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I am celebrating Frank Ocean

Timothy Kincaid

July 15th, 2012

I don’t know much about urban music. Sure I know Beyonce’s music and can probably sing along to an Usher song or two, but beyond that I’m at a loss.

However I have, in a small way, been paying attention the way in which the attitudes of American black youth about sexuality are reflected in music and writing and I believe that I have been detecting a significant change.

In the Pre-8 world it seemed to me that black males loudly and proudly trumpeted their homophobia and black women either made the mildest of protests or offered excuses. That is no longer the case.

In the past four years we have witnessed a number of highly respected and influential black men – politicians, writers, sports legends, musicians, spiritual leaders, and even the President- have expressed their support for gay equality. The most established symbols of masculinity have made it clear that they do not see gay people as weak or inferior or less a part of the authentic black experience.

And it has impacted the community.

In the past, any suggestion that a rap artist might be gay put him outside the mainstream. If not totally ostracized, he was relegated to a niche and ignored (women have fared better, but only if they stayed semi-closeted). But when Frank Ocean released a statement revealing that his first love had been another man, the response has been noticeably different.

Writing for The Root, Helena Andrews says

“I could never make him love me,” Ocean sings on “Bad Religion,” the song about feeling alone in a non-relationship that first sparked the questions about his sexuality. Funny, listening to the track, one can hardly distinguish the anguish from the issue, or vice versa. Is he upset that he fell in love with a man or that he fell in love with someone who won’t love him back?

In the end, none of it really matters when your eyes are closed, eavesdropping on emotions that could easily be your own. And therein lies the strength of Ocean’s Channel Orange: You can choose to forget who he’s singing to or choose to unravel every allusion and turn of phrase. Either way, it’s good music.

Perhaps it is that he is skilled and talented. Perhaps it is the stark honesty within the poetry of his lyrics. Perhaps it was just the right moment. But the urban music world has coalesced around Ocean in a nearly universally supportive way.

And for what may be the first time in that genre, Ocean may have benefitted from his sexual honesty. His album is selling very well.

This is encouraging and a blessing in so many ways. Obviously, as a confirmation of the polls that show a shift in support for marriage equality among African American voters, this bodes well for future marriage votes – particularly in Maryland this November.

But even more importantly, this new attitude holds promise for those most impacted by HIV, young gay black men. Perhaps the single greatest factor in avoiding seroconversion are the voices in our heads, our perceptions of our own worth, and our sense of belonging. And for many young black men, acceptance of their own sexuality as being of equal value to heterosexuality comes too late.

I may be reading too much into this moment. Maybe I too desperately want it to be true. But I have hope that things have changed and I am celebrating the change I see.

Comments

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tristram
July 15th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy – Thanks for this – both the insights you bring to the subject and the mere mention of Frank Ocean and his (I believe) courageous and momentous act. I only wish you had provided a direct link to Ocean’s letter itself. As I said in a comment to Jim’s initial BTB post about this event, the poetry and raw honesty of the letter floored me. The Daily Dish linked to two other excellent commentaries about that letter (from two people I’d never heard of, Jay Smooth and Dream Hampton)- see the url below. I really like your “contextual” commentary on this event, but also Jay Smooth’s ‘textual’ commentary and Dream Hampton’s synthesis of both.

http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/07/a-coming-out-narrative.html

Jess
July 15th, 2012 | LINK

Plus, the guys music is just good!

Lucrece
July 16th, 2012 | LINK

Jill Scott and Erykah Badu are still my favorites ;). I’m happy for this kid, but the performance I saw in Jimmy Fallon didn’t stand out to me.

MCB
July 16th, 2012 | LINK

I’m wincing at the euphemism of “urban.” Just say “hip-hop and R&B,” it’s more accurate.

Hunter
July 16th, 2012 | LINK

I suspect that this is part of a much broader trend, which itself marks a turning point in public attitudes toward homosexuality. Acceptance of GLBTs is permeating popular culture, and it doesn’t really surprise me that this has filtered into the black community, which is, after all, part of the world, although I don’t underestimate the courage involved in Ocean’s coming out — it’s still not a sure bet, by any means.

bruce
July 16th, 2012 | LINK

Why do you have to bring HIV into this? HIV is not something that should be automatically connected to men who engage in relations with men. Yet, Mr Kincaid, you are making it seem like it is connected. It seems rather homophobic of you to be saying this.

By the way, stop bringing gay politics into this. Frank Ocean has never said he is gay. You, Mr Kincaid, might like to imagine that he is but I can assure you that he isn’t. You seem to be in a rush to brand everything and everyone as “gay” in your ceaseless quest for validation.

adam
July 16th, 2012 | LINK

The music industry is extremely homophobic towards the concept of male-male sexuality in particular. Women are allowed to say they are bisexual and sing about kissing girls, and they land at no. 1 on the hit parade. No man would be allowed to sing a song called I Kissed A Guy, let alone get to no. 1 with it.

What it suggests is that the mainstream will embrace female-female sexuality (even if it’s fake) but not male-male sexuality. The mainstream still thinks that male-male sexuality is dangerous and should be marginalized. I refer to this as the the bisexual double standard because it manifests as an acceptance of female bisexuality but not male bisexuality in the mainstream.

You know, I honestly think women are to blame for this. Women exploit the double standard.

F Young
July 16th, 2012 | LINK

@bruce “Frank Ocean has never said he is gay. You, Mr Kincaid, might like to imagine that he is but I can assure you that he isn’t. You seem to be in a rush to brand everything and everyone as “gay” in your ceaseless quest for validation.”

Franck Ocean has never said that he is gay, nor that he isn’t, as far as I know.

However, by definition, a man who falls deeply in love with another man is bisexual at least, and very possibly homosexual.

How can you “assure” anyone that he is straight? You seem to be in a rush to brand him as straight, in your ceaseless quest for what?

tristram
July 16th, 2012 | LINK

@ fyoung and bruce – here is the link within the link that I posted earlier. I think Jay Smooth has it exactly right as to what FO said and did not say. It’s worth a listen –

http://vimeo.com/45338805

Hue-Man
July 16th, 2012 | LINK

I know we’re not supposed to talk about HIV but PBS Frontline this past week opened the door a bit on some of the pressures on individual members of the black LGBT community. It has received scant attention in the “gay press” (or maybe it’s the summer heat has affected my memory). http://video.pbs.org/video/2254967747/
(I’ll take a shot here at “reality” TV which has crowded out anything that deals seriously with communities, individuals, or systemic problems, except PBS.)

Frank Ocean may well have had to listen to similar homophobic pastors at the same time he was experiencing his “first love”. Adding his voice to the conversation may encourage more people to speak out in favor of the NAACP’s support of marriage equality. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/12/us-usa-marriage-naacp-idUSBRE86B19Z20120712

Snowman
July 16th, 2012 | LINK

I barely know who Frank Ocean is, but evidently, his music must be selling pretty well because when I logged into the iTunes store to download a movie the other day (having only seen the music front page for a minute or so) his music appeared to be a featured item.

It doesn’t get that way unless people are buying it as far as I know.

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