And exemplifies the communityâ€™s rejection ofÂ a â€œgay identityâ€
R&B and Hip-Hop songwriter Frank Ocean has come out. Although it will be hotly contested in African American circles, some say Ocean is the first major artist to come out in both industries
For some time there has been rumors about Oceanâ€™s down low trysts. But in Oceanâ€™s new album Channel Orange, to be released July 17, a journalist attending the listening party for the album noted that several of the songs were not heterosexual in messaging but rather they were boldly â€œaddressed to a male love object.â€
â€œWhen I think about the term â€˜running away,â€™ probably itâ€™s not the right one,â€Â Ocean told New York Times reporter Jon Caramanica. â€œItâ€™s more I decided to do something different, so that I might have a different outlook.â€ Ocean added, â€œWhen theyâ€™re emotional things you canâ€™t run away from them anyway.â€
One of the things Ocean has now stopped running away from when publicly confronted about isÂ his sexuality. The 24-year-old New Orleans native posted last week on both Twitter and Tumblr that he had a same-gender loving relationship when he was 19.
â€œ4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide….
Sleep I would often share with him…. There was no escaping.Â No negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love.â€
Ocean concludes the post: â€œI donâ€™t have any secrets I need to keep anymore. … I feel like a free man..â€
While homophobia is evident in Hip-Hop, so, too, in R&B. As a rising star in both genres Ocean not stating whether heÂ is â€œbisexualâ€ or â€œgayâ€ has frustrated many in the LGBTQ community, but it might speak to his need to stay afloat professional.
â€œAt Ebony.com, Jamilah Lemieux noted that while few urban artists openly embrace homosexuality, many are in â€œthe closet with the glass door,â€ living a life they donâ€™t reveal in their music. â€œI hope that Frank Ocean doesnâ€™t become â€˜the gay singer,â€™ for it would be criminally unfair for him to wear that label as so many of his peers are sleeping with and loving same gendered persons, while selling images of hyper-heterosexuality.â€
But that â€œLGBTQâ€ label is what many African American artists have doggedly denounced in spite of being caught in an indisputable same- gender loverâ€™s embrace.
Letâ€™s not forget our down-to-earth Jersey girl Dana Owens a.k.a reigning Hip-hopâ€™s Queen Latifah.
The African American celebrity gossip, news, popular culture and entertainment blog Bossip.com outed Latifah in September 2010 with photos of Latifah and gal pal and â€œpersonal trainerâ€ Jeanette Jenkins in a tender embrace that was not intended for public viewing. When photos from R&B soul diva Alicia Keysâ€™ nuptials of Queen Latifah and Jenkins intimately embraced aboard a private yacht in France went viral on the Internet the publicâ€™s long awaited â€œGotchaâ€ moment was revealed.
â€œMy private life is my private life. Whomever I might be with, I donâ€™t feel the need to share it. I donâ€™t think I ever will, â€œ Queen Latifah said in a November 2007 interview with People magazine, refuting rumors that sheâ€™s a lesbian.
Ann Powers in her article A Close Look At Frank Oceanâ€™s Coming Out Letter for NPR opines differently why artists might not self-identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ):
â€œThere is another reason why Ocean canâ€™t be saddled with an easy label, and it points to an interesting aspect of his newly minted self-conception. In his note, instead of embracing an identity, Ocean shared a set of memories and explored complex feelings, just as he does in his songs. Unlike the standard coming out gestureâ€”newsman Anderson Cooperâ€™s public email to his friend Andrew Sullivan, â€œThe fact is, Iâ€™m gayâ€â€”Oceanâ€™s presented sexuality as something that arises within particular circumstances, defined by shifting desire and individual encounters rather than solidifying as an identity. In the age-old debate about whether sexuality emerges as something we are or through something we want or do, Ocean carefully rested on the side of feeling and deed.â€
Although Ocean appears â€œlabel-lessâ€ in not identifying as either â€œbisexualâ€ or â€œgayâ€ Cleo Manago, founder of Black Menâ€™s Xchange (BMX), states in this article Can People Let Frank Ocean Define His Own Sexuality a possible reason why:
â€œWhat weâ€™ve witnessed is a profound chauvinism on the part of gay-identified individuals who cannot conceive of any identity outside of the limiting gay/straight binary. And in the process, they continue to obscure the rarely acknowledged reality that many Black men who love men are not comfortable with the LGBT or gay identity.â€
The termsÂ â€œLGBT,â€ â€œqueerâ€ and â€œgayâ€ are not descriptors Manago and his organization would use to depict themselves. They would be â€œsame-gender-lovingâ€ because terms like â€œgayâ€ and â€œqueerâ€ uphold a white queer hegemony that Manago and many in the African-American LGBTQ community denounce. As a matter-of-fact, he is credited with coining the terms â€œmen who have sex with menâ€ (MSM) and â€œsame-gender-lovingâ€ (SGL)
With a president who now embraces same-sex marriage and in this era of celebrated LGBTQ artists like Ellen DeGeneres and Wanda Sykes the fluidity of sexuality is becoming more accepted, even in certain artist enclaves of the African American community.
When Ocean made public his announcement power couple Beyonce and Jay-Z expressed their support. And Russell Simmons, co-founder of the hip-hop label â€œDef Jamâ€ wrote a congratulatory article The Courage of Frank Ocean Just Changed the Game! in Global Grind stating â€œToday is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we? […] Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear.â€
Ocean has certainly changed the game for both hip-hop and R&BÂ LGBTQ artists, but he sums up this issue best when he posted on his Tumblr page, â€œMy hope is that the babies born these days will inherit less of the (expletive) than we did.â€