Frank Ocean came out as a queer man on July 4, and the mainstream music world barely blinked an eye.
In a letter posted on his Tumblr, he retells the story of his first love, who is a man. He acknowledges that he’s had relationships with both women and men, but the letter doesn’t read like his objective was to come out, unlike the comings out of many celebrities past.
Lance Bass declared, “I’m Gay!” Anderson Cooper wrote a dignified and articulate letter. Ricky Martin gracefully identified as “a fortunate homosexual man.”
Celebrities’ commitment to their sexualities has always been a big deal in the tabloids. These cultural icons always have something to protect: their masculinity, their sex appeal and their career reaching the largest possible demographic.
Ocean is no different in this sense, but in his all-caps prose block, he neither raised a rainbow flag nor threw up defenses against what was a risky move for an artist in the hyper-heterosexual world of R&B.
No, Ocean did not even use the word “gay.” Instead, he told it like it is.
It’s a story of heartbreak and loss, delivered with relatable pathos and without platitudes of homouniversality.
Several artists reached out to praise Ocean’s “brave” gesture, including groupmate Tyler, the Creator — leader of Odd Future, a controversial rap group with openly anti-gay lyrics. We wonder how much sacrifice went into taking that step against the grain.
In Ocean’s letter, he details his life with honesty that not only bespeaks heartbreak but the process of coming out.
We are inclined toward expression and emotion for our romances. We grieve for the things we cannot take back, but in that we are free. Ocean’s syntax is nothing but.
His mixtape “Channel Orange” overtly describes love with a male counterpart on a couple tracks, and on every song he emotes. He is tender about the unrequited “Bad Religion” of idolizing someone who can’t openly reciprocate.
This queer sensibility comes with the territory of queer songwriters but shies away from the trappings of the “gay singer” that so many queer artists fall into.
“Channel Orange” is a compilation worthy of exaltation beyond Ocean’s sexuality. Pouring his heart into his writing and his work only diversifies him as an artist and opens up a lesser-known avenue in R&B.
Upon coming out, Anderson Cooper spoke with profound authority: “The tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.”
Ocean is doing just that.
Perhaps one day coming out will not be such a hoopla. Perhaps one day the public will see a same-sex relationship as just a relationship. Until then, it’s important Frank Ocean isn’t telling just the same old stories.