Hip Hop and Homosexuality: Frank Ocean's Coming Out Worries Us

It's already been a big week for the gay community, but there's another name to add to this week's coming out list: hip-hop and R&B star Frank Ocean.

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It's already been a big week for the gay community, but there's another name to add to this week's coming out list: hip-hop and R&B star Frank Ocean. Ocean revealed he is either gay or bisexual in a note posted to his Tumblr late Tuesday evening. A screenshot of a TextEdit file called "thank you's" (it's pretty widely speculated the note will appear in the liner notes for Ocean's debut album, due out July 17), the note details Ocean's first crush on a member of the same sex, and how his family has helped him through it. The entire thing, in full:

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

Ocean is a member of Odd Future, a group that routinely faces criticism for their violent, graphic lyrics and repeated use of homophobic slurs. But, it should be noted, Ocean isn't the only out person in the group. Syd Da Kyd, the group's producer, is a lesbian.

Ocean is less than two weeks away from his debut album hitting store shelves. He made huge waves last year with his debut mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, but a lot of people were first introduced to him on Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne. Ocean's presence was felt on the very first track, thanks to his beautiful work on "No Church In The Wild." Ocean is on the precipice of super stardom, so for him to admit he's either gay or bi, especially as a member of a hip-hop community that still doesn't know how to deal with gay issues, is a big deal. Ocean is, by far, the most high profile out hip-hop artist ever.

Thankfully, Ocean's been welcomed with open arms from the hip-hop community. Elliot Wilson, a prominent member of the hip-hop media community, tweeted, "Salute to Frank Ocean." Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Records, wrote a short blog post to show Ocean his support. I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean.  "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, and because of that I decided to write this short statement of support for one of the greatest new artists we have," he writes.

Other bloggers took time out of their scheduled day off to show Ocean their support. Uproxx's Cajun Boy and Blackbook's Tyler Coates both wrote about Ocean's news while they were supposed to be sleeping in, or getting brunch. Coates applauded him for coming out as a hip-hop artist when so many others have remained closeted, and Cajun Boy praised Ocean for his bravery and said he's proud Ocean is a New Orleans native. Gawker's Louis Peitzman asked whether or not Ocean's coming out will hurt his career, or if it was the first big move in a more open hip-hop community.

Peitzman pointed to the experience of country singer Chely Wright, who came out as a lesbian and saw her album sales drop and certain venues refuse to book her. In hip-hop, even an allusion to homosexuality can end poorly. Rapper Brandon "Lil B" McCartney tried to name his album I'm Gay last year to show support for the LGBT community, but started receiving death threats.  "I got major love for the gay and lesbian community, and I just want to push less separation and that's why I'm doing it," he told MTV at the time. When he unveiled the album's artwork, though, the words "(I'm happy)" were added to the title. A small concession to some, but it spoke volumes about how homosexuality is poorly received within hip-hop. (It should be noted that Ocean invoked McCartney in a post immediately before his announcement.)

Hopefully, Ocean won't have any problems, and his debut album will sell the millions of copies people expect and think it deserves. As the New York Times' Jon Caramanica writes, "It shouldn’t be an issue, Mr. Ocean’s announcement about his sexual orientation. He knows from broken hearts. That’s enough. Let’s learn from him." Congratulations, Frank, and we wish you the best of luck.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.