December 1st. That’s how I was I able to hold on and just through the grace of God honestly.
Do you recommend that people in marriage get HIV tests?
Absolutely, I think now, its become routine. HIV can slip up on you and you might not ever know. I think what health systems should do is make blood testing mandatory to obtain a marriage license again. When I got married in 1990, to this guy, it was mandatory in 28 states, and now its only mandatory in 14. In the life and times of which we live now, why are there less? It is the responsibility of each individual to gather information; before you swap spit, swap information. No test, no touch! But we say that in theory and it’s all fine and good, but here I am in this situation when Mr. Tall, Fine, and Handsome came strumping up in my life sending roses to my job every week, and my nose was open like a Mack truck. There’s nothing you can tell a woman when she’s in love.
I know you do the book tour with churches, how is the feedback from the church?
Oh incredible. And here’s the deal, this is why I do this. This is why I stand naked and not ashamed because of the people who are able to see themselves in me. And for the people who are harboring a secret too, and who are now able to be set free. People who are willing to stand in their truth, no matter what it is. After I finish speaking, especially at churches, women just come up and they’re in tears. They come to whisper in my ear and they can’t say anything, but I know what they want to say. One women at a church in New Jersey got the strength to go to her pastor’s office when I spoke there in February, but since November she’s been harboring the fact that she found out that her husband was HIV positive. She didn’t even tell her mama! After I spoke and told my story, she told her pastor and he handed her a piece of paper with my number on it. And he knew he didn’t need to check with me, because that’s why I’m there. I’m being really bold about what I’m saying so that people can become honest and come clean about the truth and where you are. The truth is the only thing that is going to stop this epidemic…and I’m trying to help do that.
Has there been any backlash?
From his family, yes, his sisters. Outside of that, no. There’s been backlash from people, who feel that I preach abstinence… well I do. I don’t think that you can put your faith in a condom. You can’t put your total and complete faith in a condom. I ask this…If you know the person has AIDS, do you still trust the condom? The answer is generally no! Why then, do you trust it and you’re not really sure? You’re rolling the dice.
So abstinence outside of marriage?
Abstinence outside of marriage… or until you find out enough information. We don’t want to hear that… because it’s very hard to hear.
How do you feel about the Down Low phenomenon?
Here’s the thing, I never caught him in bed with anybody. But like I said, I have is compilation of lies. And how I came up with my conclusion of him being on the down low is because women who have caught their men in bed, we say the exact same thing and have the exact same story… exactly. We have the disappearing acts, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behavior, or the sweeping you off your feet like Prince Charming. The monopolizing all of your time and he disappears with certain male friends in particular, you know you can name a couple of friends who are not accounted for after they die. He sabotages your relationship with the other friends so that its just you and him riding off into the sunset. Lying about mostly anything to get their way, its narcissistic and sociopathic behavior because they prey on women who are straight. And they are willing givers of oral sex, without wanting to receive it. A gay friend of mine put it quite succinctly by saying, because, once a man has given another man oral sex, that a woman’s jaw strength is just not the same.
Do you think being more open or accepting of homosexuality is part of taking the stigma of hiding away?
The gay friends that I have, who acknowledge that they’re openly gay, men and women, I embrace them, because they are standing in their truth. The people who are tipping, whatever kind of tipping that you are doing… if you’re a man and you’re tipping on the other side of town with another woman, even that is down low behavior. But certainly if you do it with the opposite sex, you’re not standing in good truth. I have already embraced this community because I have personal friends of the community So the stigma then doesn’t lie within them, the stigma then lies within you.
Why then do we have to wait until catastrophe happens, meaning one person getting infected with HIV for it to all come to light that you’ve led a duplicitous lifestyle and for it to all blow up in your face? Then you’ve got to backtrack and make notifications and see who you’ve been with- or not -because some people are not even doing notifying others. Saying you have HIV is just not something that people can easily say to others.
So how involved have you become in just educating yourself about AIDS? Do you follow it in the news or not necessarily?
I wouldn’t call myself an expert. I do keep very close to the statistics and I’m very close to the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. I have been probably their most returning employee. Seriously, I have worked there, like five times in my career. And because of that relationship, it keeps me close to the epidemic. And it keeps me close to the stats, every time I need new stats, they make sure I get them. I would consider myself a health expert now because as a classical naturopathic doctor I’m an expert on keeping the immune systems healthy.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Faith Under Fire
Betrayed by a Thing Called Love
a memoir by bestselling author
LaJoyce Brookshire, the best-selling author of Soul Food and Web of Deception, takes a pause from fiction to share a true story more shattering than any novel. It’s her story. Her candid memoir, FAITH UNDER FIRE: Betrayed by a Thing Called Love (Karen Hunter Publishing/Pocket Books; January 2008) tells Brookshire’s story of survival against the odds and courage in the face of a troubled relationship and a terrifying illness.
LaJoyce Brookshire was married to a man she thought was her very own Prince Charming…but then discovered a veiled side of him…He knew he had AIDS but kept this deadly secret from her until his body betrayed him. The frightening statistics of HIV/AIDS infections in this country only prove that there are too many secrets in too many relationships—and many of them are harbored by families living in fear, ignorance, and denial. With the statistics raging even higher for African American women, LaJoyce boldly shares her truth after more than ten years of silence. Standing on her incredible faith, then as now, LaJoyce says it’s time to stop lying, start telling the truth, and begin to live life with the understanding that only the truth will make you free.
Standing on her incredible faith, then as now, LaJoyce says it’s time to stop lying, start telling the truth, and begin to live life with the understanding that only the truth will make you free.
As author of the novel Soul Food, she is the first African American to novelize a major motion picture. She was chosen by HarperCollins Publishing to write the novelization from the movie’s script on the strength of her first novel, the suspense drama Web of Deception. Due to LaJoyce’s expertise in marketing and publicity, Soul Food has out sold every movie tie-in book ever written.
About the Author
LaJoyce Brookshire is the bestselling author of the novels Soul Food and Web of Deception, and has contributed essays to Souls of My Sisters and GhettOver Girls. An ordained minister, a doctor of naturopathy, and master herbalist, she resides in the Poconos with her husband, childhood sweetheart Gus, daughter Brooke and dogs Phoenix and Lexi.
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