Frank Ocean and the Act of Courage
by: Diego Martínez
July 7, 2012
Coming out is as transcendental as learning how to ride the bike or moving outside the family household for the first time. It’s a risk, it’s a challenge, it’s a deeply personal decision that has far-reaching implications at all levels. Though the strength and determination come with a set of massive rewards, the process also involves a serious amount of pressure. An internal struggle between living up to preconcieved expectations and remaining in the shadows of uncertainty without any peace of mind whatsoever.
For public figures in the fields of television, film and music, that pressure is considerably high to the point of building up an unrealistic front to millions of adoring followers and peers. Frank Ocean knows about such issues too well. The 24 year-old singer and songwriter is an active member of Odd Future, an alternative hip-hop collective led by producer and rapper Tyler, The Creator, notorious for his frequent use of homophobic slurs, graphic depictions of violence against women and misogyny. Since early 2011, Ocean has been breaking out on his own with a critically-acclaimed mixtape (Nostalgia, Ultra) collaborations and tours across the US, catching the eye of the industry’s biggest names thanks to his smart, subtle approach and his lyrics on relationships, reflection and social commentary.
On the eve of the upcoming release of his debut full-length album Channel Orange, Ocean sat down on his computer, opened Tumblr and penned an extensive letter to address rumours surrounding his sexual lifestyle. The rest, according to empresario Russell Simmons on a short congratulatory article in Global Grind, marks a big day for Hip-Hop. He openly revealed about falling in love with a 19 year-old man in the summer of 2007, when the soon-to-be R&B star was also 19. Ocean wrote:
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 changed my life.
He later thanked the man for his influence and mantained his optimism on future:
I don’t know what happens now, and that’s alrite. I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore…I feel like a free man. If I listen closely, I can hear the sky falling too.
The response was inmediate and strong. Odd Future’s head honcho Tyler, The Created applauded his singing partner for the letter by saying: “My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That. Proud Of That Nigga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult. Or Whatever.” Ocean’s mother Katonya Breaux Riley also took to social media to commend Frank’s courage and bravery. Even respected writers such as Dream Hampton and Terrance Dean had their say on the singer’s choice to leave every stone unturned and sincerly connect with his audience.
If there is one thing that everybody coincides regarding Frank Ocean’s statement, it’s that Hip-Hop will be forced to peel off its layers of homophobia once and for all. Singers in the R&B/Rap scene, who championed a disrespectful message against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, are finally going to have to recognize. It should be an exercise on tolerance, but it also should mean a shining light on young people who still feel tucked away in the closet and are bound to find a source of inspiration in the man’s take on love and new-found identity. It is still unknown whether the entire Hip-Hop world will embrace him after his endearing gesture, but the positive reactions suggest a powerful boost on his rising career.
As far as Ocean is concerned, he is indeed just getting started and the title of his Pharrell-produced new song, released in the aftermath of his Tumblr revelation, says it all: “Sweet LIFE.” After setting himself free from all personal obscurity, he’s bound to live a sweet life for long.