Coming Out In Hip Hop: Frank Ocean’s Powerful Moment

Anderson Cooper's coming out got more attention, but Frank Ocean's heralds more social change

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Singer Frank Ocean performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., on April 13, 2012

Two famous men came out this week, but little about their moments was similar. Coming out remains a political gesture — an act of resistance in a world that still tries to attach shame to homosexuality. When gay bashing remains prevalent and politicians and voters work to constrain gay civil rights, one’s sexual orientation cannot be just someone’s “private business.” Knowing people are gay is a path to acceptance. Studies show that people are more likely to be at peace with homosexuality even if they only know homosexuals through parasocial relationships — the sort of one-sided relationships we have with celebrities. It becomes harder to hate gay people when you find them in your living room all the time via Modern Family or Will & Grace. So coming out remains important because the visibility and normality of prominent gay Americans makes life easier for less famous gay Americans, some of whom commit suicide because they fear the life ahead of them. “There is value in standing up and being counted,” as Anderson Cooper said in his coming-out statement on Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Cooper is one of cable TV’s best and most prominent broadcasters and also someone who has been rumored to be gay for a long time, but that widespread opinion is irrelevant because of the message that not standing up tacitly sends. As Cooper wrote in his statement, “I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something.” His silence could have suggested that he thought there’s some reason to be quiet about being gay. His speaking out makes it clear he knows there isn’t.

(MORE: Anderson Cooper Comes Out: How Other Celebrities Did It)

But for me and many others, the popular young singer Frank Ocean’s coming out this week on his Tumblr was even more powerful, courageous, seismic — and totally unexpected. Ocean sang prominently on Beyoncé’s album 4 and Jay-Z and Kanye’s album Watch the Throne, and now has a large segment of the music world waiting breathlessly for his debut solo album, Channel Orange. But his coming out is no marketing ploy or attempt to grab attention; it’s a spiritual and personal release. “I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore,” he wrote. “I feel like a free man.”

Ocean is an effortless heartthrob who sings in a hip-hop idiom. Hip-hop culture is notoriously homophobic, and asking the community to be nuanced on the issue of sexuality is like asking a middle-schooler to discuss metaphysics. Hip-hop is a parade of alpha men who use the dominance of women to enhance their manhood and seem to know nothing of the concept of anima, the feminized part of masculinity. Ocean’s crew, Odd Future, a collective of rappers in which he’s the only singer, is an oft brilliant bunch of boundary-shoving, gross-out-loving teenagers who are thoughtlessly homophobic one moment and the next, defiantly supportive of their DJ, Syd tha Kid, the lone woman in the crew and an out lesbian. Their leader and mastermind, Tyler, the Creator, was supportive of Ocean in his own way, tweeting, “My Big Brother Finally F—ing Did That. Proud of That [black man] Cause I Know That S— Is Difficult or Whatever. Anyway. Im a Toilet.”

(MORE: A Visual History of the Gay-Rights Movement)

One would guess that Ocean’s career is more at risk than Cooper’s, though most of the initial reaction suggests that both will emerge unscathed and perhaps more respected by the many people who understand their courage. But more interesting to me was their different conceptions of homosexuality unveiled in their discussions of it. Where Cooper talks about it as an almost clinical fact about himself — “I’m gay, always have been, always will be” — Ocean takes a much more nuanced view by describing a pivotal relationship, never attaching a label to himself. He writes of his first love affair, four years ago, in language that could easily fit a heterosexual relationship, normalizing gay love, revealing it as functioning just the same as straight love. Except that it often must remain in the shadows. But with each coming out, our society is changed a little. Gayness is made a little more acceptable. The shame is rejected a little more. The day when coming out is no longer politically necessary grows a little closer.

MORE: Will Black Voters Punish Obama for His Support of Gay Marriage

56 comments
informedunionvoter
informedunionvoter

"Proceed to slam my freedom of religion, now."  And so you did.

Michael Lombardi-Nash
Michael Lombardi-Nash

Yea, Glad to be gay, and glad they're gay and OUT! Marriage equality in the USA coming Soon!

informedunionvoter
informedunionvoter

Everybody has the right to be married now.  You weirdos simply want to change the meaniing of it to fit your perversion.

Bill Nedra Bill
Bill Nedra Bill

To me Frank Ocean is more noteworthy because he represents a culture that is highly homophobic and so for him to be a real man and declare his true identity is heroic! Frank doesn't need to say ''I am gay'' because that is just a term coined by man to identify another, because gay or straight, male or female, more importantly we are all humans. Also by not pinning a term on his identity helps to give insight into those same-gender lovers who existed centuries before - Jonathan loved David and made a covenant of love to each other - Still powerful even without the use of 'gay'.

f_galton
f_galton

None of this changes the fact that the Minister Prime can lay laws.

dewnada262
dewnada262

i dislike this article. vehemently. for starters, Frank Ocean didn't "come out".  nowhere in the letter did he identify as "queer", "gay", "bisexual", or "heterosexual".  to reduce sex-acts and affections to sexual identity/orientation is wrong.  Frank's love of a man doesn't make him any more "gay" than masturbation makes one an "autosexual".

additionally, this article speaks to the heart of privilege.   in what way(s) is  Touré  able to legitimately claim that, "one’s sexual orientation cannot be just someone’s 'private business.'"  given that homophobia and the limiting of civil rights, is an affront on all rights....why do we have the silent expectation that only LGBT people lives and loves can no longer be private?!  the notion that LGBT people are fit for public consumption is bigoted.  the notion that

non-oppressed bodies/non-oppressed parts of one's body, can/must/should

determine the actions and movements of oppressed bodies/oppressed parts

of another's body is bigoted. this line of thinking is similar to white apologists telling black

freedom workers to be patient and wait in Selma. Toure...sit down.

straight people have no legitimate claim on the bodies and lives of gay

people, period. why must our bodies be sacrificed to end the

discrimination that your bodies create. you come out. use your body.

end oppression.

finally, Touré  is trying to resurrect

Jungian psuedo-science. Gender doesn't exist in binaries...moreover,

gender doesn't determine sexual acts or attractions. the idea that

Ocean "came out" and that, that is related to his Anima (the unconscious

female parts of his mind/body) is offensive, homophobic, transphobic,

and reactionary. real men take dick.

In short, Touré just needs to sit down.

alex ricketts
alex ricketts

Good article, but the writer and his editor needs to proof read before publishing. In the first paragraph: "someone who has been rumored to gay for a long time." It should read "to be* gay for a long time." Such a mistake would not be tolerated in a college classroom. It's even more embarrassing for such a prestigious news source as Times to contain such an error.

Tazeypooh02
Tazeypooh02

Hey TIME. The "N" word and "black man" are not interchangeable! Tyler, the creator said "proud of that "N" word...and I couldn't help but notice you used "black man" in its place, instead of just censoring it like you did the other offensive words. F--ing and S--- were not changed to black man, why was the "N" word?

Sidney Baxter
Sidney Baxter

like Leonard responded I am shocked that a stay at home mom can earn $4499 in one month on the computer. did you see this web page N u t t y R i c h dot cöm

Sidney Baxter
Sidney Baxter

like Leonard responded I am shocked that a stay at home mom can earn $4499 in one month on the computer. did you see this web page N u t t y R i c h dot cöm

Talendria
Talendria

While I'm not a huge fan of the gay pride movement because it sometimes seems they go out of their way to be offensive and create conflict, I think gay people are an asset to the community.  After I learned that two of the parents at my son's school were gay, the school and in fact the whole town seemed a little less fascist to me.  I read a study last year that correlated tolerance of homosexuality to a lower suicide rate for all kids, even the heterosexual ones.  We all want to be accepted for who we are, and a tolerant community reduces the risk of anyone feeling marginalized.  Kudos to both of these men for being classy and truthful.

http://healthland.time.com/201... 

informedunionvoter
informedunionvoter

Why would anybody be proud of sticking their w  ank up some other dude's bu tt?

Klaine
Klaine

Same as guys who stick it in womens butts..Not everyone has anal sex. And being gay is not just about sex. Gay relationships amp; marriages are also about love and everything else hetero. TOURE, U also need to mention that gays can be fired in half the states for no reason. The hatred amp; bigotry of some people sometimes makes me so sad abt this country..esp how reps treat lgbt community...Even Cheney amp; Mrs B r for it..So many will be embarrassed to be on wrong side of history.

Never even heard of FOceAn

patinpa
patinpa

Actually, I thought Cooper coming out was redundant - he has always set off my gaydar.  What was the point? Ocean, on the other hand, didn't come out as 'gay', he came out as having had a loving relationship with another man.  For all we know, he's bi or ambi or whatever.  The big deal with Ocean's letter is that he is speaking from a misogynistic, homophobic, hate lovin' bunch of double dutchers. If their lyrics start spreading the love, then I'll really be impressed.

Mike Hansen
Mike Hansen

Bug Chasing, Gift Giving, pedophile homosexuals being championed once again.. CNN, The Sandusky paper of Record.  

Klaine
Klaine

Ignorant idiot.

Bigger impact if Shep Smith of Fox would finally come out. The other networks all have out reporters n anchors. Fox viewers need to know a gay person they admire. GMA RobinRoberts is beloved + would also have huge impact. I only hope AC isnt in more danger when he travels to some of these countries where gays r executed

protank
protank

LOL, CNN still raving over qweer Cooper, Its sickening, Deviant piece of sh!t. What makes you faggies think you have to tell evreyone that you are qweer? You are a stain on the natural order of life, Do the rest of us a favor and 'off' yourself, You will always be hated by mainstream humanity.

Klaine
Klaine

Jeez ur the stain. Heteros tell every day with rings, wives, family pictures, talking @ girls they banged over the weekend. Hard to believe so much hate amp; ignorance still out there...but many still wish we had segragation amp; delegitimize POTUS cuz hes biracial...Parents should be ashamed of teaching bigotry ....teat people like youd want to be treated

unreligious
unreligious

Why do you feel that your views represent those of mainstream humanity?  Did it ever occur to you that most people are not like you and are not full of hate and disdain for gay people?

informedunionvoter
informedunionvoter

Why do you make crap up?  We hate the filthy act not the people.  And yes, I agree with another person up the thread who asked why do freaks like you keep insisting on prancing around and telling everyone what your sexual behavior is?  STFU about it already.

2of6
2of6

Powerful response mam. Thanks for proving my point. 

unreligious
unreligious

Why do straight people shove there sexuality in peoples faces?  If it's O.K. for straight to do then it O.K. for gays to do.  Why do you think anyone cares whether you like it or not. People have the right to live their lives the way the want you don't like it tough luck. Further more don't lie and claim I'm making things up if you did not hate gay people you would not be calling them freaks. Nor is there anything that gay people do sexually that straight people do not also do.

2of6
2of6

Ok, you "**AM**" woman, I hear you roar. My bad for taking your comment as coming from a male rather than a female. But listen to yourself; you call me "derp", you wave scriptural lore at me, you make fiat pronouncements, and then change the subject by inviting me to "slam your freedom of religion." You also ignore my question, even tho I ignorantly used the wrong gender. You could still answer the question: how many men have you "dirtied" yourself with? 

And here's where I see the difference between you and your side, and me and my side. I calmly ask relevant questions, give unemotionally charged answers, present logical reasoning to the issue, while from you, I get name calling, belittling, bible waving, fiat pronunciations, changing the subject, and ignore answering the questions that are brought up. Please take a good look at yourself and what you believe and why. Learn how to defend and express yourself intelligently. 

informedunionvoter
informedunionvoter

I **AM** a woman, derp!   Woman was made for man from man.  Jesus said so.  I believe He knows what He made.  That is the final word.  Proceed to slam my freedom of religion,now.

2of6
2of6

There's nothing "filthy" about two people loving each other, or acting on that love. How many women were you "filthy" with? Was that filthy? Did you love any of them? 

Roy Pennell
Roy Pennell

Anderson Cooper $235,000 income

Income tax paid $65,000.00

Enough to keep you welfare ass going.

bemd
bemd

wow....you're an idiot.

Mr_Styx
Mr_Styx

So, gay sex good, foot fetish still creepy? That would be interesting parade wouldn't it?

6Zincstop9
6Zincstop9

I read Franks letter about his self discovery yesterday. Google it and see if reading it affects you, as it did me.

Quite a man… sensitive, deep and not afraid anymore.

David
David

Sorry but from the perspective a gay man I  have to disagree with this article and argue that these men have done absolutely nothing to revolutionize society. Simply coming out doesn't change the world. The people who revolutionized society are men like RuPaul who fought to build his career as the first drag superstar. Also men like Harvey Milk who got assasinated for being the first openly gay politician. Cazwell is a gay hip hop artist who has been around since 2000 but hasn't seen much success in the mainstream because of the LGBT themes in his music. Sure it took bravery for Frank Ocean to come out and I admire him for that, but this is 2012, an era where homosexuality just isn't as tabboo as it was a decade ago. The people we should be admiring are those suffered through the hate at the expense of their careers rather than those who remained in the closet until it was safe to come out.

informedunionvoter
informedunionvoter

Suffered!  Give me a fukin break!  You people dare to compare this to civil rights movements of blacks and women!  What a laugh!  Black don't wash off and women are born that way. Gay is behavior.  what a joke.

s_c_k
s_c_k

Look at this way: If gay people chose to be gay why would they "choose" to endure such hate from their fellow humans? This is not a behavior anyone would willfully accept because there is stigma and hate attached to it. Why would they choose to be beaten physically and verbally? I know people who hate themselves for what they feel. However, they cannot hide their true feelings. People like you are the true deviants. Only God can judge us and I'm sure he will judge you for being hateful and judgemental of others.

s_c_k
s_c_k

Look at it this way: If gay people chose to be gay why in the world would they choose to endure such hate from their fellow humans? Why would they choose to be beaten physically and verbally? I know people who hate themselves because of what they feel but they cannot help their true feelings. People like you are the true deviants. God will judge you for being hateful and judgmental of others. Only God can judge us. Spread love instead of hate.

Talendria
Talendria

I love RuPaul, but I wouldn't exactly say it's safe to come out of the closet.  I've heard homophobic comments from pre-pubescent kids at school.  Many of them probably don't know exactly what it means to be gay, but they know they're supposed to ridicule it.  One of the guys in my online gaming guild recently came out to me, and I wasn't quite sure what to say.  It made me sad that he felt like he had to hide his personality or ask for my permission to be himself.  Anyone who stands up for tolerance is a hero in my book.

Max Schwartz
Max Schwartz

I think saying 'absolutely  nothing' is a little strong. You're right that both Cooper and Ocean are benefiting from a lot of hard work, and blood, sweat and tears shed by their predecessors, but to say they've done absolutely nothing trivializes the fact that the very first comment on this story is a homophobic one. It trivializes how sad and hurt I felt when I saw how hateful the reaction was to a rainbow Oreo cookie just last week! There is still work left to do. I agree that we need to give credit where it is due to folks that have made progress in civil rights and cultural acceptance. I also think that being the first openly gay journalist is something. I think that coming out in mainstream hip hop is something. And I think as we approach a time when the goal is not just tacit and partial acceptance of the fact that homosexual americans shouldn't have to hide who they are from the world, but to create an atmosphere of love and understanding it's important that people from all ages, races, and walks of life be able to connect homosexuality with a person that serves as a personal source of admiration. If celebrities can do anything productive outside of their art or specialty I think that's it. A young hip-hop fan in Oklahoma city may not know who Harvey Milk is, or feel that RuPaul is relevant to him in any way. But maybe if Odd Future can embrace and love their gay buddy, he knows that his friends can too. 

David
David

I totally agree with you. Any small step is progress. Like you said for certain individuals hip hop artists might be the only people they find admirable, so I was wrong to say "absolutely nothing". Hopefully we see this trend continue elsewhere like the NFL where we have yet to see openly gay participants.

Alexis
Alexis

Very nice article. I do agree that Ocean's coming out is more significant than Cooper's, not only because of his role in society as a black man and hip-hop artist, but also because his coming out represents a more complex notion of sexuality other than just gay or straight. He didn't necessarily come out as anything -- just as a man who had been in a relationship with another man. I hope steps like these that avoid narrow definitions of sexuality can eventually nudge society to realize that sexuality isn't always as black and white as we think. 

protank
protank

spoken like a true closet qweer

Lee Gunn
Lee Gunn

@protank:disqus ....people in the closet tend to not speak openly about supporting gays.... Protank, the ones putting labels and calling people out about being gay are usually the closted ones. Such as yourself. Although in your case, instead of coming out, I hope you hang yourself :)

yvo84
yvo84

@protank , that's really rude.

Alexis
Alexis

Close. Not in the closet. Better than being a homophobe, I'd say. I'm much prouder to love than to hate.

bemd
bemd

hmmmm....how did you escape extinction with the other dinosaurs?