By Gil Kaufman
Frank Ocean used his Tumblr account to discuss his sexuality with fans this week, opening up about a previous relationship with a man. And while the decision certainly couldn’t have been an easy one to make, the talented singer/songwriter has supporters in his corner. His Odd Future cohort Tyler, The Creator admits that he’s proud of Ocean, while Russell Simmons contends that it’s a defining moment for hip-hop.
One of the first to back Ocean up was Odd Future major domo Tyler, the Creator, who offered support in his own unique, irreverent way. “My big brother finally f—ing did that,” tweeted Tyler on Wednesday. “Proud of that n—a cause I know that sh– is difficult or whatever. Anyway. I’m a toilet.”
Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons also hailed the brave action by Ocean to discuss his same-sex first love in light of the history of latent homophobia in hip-hop. In a post entitled “The Courage of Frank Ocean Just Changed the Game!” Simmons wrote, “Today 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? I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean. Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These types of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do.”
Calling Ocean’s talent’s “undeniable” and “enormous” and his bravery “incredible,” Simmons hoped that the singer’s actions will, “uplift our consciousness and allow us to become better people. Every single one of us is born with peace and tranquility in our heart. Frank just found his.” Ocean’s mother, Katonya Breaux Riley, tweeted her pride in her “brave and honest” son, writing, “I wish more people in the world could be brave enough to be who they really are … Thank you to all who have shown love and support. My son is the most incredible human I know. Honest, true and loving. We appreciate you!” She also re-tweeted a note from Solange Knowles, who said, “I salute you, brave soul. Independence day.”
In his Tumblr essay, Ocean opened up about his first love, a young man he spent a handful of summers with beginning at age 19.
“Whoever you are, wherever you are … I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike,” he began. “Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, paid attention to.” The lengthy letter, titled “thank you’s,” details a relationship Ocean had with a man, who it turns out had a girlfriend just as Frank had had, and the tumultuous emotions that followed. “He wouldn’t tell me the truth about his feelings for me for another 3 years,” Ocean continues before adding, “I couldn’t imagine keeping up my life without him.”
Because the emotive Ocean only sang overtly about heterosexual relationships, his sexuality had never come into question, until earlier this week when rumors about his possible bisexuality began to circulate after a hip-hop site referenced lyrics from Ocean’s upcoming album, Channel Orange.
Then, a BBC 1 Xtra writer posted an early review of the album on her personal blog, noting that on the songs “Bad Religion,” “Pink Matter” and “Forrest Gump,” the singer used pronouns like “him” instead of “her.”
The Los Angeles Times posted a story speculating about whether Ocean’s honesty about his sexuality could push the musical boundaries of hip-hop on the eve of the release of his major-label debut.
“The straightforward letter … is undoubtedly the glass ceiling moment for music,” writer Gerrick D. Kennedy predicted. “Especially black music, which has long been in desperate need of a voice like Ocean’s to break the layers of homophobia. There are plenty of reasons this moment has so much weight. Too many for any single article to explore … Ocean has never talked at length about his personal life, leaving his music and its often-complex narratives to drive the conversation. But in a culture where the gossip increasingly and frustratingly outweighs the music, Ocean’s casual and candid approach to addressing his personal life, and revealing his personal truth of having loved a man, will be seen as groundbreaking.”
On the heels of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s coming out of the closet, Kennedy noted that Ocean’s reveal was not done in a magazine cover story, through anonymous sources or with a public relations-orchestrated push. In fact, his letter never once uses the terms “gay” or “bisexual.”
“Ocean told his story on his terms and in his own words, something virtually unheard of in hip-hop and R&B — genres he has already pushed forward artistically with his work, and could push further.”