The proverbial closet doors have been swinging open with abandon in the entertainment world these last couple of months. From “How I Met Your Mother”‘s Jim Parsons to news personality Anderson Cooper, more and more entertainment figures are making public declarations in regards to be sexuality. In a sign of hope for our generation, more and more people are greeting the news with a collective shrug. As it should be. Gone are the days (I hope) when the sexuality of an artist has a bearing on whether their talent is supported.
The latest coming out (of sorts) to make news, however, has turned into a watershed moment for an entire genre. Frank Ocean, successful songwriter (for the likes of Justin Bieber,) member of the controversial Odd Future collective, and singer/songwriter in his own right, recently published an open letter on his Tumblr site, in which he revealed that he had fallen in love with a man several years ago, at the age of 19. Lyrics on his upcoming debut (commercially released) album, Channel Orange, also make reference to bisexuality.
Frank is the first major hip-hop or R&B star to willingly reveal his sexuality in many years. He is certainly the most high-profile black celebrity to come out, ever. While artists like Meshell Ndegeocello and Rahsaan Patterson (more on him in a bit) are also “out”, they don’t reach as young an audience as Frank, and their work (and thus, their audience) is a bit left of mainstream. Although Frank’s not a rapper, he is a major figure in the hip-hop community (that’s his voice you hear all over Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch The Throne) and the announcement opens the door for acceptance in a largely homophobic section of the musical world. You listened to an Eminem album lately? In hip-hop (and in large sections of the African-American community) homosexuality or bisexuality is seen as shameful. Whether due to Biblical teachings or the hyper-masculinity that is a hallmark of Black culture, to be open about having had relationships with someone of the same sex (if you’re a man) automatically makes you “soft” or a sissy, or not as much of a man. You can’t be legit if you’re gay. Frank’s announcement (as well as comments by the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West) should go a long way towards kicking those doors down.
And it’s about time. Obviously, this announcement resonates with me because I am a gay black man that considers himself part of the hip-hop community and has largely felt excluded or shunned by his people (that actually has much less to do with my sexuality than just being seen as “different” but that’s another article.) I can almost guarantee you that a good chunk of the folks who do this kind of ostracizing are dealing with the same struggle themselves. While Cooper’s or Parsons’ announcements should be sort of shrugged off (in large part because neither’s coming out is a big surprise,) Ocean’s reveal is a watershed cultural moment that will hopefully lead to a day when similar announcements are equally shrugged off.
Here’s some music for ya…the aforementioned Rahsaan Patterson giving props to Mr. Ocean.