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. TC Mark

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  • Corpuscle Ken Schism
  • natasha

    beautifully put.

  • http://theiiiv.wordpress.com chandlerstephen

    “declaring humanity”. perfect.

  • http://expertlypolishedthoughts.tumblr.com Ryan McKernan

    Love the last sentence.

  • kpchilli

    absolutely fantastic

  • Joe

    Who the fuck is Frank Ocean and what makes this any more important than someone else coming out?

    • http://redlipsandcitylights.wordpress.com nnekaayana

      Good thing there’s Google.

    • http://gravatar.com/scenefromahat scenefromahat

      it’s mainly the fact that he’s a hip-hop/r&b singer and there is a lot of homophobia in the hip-hop community. AND he’s already a huge recording artist so…it’s kinda groundbreaking

  • Scott Lief

    Historically, “coming out” didn’t mean revealing a shamefully kept secret to the world (as it is often used today), but rather actively “coming out” into the vibrant underground homosexual community of early 20th century American cities, something like a coming out party for a debutante entering high society (see Gay New York by George Chauncey). The contemporary LGBTQ community has, in many ways, worked hard to bring a positive connotation back to “coming out.” This may have had positive effects, but this usage still implies otherness and asks individuals to make black-and-white choices about how to represent their complicated gender identities and sexual orientations. Mensah, elegant and insightful piece about how we as a society could do even better at embracing all manners of non-heterosexual love and sexuality without employing language that forces otherness upon its subjects, whether negative or positive. Why is Frank Ocean (or anyone) revealing his romantic experiences any different than him talking about his childhood or family life or food preferences? It’s just another part of his identity, and putting disproportionate emphasis on sexual identity is what gives it power and allows it to be stigmatized in the first place. Less people would be scared to “come out” if their societies and cultures didn’t implicitly send the message that they SHOULD be scared of it.

  • Charlyse

    Thank you for your article and for introducing me to Frank Ocean’s letter. “Coming out” or declaring a label for myself have never seemed fully appropriate, but I could never quite articulate why… Now I know exactly what I need to do.

  • Leah

    Beautiful ideas, beautifully written.

  • http://www.eatandfart.blogspot.com Joel-Javier

    Great article. Love needs no labels.

  • Julia Ryken

    Beautifully put. I fucking love this.

  • http://evelynnalfred.wordpress.com Evelyn N. Alfred

    Nice! I feel like I “know” now.

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  • T

    I love this article, it is so beautifully written, but the emphasis on love vs identity is difficult for me. I’m mostly gay and out, but I’ve never been in love. This doesn’t make being queer any less of my identity, and it didn’t make my coming out any less triumphant than if I was in love with someone when I did.

    Coming out, whether one is dating someone specific, totally head over heels in love, or single and maybe not interested in anything long term, is always a personal decision. It is, like you said, about exposing your own secrets, and most importantly, accepting them yourself. None of my straight friends and family felt “good about themselves” because I came out, and none of them thought of me as an other. Instead we both felt better about our friendship, because it allowed for a new level of honesty.

    It worries me when we put being in love as the gold standard of being queer. I dream of falling in love and planning my life with a fellow female, but I will be no more gay or valuable as a gay person at that point than I am now.

  • duncansomerside

    love this

  • http://ifbirdsfly.blogspot.com Teresa Man

    Wonderfully written.

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