BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
When Nial Martin created and produced the 2006 play His Double Life – about closeted gay black men -- he himself lived a double life.
"We're not trying to bash the [down low] or the whole gay lifestyle, we're just trying to bring awareness to be honest and faithful to the one you are with," Martin told The Miami Herald three years ago, while not revealing his own homosexuality. "If you are living a double life, it's just not fair."
Saturday night, Martin's No Jive Productions company brings His Double Life back to the Joseph Caleb Auditorium in Miami, but this time he's fully out and wanting to talk.
"I was a DL brother myself," he now says. "I had a little girlfriend, but at the same time I was unhappy because I wasn't being true to myself. Don't get me wrong, I love [women], but my heart wasn't there."
Twelve years ago he told his mother that he's gay.
"I was so scared. I thought she was going to kick me out. She looked at me and said, `I can't judge you. The only one who can judge you is God. You have to live your life.' That really threw me."
Martin confided in no one else and he dated women.
"I felt pressured by society. By my straight friends. They all had girls, so I needed something to talk about, too. I was afraid they were going to talk about me, and I didn't want any of that," Martin said. "I met guys through other friends I knew who were gay. Nothing serious. But I was still feeling ashamed. I felt I would go to Hell. Every time I went to church they said, `You shouldn't be gay, it's an abomination.' I wanted God to love me."
At 21, Martin hit rock bottom and tried to kill himself.
"I felt I was all alone. I tried to commit suicide twice. The first time I took a pill. I thought I would just fall asleep, but it didn't work."
He tried again at a friend's house. "I sliced myself four times on my wrists. It started to bleed, but the butter knife wasn't sharp enough."
Martin went into therapy and spent about about eight years coping. Seven months ago came a breakthrough.
"I was in a dressing room one day and I looked at myself in the mirror 15 minutes before a show and I just broke down and cried. I said, `Why don't I love myself, God?' I snapped out of it and I said to myself, `you are somebody. You are somebody special. You're here for a purpose – to touch someone through theater.' ''
His Double Life is set during a family reunion in Savannah. Lead character Matthew is a 27-year-old businessman who brings his girlfriend to Thanksgiving dinner to meet his family. That's when Matthew tells his father, a reverend, that he's gay.
This production features a name familiar to the gay black community: JL King, author of the 2005 New York Times bestseller, On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of `Straight' Black Men Who Sleep With Men.
"The way he wrote the characters, they're everyday folk," said King, who'll make his stage debut as a psychiatrist in the show. "That's why it's empowering. People can relate to the characters."
Saturday night's performance of His Double Life coincides with the third annual Miami Beach Bruthaz conference, in which dozens of gay black and Hispanic men meet in South Beach for a long weekend of socializing and networking.
Bruthaz events include workshops to help boost attendees' self-confidence as openly gay men.
"I definitely don't like the idea of men being on the down low. They're not just hurting themselves, but innocent people – their girlfriends and wives," said Kenzie Perry, 29, a Miami decorator and Bruthaz production assistant in a nine-year relationship with partner Craig Stafford.
"Men on the down low give a bad impression of good, honest gay men -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian, whatever you are," Perry said. "It has to stop. It's ridiculous."
Caption: ‘His Double Life’ producer-co-writer Nial Martin and J.L. King, author of the book "On the Down Low, " who plays an HIV/AIDS doctor in the show.
IF YOU GO
HIS DOUBLE LIFE
- Where: Joseph Caleb Auditorium, 5400 NW 22nd Ave., Miami
- When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday July 18
- Cost: $15-$34; students $15-$28; through Ticketmaster, www.ticketmaster.com or 866-448-7849
- Info: www.nojiveproductions.com.
MIAMI BEACH BRUTHAZ
- Where: Royal Palm Resort Hotel, 1545 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Events at Yuca Lounge, 501 Lincoln Rd.; Score Bar, 727 Lincoln Rd.; Discoteka, 950 NE Second Ave., Miami
- Cost: Passes are $120 and $80; individual events also available
- Info: www.miamibeachbruthaz.com. Click `Schedule & Tickets' for event details and pricing.