How Will Frank Ocean Change Our Conversation About Coming Out? [Reader Forum]

Last week, R&B star Frank Ocean went public about his sexuality, marking a watershed moment in popular culture. The Colorlines community brings its support and discusses the risk of political exploitation.

By Channing Kennedy Jul 09, 2012

This week, Jorge Rivas laid out for us the timeline of a watershed moment in modern pop culture. On the Fourth of July, 24-year-old R&B rising star Frank Ocean responded to speculations about his sexuality with a touching, extremely personal post on his Tumblr; in the post, which may be the liner notes to his forthcoming album, he describes the heartbreak of confessing love to another man who couldn’t or wouldn’t say the same.

It marks the first time a black male hip-hop artist of his stature and at his point in his career has come out as anything other than straight, and as such, the reaction was widespread, swift, and largely positive. Among his supporters are friend and crewmate (and author of a lot of violently homophobic lyrics) Tyler, The Creator; his mom; and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Jay Smooth’s take on it is also excellent, of course–and if you want to see the non-supporters for some reason, a Frank Ocean fan on Twitter has been retweeting lots of them.

Frank Ocean’s letter is also fundamentally different from Anderson Cooper’s recent coming out. It’s worth noting that while Cooper’s coming out was relatively detail-free, a flipping of a switch–"the fact is, I’m gay," end of story–Ocean never used those two magic words, instead giving us his feelings to empathize with.

This is not to diminish Cooper’s actions or to say how or when someone should come out, let’s be clear. But how often have we heard a career-established public figure describe loving another man? Frank Ocean’s letter is knocking down more taboos than we may realize.

Anyway, that’s my two cents. Here’s what you had to say in the community.

hans anggraito:

I LOOOVE Frank Ocean’s music. I always have, from his EP last year. His art occupies that grey space that isn’t easy to define; this ‘revelation’ makes sense as a bigger part of his inspiration. It’s just great that, as a gay male of his generation, to not have to feel perverse or alone knowing that the love song "Thinking About You" can be dedicated to a man, too, and as a matter of fact it might have been intended for a man. One of the things he is exploring through his songs is how to peel back layers of masculine pretenses. A lyric from one of his songs, ‘We All Try,’ reads: "I believe that marriage isn’t between man and woman but between love and love." Another song from Nostalgia, Ultra is about crying for a father he never had even though his fellow fatherless peers aren’t.

He is much more than the R&B lover-boy archetype people are pigeon holing him to be. I just hope that he doesn’t feel pressured to ‘prove’ his masculinity after this ‘coming out.’ I hope he keeps on making raw and honest music. OMG, i’m such a fan boy.

Brotha Wolf:

I’m very proud of him. I can’t imagine how hard it must’ve been.

Nina G.:

This story makes me so emotional (which probably means I’m a bit too invested in celebrity culture) but love Frank for this. love love love


So proud of him. His words were truly inspiring. Beautiful moment. I only wish others (cough, Queen Latifah) would be so brave. Just beautiful.

And finally, commenter Ben Fisher asks "Can we properly call it ‘coming out’?" and excerpts the following from a post by blogger Kwame Holmes:

But I am concerned that the LGBT and "gay friendly" press is going to increasingly thrust the label "coming out" onto Frank Ocean. They are going to fold him into "healthy queer narrative" as Jeffery McCune recently put it. He is about to be coopted as an agent of gay liberalism and that is a shame. Because gay liberalism, as evidenced by LGBT institutions excitement over Anderson Cooper’s weak-tea outing isn’t about what Frank Ocean did. Frank Ocean is not keeping it cute and tidy. Frank Ocean has the audacity to unselfconsciously drip emotion all over the place without coming close to embracing gay liberalism’s lexicon. This is not a "classy" "outing."

Also? Gay liberalism, until today, hasn’t given a hoot about Frank Ocean the human. Until today Frank Ocean was understood principally as part of hip hop and R&B, which means he was understood as one of the enemies of gay liberalism. Part of the "most homophobic" cultural institution in the "most homophobic" community and so the HRC was not studying Frank Ocean before today. So I’m preemptively annoyed about inevitable attempts by gay liberals to get Frank Ocean to "work" on the rest of the "black community." Please do not draft Frank Ocean into labor for your political project, the man has enough work on his plate right now.

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