Soundtrack for this post:
I’m dedicating my second post to Frank Ocean (read the first one here) because the letter he posted to his Tumblr account sent a current of electricity through me that still remains, even a few days later. Like the first post I wrote, the beauty and transparency in his open letter has cemented him as one of my favorite artists, and has made me challenge myself on the level of transparency I bring to my work. It also started an important but largely unguided and uninformed conversation about Black male sexuality and entertainment. In light of this, the following is a list of things I feel people should know about Frank Ocean’s letter.
1) He never used the words “gay” or “bisexual”: Note: Depending on how you interpret this verse from Odd Future’s “Oldie”, he may have identified as being bisexual in that song (video link, click to the 5:30 mark. Earl’s face in the background is priceless). Headlines claiming that Frank is “gay” or “bisexual” undermine how sexual identity development works. In his letter, Frank acknowledged powerful, romantic, “in love” feelings for another man. Both gay and straight people may take issue with my claim, but the first stage of sexual identity development is acknowledging feelings for someone of the same gender. As a straight person, before I knew what “straight” was or was ever asked to label my sexuality, I had romantic feelings towards boys. The feelings came before the label, and before we can expect someone to take on such a politically and culturally heavy label as “gay” “bisexual” “queer” or whatever, we must let the individual reconcile and accept their same gender romantic feelings first. Frank did that in his letter. Whether he wants to call himself “gay” or “bisexual” is something he may not know yet, and that is okay.
2) Being a man who has had relationships with women and has one with a man does not make him “on the DL”: I won’t name the blog who used this sensationalist misnomer in reference to Frank’s letter, because our clicks and visits are the reason they stay in business (it does rhyme with Pedia Fake-Out though), but throwing around labels like “on the DL” are part of the reason there is such a hostile environment towards black gay/bisexual men in the first place. I know a few women in same-sex relationships who’ve said that their partner was the first woman they had ever been attracted to. Even Cynthia Nixon (Miranda from Sex and the City) said the same thing about her wife, after being in relationships with men her entire dating life. The notion that any man that has had relationships with both men and women is living a “double life” is based on faulty, fear-based logic.
3) Frank’s letter shouldn’t intensify black music’s gay witch hunt: Coming out is an individual process, and the fact that one popular black singer has admitted same-sex feelings with relatively little backlash doesn’t mean that any other black celebrities that are rumored to be gay, lesbian or bisexual need to do the same. While being same-gender loving is not a choice, how we all exist in the world is always a choice. Not everyone has the unconditional support of family, friends and professional colleagues in hand when making the decision whether or not to be out. Frank’s bravery, however, is a step in the right direction.
4) It’s highly unlikely that the motivation for the letter was purely promotional: With the songs “Bad Religion” and “Forrest Gump” making reference to a male object of affection, Frank would have been asked the question anyways. Starting the dialogue before the album’s release was well-planned, but it was still authentic. The fact that the letter created more interest in the album shouldn’t change the fact that the letter was brave.
5) Saying “Who Cares?” doesn’t make you accepting: It’s the equivalent of people saying that they “don’t see color” when it comes to race relations. Not acknowledging one of my primary identities is almost as oppressive as actively discriminating against me. In most states, discrimination based on sexual orientation and expression is not illegal. LGBT people who are assaulted or murder for being themselves have the real possibility that the law won’t be on their side. Not having privilege in our society will always matter. “Who cares,” even if it is meant to be an accepting gesture, is really a silencing one. Instead, say, “I long for the day when heterosexuality won’t be an assumption.” I do too.
Frank Ocean’s letter matters. It should be taken seriously. Its full impact still remains to be seen, but it’s exciting to know that we are one step closer to a point in our culture when we can look back at the time that being an out R&B singer would limited/end your career with the same head-shaking removal that we look at humans being property, women not being able to vote, or any other time that blind conservatism had overcome plain good sense.