I wrote about this yesterday [if you haven’t read it, take a second], and some people are paying attention and some are not. Some people know who Frank Ocean is and some do not. I will say without hesitation that the post Frank put on his Tumblr the other day is one of the most important things to happen in the fight for LGBT acceptance in the last year. We deal with a lot of nuts and bolts here at Truth Wins Out, but sometimes there are cultural things that happen that may become game changers. I believe this might be one of them. Listen to this guy talk about it and tell me what you think:
Now? Visit Gawker and watch his performance on Jimmy Fallon last night, as he plaintively sings, “I could never make him love me.” You wondered what it might look like when stories of our loves and losses truly hit the mainstream? Here’s a taste.
Now? Read this, from Kevin Powell at the HuffPost:
As a heterosexual black man, I overstand every part of this, as we say in the ‘hood. Many of us feel that we are already constantly under siege, by the powers that be that we cannot quite pinpoint (hence we say “the man” or “the white man”); by the local police; by the failing public school system; by the criminal justice system and the prison-industrial complex that dominates so many of our lives; by our families; by the employment and life opportunities that simply do not exist for most of us; by the males around us who seem to police any and all our actions as men, as boys. Thus, the last thing you want to be called is a name that is associated with being gay, to be told to “man-up,” as if who you are simply is of no value otherwise. And if your definition of manhood is not rooted in conquering and dominating women and being violent to self and others in multiple ways, and if it is not about being sexually powerful in a straight and heterosexual sense, then, according to our logic, you are not a man. Not a real man.
So for Frank Ocean, with his brand name recognition, to come out and say in that open letter that at age 19 he fell in love with another male, also 19, is really remarkable to me, and not something I thought would happen from someone on his level. And to do it so matter-of-factly, with that kind of emotion, and with detailed attention to what love means to him, is beyond fearless. It not only frees Frank Ocean to be who he is, on his terms, but it frees, indirectly, all the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender young people (and many older ones, too) to be who they are, without shame or apology. And perhaps it will even free some of us straight dudes to comprehend, at long last, that there is nothing wrong with expressing who we are fully.
Paying attention yet? You need to be. Part of what hit me about this is that it was so casual, so matter-of-fact, so much a story that I also know very well. Many of you do too. He didn’t say “I’m gay,” or “I’m bisexual.” He related a tale of loving somebody who wouldn’t or couldn’t return it. The fact that the gender of the villain (and it was a villain) was the same as his was an afterthought. Welcome to the new “coming out.”
Maybe you should read hip-hop critic Dream Hampton’s letter to Frank. It reads, in part:
But you’re not an activist. You’re a Black man in America whose star is on the rise, working in hip hop and soul, where gender constructs are cartoonishly fixed. Your colleague Drake is often attacked with homophobic slurs when he simply displays vulnerability in his music. He seems to respond by following those moments of real emotion with bars that put “hoes” in their proverbial place. But you’re a beautiful songwriter (your question to Jay and Kanye, “What’s a King to a God?” on their own song on an album about their kingdom, was brilliantly sly). Your letter is revolutionary not least of all because it is about love. It is about falling in love and feeling rejected and carrying both that love and rejection with you through life. The male pronoun of the object of your desire is practically incidental. We have all been in a love that felt “malignant…hopeless” from which “there was no escaping, no negotiating.” Your promise to your first love, that you won’t forget him, that you’ll remember how you changed each other, is so full of love and grace.
We admire the great courage and beauty and fearlessness in your coming out, not only as a bisexual Black man, but as a broken hearted one. The tender irony that you were writing a boy who was unable to return your love love until years later because he was living a lie is the only truly tragic detail about your letter.
Oh, my god. Yeah, read all of that.
“Coming out” is a problematic phrase because it suggests one was “in the closet,” which is analogous to a cage, a prison — some torture chamber one needed to escape. “Coming out” creates and exacerbates a language of otherness; love and sex cannot be love and sex, but “straight love” and “gay love,” “straight sex” and “gay sex.”
“Coming out” suggests that you are not normal, so you must reveal yourself to be abnormal; you must acknowledge that, by living “in the closet,” you lived a false life — a notion that smacks of simplicity, a word far too weak to describe the fluidity of human sexuality and, more over, one’s freedom to express his sexuality as he sees fit versus, say, the hetero-normative ways which society deems “normal” and “acceptable.”
There is “coming out” and there is “I love this man.”
The former allows heterosexuals to feel good about themselves; it creates space, otherness, between “straight” love and “gay” or “queer” love; it maintains the status quo.
The latter, meanwhile, is a declarative statement devoid of labels. It is expression. It is — to sound slightly trite — a human thing to say. Love is love; there is no otherness; the status quo is threatened, if not outright attacked.
To hell with “coming out.” Frank Ocean declared his humanity. Recognize.
Amen. Read all of that one too.
Kevin Powell refers to the song Frank Ocean sang the hook on for the recent Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration Watch The Throne called “Made In America,” and he muses that it may be no coincidence that Kanye and Jay wanted to feature him, as Kanye has been one of the most prominent voices in hip-hop to denounce homophobia. Listen to this track for yourself: