Last week, as Americans and Canadians celebrated the freedoms afforded them in their countries and global gay pride celebrations wrapped up, two very different sides of the album known as “Gay in America” played out in the media.
On Side A, cable journalist and talk show host Anderson Cooper wrote an email to his friend Andrew Sullivan, publicly confirming that he’s gay. His reasons for revealing this part of himself in public, confirming what many already assumed, stemmed from his concern that by keeping silent, he was giving the unintended impression that he was trying to hide, or he was ashamed.
“I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true….The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.” [link]
On Side B, critically acclaimed R&B singer-songwriter Frank Ocean posted a photo of brutally honest and emotionally raw typewritten letter on his Tumblr. Originally intended as the Thank-You’s for his upcoming album Channel Orange, journalists with review copies began speculating on Ocean’s sexuality based on the lyrics to some of the songs, prompting him to post the image online and let people make of it what they will.
In the letter, Ocean describes falling in love for the first time, at 19-years-old, with a man. A man who loved him back, but was unwilling or unable to admit and embrace who he was until three years later. In the letter, Ocean admits to having been with women before, but not knowing what love really was until he fell for a man. You should really just go read the whole thing, it’s beautiful and fascinating and inspiring.
Two men, both coming out publicly in the same week, in circumstances and with ramifications that could not be more different. For Cooper, a white man of wealth and privilege, the son of Gloria Vanderbilt, his announcement elicits a sort of, ‘Aw, good for him.’ Nothing changes for Cooper. For Ocean, a black man from New Orleans who’s chosen a career in a musical genre that almost gleefully revels in its homophobia, history was made. Whether Ocean considers himself gay or bisexual is irrelevant [and avoiding such labels is a sort of revolutionary move in itself]. By admitting and announcing his love for another man, opening his lyrics up to unnecessary public scrutiny [is ‘Forrest Gump‘ sung from a woman’s or man’s perspective?] he’s brought the conversation about homosexuality in black music to the forefront in a way that can’t be ignored or avoided with the usual tactics.
And let’s not forget the fact that Ocean is a member of Odd Future, a group of rappers with more ‘faggots’ per capita than any group performing today. Group members Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt were two of the first people to take to Twitter in support of Ocean. So now the group that would at a glance seem to be the most homophobic in music has two openly out members in Ocean and producer Syd the Kid. Let that freak some brains for awhile.
By revealing himself in such a fashion, Ocean brings the discussion about homo-and-bisexuality directly to wear hip-hop lives. The hip-hop community will have to finally decide if it really is the culture of inclusiveness and self-acceptance it’s always prided itself as being, or if the ludicrous premium placed on “being hard” will win the day. I don’t think the culture will ever be able to accept rappers talking about other men the way they talk about women, but if it can hear a story like Ocean’s and still accept and support him as the great talent he is, it’ll be a very good day for hip-hop.