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How Frank Ocean's Same-Sex Love Revelation Liberates Us All

The popular singer's admission that he first fell in love with a man counters America's long history of homophobia and oppression

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As a heterosexual Black man, I overstand every part of this, as we say in the ‘hood. Many of us feel that we are already constantly under siege, by the powers that be that we cannot quite pinpoint (hence we say “the man” or “the White man”); by the local police; by the failing public school system; by the criminal justice system and the prison-industrial complex that dominates so many of our lives; by our families; by the employment and life opportunities that simply do not exist for most of us; by the males around us who seem to police any and all our actions as men, as boys. Thus the last thing you want to be called is a name that is associated with being gay, to be told to “man up,” as if who you are simply is of no value otherwise. And if your definition of manhood is not rooted in conquering and dominating women, being violent to self and others in multiple ways, and if it is not about being sexually powerful in a straight and heterosexual sense, then, according to our logic, you are not a man. Not a real man.

So for Frank Ocean, with his brand-name recognition, to come out and say in that open letter that at age 19 he fell in love with another male, also 19, is really remarkable to me, and not something I thought would happen from someone on his level. And to do it so matter-of-factly, with that kind of emotion, and with detailed attention to what love means to him, is beyond fearless. It not only frees up Frank Ocean to be who he is, on his terms, but it frees up, indirectly, all the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered young people (and many older ones, too) to be who they are, without shame or apology. And perhaps it will even free up some of us straight dudes to comprehend, at long last, that there is nothing wrong with expressing who we are fully.

For sure, Frank Ocean’s declaration reminds me of another genius writer of another era, by the name of James Baldwin. Both Black males, both same-gender-loving Black males, both doggedly determined to be in and speak of their America, on their terms, through the lens of their eyes, their experiences, their souls. When I first heard Frank Ocean sing the deeply pensive hook to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s hauntingly beautiful track “Made in America,” I certainly thought of how Jimmy Baldwin sang of his America in “The Fire This Time,” even as Baldwin dodged the outrageous fortune of racism, classism, and homophobia in his lifetime. We in America will have fallen backwards in time, from the liberation of Frank Ocean to the agony and angst James Baldwin had to carry like a heavy load, if Ocean is dissed and discarded in the manner Baldwin often was. And we will undermine what we say about our loving God, our spiritual and religious love, and human and civil rights, if Frank Ocean is not allowed to be a free man, and however he chooses to define that term man.

Finally, it is my hope that in this year of President Barack Obama becoming the first American president ever to bravely support gay marriage, in spite of the intense scrutiny from many circles, that Frank Ocean’s very simple gesture, openly applauded by pop culture royalty like Russell Simmons, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé, is the beginning of a much needed conversation, in entertainment, in hip-hop, in America, on this planet, about the humanity and equality of us all, no matter who we are, no matter where we come from, and no matter who we choose to love.

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