On Frank Ocean’s “Coming Out”
Recently — mere hours ago, in fact — I had a phone conversation with my lover in regards to secrecy. Specifically, the power secrets tend to hold over us; the tighter we clutch the secrets, the more threatening they become to us. No one must know about an event, a moment in time, a feeling, a thought, a truth: so we build elaborate vaults around our secrets like currency we never intend to spend; legal tender never circulated and passed on hand to hand.
We cherish our secrets, which aren’t secrets by nature; they are mere truths which, for one reason or another, shame us, embarrass us, reveal us and thrusts us into a searing light where all can see and prod and dissect our truths — appropriate them as their own forms of currency: this is how knowledge becomes “power.” This is how knowledge strips away agency.
The phone conversation centered around my secrets, or lack thereof in the context of my writing; the talk was, unbeknownst to us, timely as R&B singer Frank Ocean prepared to address rumors surrounding his sexuality; some of the tracks from his forthcoming album Channel Orange elude to a love affair with another man, a point Ocean confirmed on July 4th via his Tumblr.
The letter Ocean wrote and shared was eloquent and beautiful; it grasped for its own language; it spewed honesty; it was a love letter in its purest form. Toward the end of the letter, Ocean made it a point to say that he had no further secrets to keep or reveal; the letter, then, was a cleanse for him, a form of catharsis and, more than anything else, an act of agency.
I won’t pretend to know Frank Ocean’s thoughts, but I can empathize with his motivations, transparent and earnest. His new album, expected to sell well and catapult him into the upper echelon of R&B music, looms around the corner; conventional wisdom would tell Ocean to wait until the album drops, wait until it moves units, before “coming out.”
“Coming out” is a problematic phrase because it suggests one was “in the closet,” which is analogous to a cage, a prison — some torture chamber one needed to escape. “Coming out” creates and exacerbates a language of otherness; love and sex cannot be love and sex, but “straight love” and “gay love,” “straight sex” and “gay sex.”
“Coming out” suggests that you are not normal, so you must reveal yourself to be abnormal; you must acknowledge that, by living “in the closet,” you lived a false life — a notion that smacks of simplicity, a word far too weak to describe the fluidity of human sexuality and, more over, one’s freedom to express his sexuality as he sees fit versus, say, the hetero-normative ways which society deems “normal” and “acceptable.”
There is “coming out” and there is “I love this man.”
The former allows heterosexuals to feel good about themselves; it creates space, otherness, between “straight” love and “gay” or “queer” love; it maintains the status quo.
The latter, meanwhile, is a declarative statement devoid of labels. It is expression. It is — to sound slightly trite — a human thing to say. Love is love; there is no otherness; the status quo is threatened, if not outright attacked.
There is no shame in declaring one’s love for another.
Frank Ocean had no interest in being tormented by his secret any longer; he opted to return the facts to their former and natural state: truth. He didn’t want to pretend; he didn’t want to feel shame for loving a man; a love which was both formative and painful for Ocean, as all first loves tend to be for us.
And, maybe as a fellow young black creative, I can see why Ocean shared his truths with the public: no one was going to “out” him; no one was going to berate him into some type of guilty confession; Ocean said f-ck you and talked to his fans in his way, on his terms, with his words; he expressed himself with total disregard for norms, for “rules,” for conventional wisdom.
My lover and I are in that “getting to know each other” phase: beyond the physical attractions, thoughts and pasts are slowly exchanged. She read most of my published work, where I’ve admitted to being bisexual, depressed, twice-divorced, unfaithful, lonely, not quite on the best of terms with my family, and insecure.
In other words, my lover knows a hell of a lot more about me than I know of her. It’s because my art is rooted in the act of killing secrets. It’s an act of defiance; it is a revolutionary act; it is liberation. Frank Ocean liberated himself and, no matter the consequences, the act was a beauty to witness.
To hell with “coming out.” Frank Ocean declared his humanity. Recognize.
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It started with a right swipe, a little green heart. Tinder of course.
Though I acknowledge and appreciate the differences in human experiences, and while your heartbreak is (and always will be) uniquely and completely your own, I must urge you to consider that I have been where you are.
With his hat cocked back, body tilted away from his cane, and right forefinger pointing directly at his audience, Joseph Ducreux commands the attention of those viewing his self-portrait.
I was born in 1990; he was born in 1973. I’m 23; he just turned 40.