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Frank Ocean Comes Out

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Odd Future member and one of R&B/Hip-Hop’s biggest rising stars could set a major precedent.

Frank Ocean Comes Out

In this article…

It's been a very good week for the LGBT community in the mainstream media.  CNN's Anderson Cooper and US Women's National Team soccer player Megan Rapinoe both announced that they were gay earlier in the week, but maybe the biggest announcement was delivered a little after midnight by up-and-coming R&B star Frank Ocean, who came out amid rumors and speculation.

Ocean, a New Orleans native, is one of the breakout members of Odd Future, the eclectic rap/hip-hop group that includes members like Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt.  He started as a ghost-writer for artists like Justin Bieber and John Legend, and has risen to solo status.  Ocean has also collaborated with artists like Jay-Z and Kanye West on their Watch the Throne album in addition to releasing chart-topping singles like "Novacaine."  Ocean's debut solo album Channel Orange is due out in a couple of weeks, but one journalist was skeptical of some choices of pronouns in his songs.  Where most male artists use "her" Ocean used "him", and the rumors began.  Ocean decided to clear the air himself and took to his Tumblr last night:

Whoever you are. Wherever you are… I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike. Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to. My loved ones are everything to me here. In the last year or 3 I’ve screamed at my creator, screamed at clouds in the sky, for some explanation. Mercy maybe. For peace of mind to rain like manna somehow. 4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. I’d hear his conversation and his silence…until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love. It would change my life. Back then my mind would wander to the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with. I reminisced about the sentimental songs I enjoyed when I was a teenager. The ones I played when I experienced a girlfriend too quickly. Imagine being thrown from a plane. I wasn’t in a plane though. I was in a Nissan Maxima, the same car I packed up with bags and drove to Los Angeles in. I sat there and told my friend how I felt. I wept as the words left my mouth. I grieved for then. Knowing I could never take them back for myself. He patted my back. He said kind things. He did his best, but he wouldn’t admit the same. He had to go back inside soon. It was late and his girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs. He wouldn’t tell the truth about his feelings for me for another 3 years. I felt like I’d only imagined reciprocity for years. Now imagine being thrown from a cliff. No, I wasn’t on a cliff. I was still in my car telling myself it was gonna be find and to take deep breaths. I took the breaths and carried on. I kept up a peculiar friendship with him because I couldn’t imagine keeping up my life without him. I struggled to master myself and my emotions. I wasn’t always successful.

The dance went on. I kept the rhythm for several summers after. It’s winter now. I’m typing this on a plane back to Los Angeles from New Orleans. I flew home for another marred Christmas. I have a windowseat. It’s December 27, 2011. By now I’ve written two albums. This being the second. I wrote to keep myself busy and sane. I wanted to create worlds that were rosier than mine. I tried to channel overwhelming emotions. I’m surprise at how far all of it has taken me. Before writing this I’d told some people my story. I’m sure these people kept me alive, kept me safe. Sincerely, these are the folks I wanna thank from the floor of my heart. Everyone of you knows who you are. Great humans, probably angels. I don’t know what happens now. And that’s alrite. I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore. There’s probably some small shit still, but you know what I mean. I was never alone, as much as it felt like it. As much as I still do sometimes. I never was. I don’t think I ever could be. Thanks. To my first love, I’m grateful for you. Grateful that even thought it wasn’t what I hoped for and even thought it was never enough, it was. Some things never are. And we were. I won’t forget you. I won’t forget the summer. I’ll remember who I was when I met you. I’ll remember who you were and how we’ve both changed and stayed the same. I’ve never had more respect for life and living than I have right now. Maybe it takes a near death experience to feel alive. Thanks. To my mother. You raised me strong. I know I’m only brave because you were first. So thank you. All of you. For everything good. I feel like a free man. If I listen closely, I can hear the sky falling too.

- Frank

Wow.  Those are some powerful and sincere words that clearly weighed on Ocean for quite some time.  Coming out is difficult for anyone, but when you look at the circumstances surrounding Ocean's decision, it's even more impressive.  Complex Magazine explains:

Frank’s letter is miserable and empowering all at once—the stuff Oscar-winning dramas are made of. But this is real life. And Frank is a burgeoning star in a musical genre that is arguably the most immature when it comes to progressive thinking and acceptance of the gay and lesbian community. Neither hip-hop nor R&B has ever boasted an openly gay star. Not to mention that this is the first time a Black male artist of his stature has sung on record to the same sex. If what’s been reported holds true upon album release, Ocean will be the author of gay love songs.

Add to that the fact that members of Ocean's Odd Future crew, including Tyler, fill their raps with gay slurs.  But Tyler tweeted his support earlier today, as did many other members of the rap community.  Russell Simmons (who has been very active lately on hot-button issues) gave an especially poignant remark: "Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we? ...Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These types of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do..."  

We live in a world that is becoming more progressive, but the burden is on individuals to accept those of different sexual orientations.  Announcements like this shouldn't be news if our society was truly inclusive, but I'm not sure that will ever be the case.  Even those fans who are understanding of others must still make a choice, and they will either be comfortable or not with Ocean's decision.  But hopefully his decision helps raise awareness and lessens the tension on others who haven't come out yet.

Ocean is a bold man, and although many careers have been hurt by similar announcements (and others didn't feel comfortable coming out until much later in their careers) I feel like this will only propel Ocean further along.  His star can reach places beyond music and album sales now, and that's a more profound accomplishment than mere metrics can measure.  Hopefully more artists, athletes, and public figures can become more comfortable with themselves and help make this a more accepting world.

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