Happy Birthday, America! Usually I would be offline today, as it is Independence Day and I can live independently without the stupid old internet, but I happened to log on and see some pretty important and nutty news: last night, rising hip-hop star and Odd Future member Frank Ocean came out via his Tumblr, revealing the story about the first time he fell in love with a man.
In a screenshot of a text file called "thank you's," presumably intended to be included in the liner notes of his upcoming album, Channel Orange (to be released July 17), Ocean recounts the events from four years ago. Here are some highlights below:
4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I'd see him, and his smile. I'd hear his conversation and his silence ... until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless...
I sat there and told my friend how I felt. I wept as the words left my mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take them back for myself. He patted my back. He said kind things. He did his best, but he wouldn't admit the same. He had to go back inside soon. It was late and his girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs. He wouldn't tell me the truth about his feelings for me for another 3 years. I felt like I'd only imagined reciprocity for years. Now imagine being thrown from a cliff. No, I wasn't on a cliff, I was still in my car telling myself it was gonna be fine and to take deep breaths. I took the breaths and carried on. I kept up a peculiar friendship with him because I couldn't imagine keeping up my life without him. I struggled to master myself and my emotions. I wasn't always successful.
Ocean goes on to thank those around him who have given him strength and encouragement, including friends, family, and the man who sparked those emotions:
Before writing this I'd told some people my story. I'm sure these people kept me alive, kept me save ... sincerely, these are the folks I wanna thank from the floor of my heart. Everyone of you knows who you are ... great humans, probably angels. I don't know what happens now, and that's alrite. I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore. There's probably some small shit still, but you know what I mean. I was never alone, as much as I felt like it ... as much as I still do sometimes. I never was. I don't think I ever could be. Thanks. To my first love. I'm grateful for you. Grateful that even though it wasn't what I hoped for and even though it was never enough, it was. 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.
It's a big week for coming-out stories, huh! While many were not surprised by Anderson Cooper's announcement on Monday, Ocean's coming out might be legitimately surprising to many people. And with the stigma in the hip-hop community still so large, preventing many other closeted members of the industry to keep their personal lives hidden, I have to applaud Ocean's courage, especially so early in his career (he hasn't even released a proper album yet!). Time will tell how this news will affect his career, although Ocean's already strong collaborations with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Kanye West seem like he has a high-profile support system behind him that will help him find his success as a solo artist.
Gakwer's Louis Peitzman (who is also a BlackBook contributor) raises the appropriate questions about Ocean's coming out and its affect on his career. He points to country singer Chely Wright's comments, revealing how her coming out in 2010 had a negative impact on her record sales. But perhaps more encouragingly is the statement from hip-hop honcho Russell Simmons, who wrote on his blog a short reaction to Ocean's coming out:
Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we?
I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean. Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These types of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do, and because of that I decided to write this short statement of support for one of the greatest new artists we have.
His gifts are undeniable. His talent, enormous. His bravery, incredible. His actions this morning will uplift our consciousness and allow us to become better people. Every single one of us is born with peace and tranquility in our heart. Frank just found his.
Frank, we thank you. We support you. We love you.
That's an incredibly promising start! Let's sincerely hope this does change the game in some way, that it will encourage more tolerance in the community and also among hip-hop fans at large. I've already seen people on Twitter say that this is a bigger deal than Anderson Cooper's coming out; that remains to be seen. But what I can admit is that Frank Ocean has set himself up to be a pretty big role model for a large group within a community that has long been silenced. I couldn't feel more proud on Independence Day than I do right now.