Who Wants to Skinny-Dip in Mister Frank’s Ocean?

Posted: July 10, 2012 in commentary, music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

OCEAN water has remarkably uniform chemical composition despite all of the various elements and creatures that reside within it. Even when controlled and uncontrolled substances are dumped into its waters, it pH level remains fairly neutral – being neither wholly basic nor acidic. So let us all – for a moment – skinny dip in the “odd waters” of Mister Frank’s OCEAN!

On Tuesday, July 3, 2012, Frank Ocean revealed via Tumblr that he was bisexual. (Lock-and-step: favorable news headlines were penned; fellow entertainers fawned over the announcement; and the singer-songwriters’ Twitter following increased substantially.) Without trivializing “the matter,” kudos is deserved to Frank Ocean for being open and honest about the man he claims himself to be. Shame on the media for treating his disclosure as some grand circus exhibition! And shame on America for failing to recall the pioneering life and works of James Baldwin – who traversed these waters decades earlier! (*sigh*) Without harping too long on shame, however, let us focus on the far more important issues – floating unnoticed, yet festering unequivocally – in Mister Frank’s OCEAN.

What entertainers say has become infinitely more important and more of a story than what they actually do. In the midst of all of this superficial, celebratory saluting, the spotlight that has been placed upon Frank Ocean’s sexuality would be better served channeling energies toward issues that affect large swaths of LGBT youth: bullyinghomelessness, and suicide. If young men and women weren’t demonized as social pariahs in grade school or within their family’s household, then the “coming out” of grown men and women would start earlier, be easier, and filled with less strife. LGBT youth often have few safe havens – or the social and economic privileges of Frank Ocean –  to “be fearless” and “be honest” and “be brave.” Encouragement from GLAAD is a start, but it definitely is not enough; and unfortunately, tolerance alone does not change a society’s beliefs or eradicate oppression.

The implications of homophobia have never been discussed in a national dialogue. The title of MTV’s 7/8/2012 article – How Does Frank Ocean’s Sexuality Affect Odd Future? – is beyond ridiculous! For starters, one’s sexuality is one’s own sexuality. It is not a plague, or a sickness, that is transferred from one human being to another. Then, again, does the presence of “homosexuals” evoke “symptoms” – and changes – in the people that surround them? Perhaps. According to Lil’ Scrappy, “closeted” men – men who are or once were like Frank Ocean – are simply “a doorway to AIDS, scientifically.” He applauds “coming out,” of course, so that the disease can no longer be spread to straight people. (Seriously.)

Frank Ocean’s mother – Katonya Riley – is proud of her son, but what about his father? Riley posted a message on Twitter to show her support; and Ocean had noted previously that his “absent father” has been cyberstalking him. To be certain: there are few bonds stronger than a mother’s love. Her unconditional love is heart-warming. Even so, in this paternalistic American culture, it would be quite interesting to unearth the thoughts of his father. His opinion wouldn’t change Frank’s admission of bisexuality, but it would add tremendous depth to the larger conversation about fatherhood, black manhood, and alternative masculinities.

Although bisexuality is not the same as homosexuality, the two are often lumped together and treated with similar malice. Considering Frank’s professional background, it is quite shocking that so many journalists and media outlets have given Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All – and its leader, Tyler, the Creator – a pass for their previous use of homophobic lyrics in spite of prior knowledge about their fellow member’s sexual orientation. Fervent tosses of the words “faggot,” “gay” and “sus” are apparently OK – even to Mister Ocean. Then again, this is the same nonsensical rational that people give misogynists rappers for the use of the word “bitch” and misguided people of color use for “nigger.” The times are definitely changing, so we might as well call our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters every dirty word in the book. It’s all love, right? Of course not! Suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth is comparatively higher than among the general population.

One day, when everyone stops skinny-dipping in Mister Frank’s OCEAN, perhaps they will examine and survey James Baldwin’s texts, or ponder the nuances of the ardent, quiet, behind-the-scenes support of Jay-Z revolving the publication of dream hampton’s open letter on the rap mogul’s Life + Times blog.

SUGGESTED READING

“Frank Ocean Say He Gay” by Kevin Powell [originally posted on his personal blog, and published later on Huffington Post]

“Creating His Own Gravity” by Jon Caramanica [New York Times]

“How Will Frank Ocean Change Our Conversation About Coming Out?” [reader forum on ColorLines]

RECOMMENDED LINKS

[bullying] http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/lgbt/index.html

[homelessness] http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/lgbtq.html

[suicide] http://www.thetrevorproject.org/organization

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Comments
  1. Thanks for saying this: “What entertainers say has become infinitely more important and more of a story than what they actually do. In the midst of all of this superficial, celebratory saluting, the spotlight that has been placed upon Frank… Ocean’s sexuality would be better served channeling energies toward issues that affect large swaths of LGBT youth: bullying, homelessness, and suicide. If young men and women weren’t demonized as social pariahs in grade school or within their family’s household, then the “coming out” of grown men and women would start earlier, be easier, and filled with less strife. LGBT youth often have few safe havens – or the social and economic privileges of Frank Ocean – to “be fearless” and “be honest” and “be brave.” Encouragement from GLAAD is a start, but it definitely is not enough; and unfortunately, tolerance alone does not change a society’s beliefs or eradicate oppression.” Frank’s “coming out” is great for him. More power to him and hope he sells a shitload of records. But I’ve just been woefully disappointed with the hollow conversations the announcement has sparked. In some of these coversations, there seems to be this wishful thinking that just because he switches the pronouns in his love songs that deep and complex issues with “Black” and “gay” will somehow melt away or lessen. All we need is yet another performer to be a beacon. I have a huge problem with that mode of thinking, that idol worship that far too many hurt and lonely people (gay and straight) fall into. In the end, we all have to define and refine love and sexuality for ourselves.

  2. I’ve found it pretty interesting that my most of my straight female friends read ‘bisexual’ in Frank’s letter, most, if not all my straight male friends read ‘gay’ in the same letter, Why dont straight men take bisexuality seriously?

  3. Clayton,

    this is an excellent article.

    I’ve been following Frank Ocean ever since I heard “Nostalgia/Ultra”. It was a breath of fresh air to our music. It reminded me or Stevie or Marvin Gaye. From then, I’ve supported him, and the movement he represented of stop bulls*tting on good music.

    When he first announced his first offical album, he had already won in my eyes. I knew it would be a commercial success. (Nostalgia/Ulta recieved high reviews from every critic/site in the game). When he announced his coming out or whatever we call it, I felt it was out of publicity. I’m not saying it wasn’t geniune, because I know it is. It was like “I made my announcement, oh and I DO have an album coming out next week..” He got play on every site/network/interview/talk show ect…..

    The kid makes dope music. I can’t hide that. The album is gorgeous. Support good music.

    Harvey Cummings

  4. Part of me feels overwhelmed by the amount of dialogue surrounding this topic — because sexual orientation is such a personal matter. I really hope his music doesn’t become entirely overshadowed by the announcement.

  5. Great read! It is time for us to address the real issues. I am glad FO stepped up; this will hopefully help others feel confident in doing the same. BUT, we need to address the real issues within our community. It’s high time we talk about the prejudice, isolation and encouraged ignorance towards homosexuality and alternative lifestyles. It’s great whenever anyone comes out — but how do we move our culture forward and become more tolerant and accepting?

    CHEY BELL

  6. kinkythought says:

    Great perspective. I also commend FO for “coming out,” not because it’s anyone’s business, but because as an entertainer, if he wants to be able to speak (and sing) openly about his experiences, pronouns and all, that’s a good thing.

    I’ve long said that I really wish a really popular black male entertainer would come out, in order to force this dialogue to happen. Although much of it probably has been hollow, the conversations are being had where they previously weren’t. The fact is that most of “us” traditionally ignore and sidestep homosexuality and bisexuality until it’s no longer possible to do so… even when you’d *think* it’s impossible to do so. Therefore the issues are largely out of sight and out of mind. But a teenage girl can hear her mom humming Thinkin’ Bout You in the car and casually mention that he’s bi. What follows is a dialogue that wasn’t there before. That mom thought about a person, an issue, a set of realities that she otherwise wouldn’t have. I believe there’s an immense value in that.

    The opening of the conversational door is about all anyone’s admissions of sexuality are ever going to do… and all they ever should do. The choice to talk about it is personal and often calculated, and that’s okay. On the same note of personal choices, that’s where I’m putting FO’s relationship with the rest of Odd Future and the terms they choose to use with each other… it’s gonna piss someone off, but I’m a fan of in-group/out-group behavior. Whatever’s comfortable for you within your clique is your business (coming from a fervent sprinkler of “the n-word” in my personal vernacular.)

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