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As a recurring announcement comes over the club's loudspeaker -- '' H. We drive toward the Palace, a downtown club popular with young guys on the DL.

There's a large gym with free weights and exercise machines on the third floor.

To them, as to many blacks, that equates to being inherently masculine. In 2001, almost two-thirds of women in the United States who found out they had AIDS were black. testing in Room 207'' -- he shakes his head. '' I like it raw.'' If Cleveland is the kind of city many gay people flee, Atlanta is a city they escape to.

DL culture has grown, in recent years, out of the shadows and developed its own contemporary institutions, for those who know where to look: Web sites, Internet chat rooms, private parties and special nights at clubs. With no wives or girlfriends around, Flex is a safe place for men on the DL to let down their guards. For young black men, Atlanta is the hub of the South, a city with unlimited possibilities, including a place in its vibrant DL scene.

A naked black man reclines on a sling in a room called ''the dungeon play area.'' Along a hallway lined with lockers, black men eye each other as they walk by in towels. (Flex recently shut its doors temporarily while it relocates.)I go to Flex one night to meet Ricardo Wallace, an African-American outreach worker for the AIDS Task Force of Cleveland who comes here twice a month to test men for H. Next to him on the bed are a dozen unopened condoms and several oral H. Today, while there are black men who are openly gay, it seems that the majority of those having sex with men still lead secret lives, products of a black culture that deems masculinity and fatherhood as a black man's primary responsibility -- and homosexuality as a white man's perversion. While intravenous drug use is a large part of the problem, experts say that the leading cause of H. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of young urban black men who have sex with men in this country are H. V.-positive, and 90 percent of those are unaware of their infection.

And while Flex now offers baskets of condoms and lubricant, Wallace says that many of the club's patrons still don't use them. We don't hear much about this aspect of the epidemic, mostly because the two communities most directly affected by it -- the black and gay communities -- have spent the better part of two decades eyeing each other through a haze of denial or studied disinterest.

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