As is the case with most celebrity news that has absolutely no impact on my life (and by “most celebrity news that has absolutely no impact on my life” I mean “all celebrity news“), the tone of the conversations sparked by Frank Ocean’s “coming out” have proven to be more interesting than the news itself.
For instance, a quick glance at some of the comments sections attached to the articles discussing Ocean last week shows discussions diverging into numerous sub-topics more about Frank Oceanâ„¢ than Frank Ocean. Some of these peripheral conversations were semantics-based (“Since Ocean isn’t a rapper, can he really be considered to be the first known African-American male hip-hop artist to come out?“), some dubious (“It’s interesting that this news breaks a week before his album drops“), and some questioning the story’s relevance (i.e.: “Wait. Who the hell is Frank Ocean, and why should I care about him coming out?“)
To me, though, the most interesting Ocean-related tangent has to do with how his “coming out” has been a virtual Rorschach test for our feelings about sex and sexuality. There aren’t many people who wouldn’t consider a man who has exclusively dated and slept with men for his entire adult life to be gay. But, when things aren’t as cut and dry — and, with Ocean, they’re definitely not — there seems to be more questions about appropriate labels — and the appropriateness of even having a label — than answers.
If the presence of male-on-male sex is your way of measuring whether a man is gay, how would you describe a man who claimed to have fallen in love with another man if they never actually had sex with each other? What if this man was the only man he felt this way about? Basically, what if he wasn’t into men at all but just one particular man? What if he was a teenager when this all happened?
Now, the paragraph above is obviously a not-so-veiled reference to Frank Ocean’s Tumblr post, and I’ve obviously made a few leaps with my interpretation of its content. All I (and anyone else outside of his sphere of influence) know for certain is that he stated that he fell in love with a man when he was 19. Everything else is speculation.
Yet, in Ocean’s case — and in the case of many others — our (and “our” in this case is “Black people’s”) definition of what makes a man gay seems to be amorphous, continually shifting to encompass any behavior outside of what we consider to be the hyper-hetero norm. Fell in love with a man? Gay! Not currently sleeping with multiple women? Gay! Enjoys it when a woman stimulates his anus during sex? Lives in Atlanta? Gay! Not into sports? Gay! Advocates for gay rights? Gay! Enjoyed “Dreamgirls?” Gay! Named “Tyler Perry?” Gay! Wrote a blog critiquing the criteria used to determine what’s gay? Gay!
You know, you can argue that, when it comes to men, the way we come to define “gay” and “straight” (intentionally leaving out bisexual because, well, the Council of Determining Gayness has ruled that bisexual men officially can’t and therefore don’t exist) isn’t at all dissimilar to how we define Black and White. Basically, just as one drop of Black blood makes a person Black, one “non-straight” act or thought makes a man forever gay. Is Frank Ocean in fact gay? I don’t know. I do know, though, that the presence of “one drop” might not be enough for us to make that determination.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)