A Close Look At Frank Ocean’s Coming Out Letter

From NPR:

Tuesday night the rising R&B star Frank Ocean did something important. At first, however, few observers agreed on what he’d done. Headlines varied on quickly assembled gossip reports, from the measured to the hyperbolic. “Frank Ocean: My First Love Was a Man.” “Frank Ocean Comes Clean About His Bisexuality And I Applaud Him For It!” “Frank Ocean Pulls an Anderson Cooper and Comes Out of the Closet.” “Frank Ocean Comes Out and Becomes the First Gay Rapper in History.” That last one is wrong on several levels: Ocean did not use the word “gay,” nor is he a rapper, nor would he be the first gay rapper if either of those labels applied. (The website added the word “Famous” to its headline later, qualifying its exaggerations somewhat.)

Ocean’s act was this: after a journalist who attended a listening party for his new album, Channel Orange, noted that several of the songs were addressed to a male love object, the singer and songwriter turned to his own web page and published two long paragraphs which will likely be part of the liner notes for the July 17 release. They start with a declaration of empathy — “Whoever you are, whatever you are … I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike” — and proceeds to tell of the now 24-year-old native Louisianan’s first romance at 19, with a male friend who apparently reciprocated on some level, but refused Ocean’s ultimate attempt to name their love. Ocean unfolds his confession in a poetic but reserved manner, promising his former heart’s companion one last thing: “Some things never are. And we were. I won’t forget you. I won’t forget the summer. I’ll remember who I was when I met you.”

Locating the intimate exchange in time and space, grounding it in lovely, painful detail (“He patted my back. He said nice things,” Ocean writes of the moment his friend rejected him), this brief window into a summer place matters on a few levels. It is a kind of coming out: a revelation from a public figure that he’s had serious relationships with both men and women. In the R&B world, this is nearly unprecedented. Los Angeles Times music writer Gerrick D. Kennedy called it “the glass ceiling moment for music. Especially black music, which has long been in desperate need of a voice like Ocean’s to break the layers of homophobia.”

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