Frank Ocean’s Radically Humane Response to the Orlando Shootings

The R&B star, who has sung about loving a man, draws a line between seemingly very different interpretations of God.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

I keep reading the reactions on Tumblr to Frank Ocean’s new post responding to the Orlando shooting. Here’s what the singer wrote, in full:

I read in the paper that my brothers are being thrown from rooftops blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs for violating sharia law. I heard the crowds stone these fallen men if they move after they hit the ground. I heard it’s in the name of God. I heard my pastor speak for God too, quoting scripture from his book. Words like abomination popped off my skin like hot grease as he went on to describe a lake of fire that God wanted me in. I heard on the news that the aftermath of a hate crime left piles of bodies on a dance floor this month. I heard the gunman feigned dead among all the people he killed. I heard the news say he was one of us. I was six years old when I heard my dad call our transgender waitress a faggot as he dragged me out a neighborhood diner saying we wouldn’t be served because she was dirty. That was the last afternoon I saw my father and the first time I heard that word, I think, although it wouldn’t shock me if it wasn’t. Many hate us and wish we didn’t exist. Many are annoyed by our wanting to be married like everyone else or use the correct restroom like everyone else. Many don’t see anything wrong with passing down the same old values that send thousands of kids into suicidal depression each year. So we say pride and we express love for who and what we are. Because who else will in earnest? I daydream on the idea that maybe all this barbarism and all these transgressions against ourselves is an equal and opposite reaction to something better happening in this world, some great swelling wave of openness and wakefulness out here. Reality by comparison looks grey, as in neither black nor white but also bleak. We are all God’s children, I heard. I left my siblings out of it and spoke with my maker directly and I think he sounds a lot like myself. If I being myself were more awesome at being detached from my own story in a way I being myself never could be. I wanna know what others hear, I’m scared to know but I wanna know what everyone hears when they talk to God. Do the insane hear the voice distorted? Do the indoctrinated hear another voice entirely?

Around the release of his 2012 album Channel Orange, Ocean used Tumblr to post a similarly stream-of-consciousness note where he talked about a romance with a man. It was a culture-shaking event at the time—the world is still lacking for popular, young musicians who are LGBT, especially ones with connections to hip-hop—but Ocean has since maintained some mystery around his personal life, politics, and sexuality, saying only that he identifies with no label. That note began: “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.”

This new note also speaks to commonality, but commonality in hatred. It draws a line between the murderous homophobia practiced by ISIS and the Orlando gunman the group inspired, the homophobia of conservative Christianity and his own father, and the internal loathing of many queer people who have grown up hearing such messages. It suggests that God is on Ocean’s side, but it wonders whether everyone thinks the same thing about themselves. “Do the insane hear the voice distorted? Do the indoctrinated hear another voice entirely?” He’s getting to the heart of the spiritual question left in the wake of an event like Orlando, asking how God, which for so many people stands for love, could be used to justify death.

Amid the white noise of the “where’s your album” reactions to the note on Tumblr—Ocean has yet to release a follow-up to Channel Orange—are fans answering his final questions about talking to God. Some selections: “From my time as a Bible salesperson, the indoctrinated only hear themselves and who they are afraid to displease,” “We are all kids of God and we all try the best in our life,” “I found myself manipulating my ideologies and morals to fit His needs in the hopes for acceptance. Maybe I’m contradicting everything I’m supposed to believe in for a spot in paradise?” One user confessed to never having had gay friends because, they now realize, society has trained them to avoid gay people.

This idea about unified humanity and the many faces of God is one of the defining ideas of Ocean’s work. You can hear it on the Channel Ocean track “Bad Religion,” a song that seems incredibly relevant after the Orlando attack. In it, he sings about being in the backseat of a taxi with a driver saying “Allahu akbar” to him. Ocean’s facing an emotional crisis:

It's a bad religion
To be in love with someone
Who could never love you

He could be talking about unrequited love toward another person. Or he could be talking about the Christian god that he’s been taught will never accept him. In either case, it’s the prayers of a Muslim that help him in the moment.