Is Frank Ocean Gay?

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”)

Freedom Song: The High Risk and High Reward of Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean is a great writer. This much has been evident since he re-emerged onto the scene as Frank Ocean (he was signed as an artist at Def Jam under his birth name Christopher Lonnie Breaux some years to up-and-coming producer Christopher “Tricky” Stewart of The-Dream fame), and dropped Nostalgia, Ultra. That album took him out of the Odd Future realm and placed him square into the consciousness of millions of people and new fans everywhere. Nostalgia is a great album and was intentioned to be his Def Jam debut. Def Jam dropped the ball.

Anyway, recently, Frank dropped via his tumblr a “Thank You” that he wrote from an airplane in December of 2011. In it, he explaned a tale about unrequited love; a love that couldn’t be…or at least not at the time of its birth. He spoke of a love that took time and agony and confusion and a love that required the help of his family and friends to see him through. He wrote a letter that anybody with a pulse and a past could relate to. It just so happened that this love of his was a man. Amazingly, he managed to write a letter that spoke to his sexuality (or at least bi-sexuality) and what most people probably took from the letter is his humanity. That is no easy feat. A Black man and artist managed to make being gay an afterthought. That is sheer brilliance in execution.

And I only wonder if it worked because he’s not Usher or Maxwell or somebody with a huge profile. For the most part, Frank Ocean’s star is rising. He was the clear shining star in Odd Future and finagled his “mixtape” into writing spots for Beyonce and credits and appearances on Kanye and Jay’s Watch The Throne. He’s a songwriter at his core but one with aspirations of mainstream solo star success. And the truth is, while I’m not a big fan (though “We All Try” has stayed in rotation in my iTunes since it dropped), I recognize the voice, the talent, and the rising star that he is.

So I admittedly found it odd that somebody with “so much to lose” would make such an admission and so publicly. There’s no mincing of his words and the manner in which he dropped the “news” leaves nothing to be misconstrued. Honestly, I’m happy for him. My guess is that like for many an individual with an alternative lifestyle (forgive me for using that term, seriously) the burden of pretending to be who you aren’t, especially in a field as filled with machismo as Black music had to be daunting. But he lept, landed, and is freer for it. I applaud that courage. Still, I wonder how accepting people will be of this admission. Maybe he had to. I read a review of his Channel Orange album and in it the writer noted that he had several songs where he directly mentioned a “him” where a “her” would normally go. So perhaps he released the liner notes (the “Thank You” is his liner nots for the album) as a means of blunting the unexpected when people listen to the album and start attempting to connect the dots. He did the dirty work for us all by speaking truth to the doubts and questions that would arise.

Back to the music industry for a second. Imagine if you found out that Teddy Pendergrass was gay. Or say, Bobby Brown, somebody who’s music is 100 percent informed by conquest. I realize that Frank Ocean is neither of those artists. His music isn’t driven by his virility or masculinity. People have long suspected Johnny Gill of being gay and his biggest songs are clear-cut man-on-woman love songs. But would you feel lied to if you found out definitively? I’m curious about that. Frank definitely has songs where he’s talking about falling for or sexing up some woman. And that is still very possible and maybe even likely. But it seems like a significant number of women take issue with bi-sexual men. As open as many of us swear to be, there are still certain taboos we are nowhere near comfortable with. And given that Frank’s largest audience will likely be women, I do wonder if his letter may cause some to lose interest in him.

We already know how homophobic so many of us men can be. Stupid as this is about to sound, my guess is that very few men want to listen to “the gay dude”. Of course, this could all be for naught. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all. And no, it shouldn’t. But when has what should happen ever stopped what will happen?

On the flipside, I can see him gaining a slew of new fans because of this as well. Though they may come from quarters we wouldn’t usually associate with Black music. Basically, Lady Gaga fans. By the way, I don’t really think who your fans are matters. But Frank’s largely been associated with the Black circuit because of his alliances. Maybe now he’ll find fans who are looking for more openness and freedom to be who they are. Which isn’t a bad thing. At all. There’s something empowering about somebody who can relate to your struggle (oddly enough, his struggle had nothing to do with orientation, it was with the frustration of love – like I said, he brilliantly handled this).

So I suppose Frank’s letter is high risk, high reward. Maybe. Even as I write this, I’m not sure I believe that he would really feel any true negative repercussions. It seems like most women, his intended audience, think nearly every singer is gay nowadays anyway, so a formal admission is just a formality and to be applauded for not playing with anybody’s emotions, I suppose.

And again, if you couldn’t relate to his letter on a personal level there’s a good chance you’ve died inside already.

And at the end of the day, good music is supposed to elicit emotion and take you somewhere. If that’s what happens, does it truly matter the orientation of its creator?

It shouldn’t.

But does it?

What do you think? Do you think his admission will have any affect on his career?

Talk to me. Petey.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. NOT A FAN, BUT RESPECT THE MAN aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

By the way, I wasn’t going to write a post today, but I figured that I should write about this.

ONE MORE DAY!!! For all those folks in the DMV, make sure you RSVP for FREE ENTRY to REMINISCE happening this Saturday, July 7, 2012, at Liv Nightclub (corner of 11th and U Streets, NW) in DC tomorrow night! It’s the hottest 90s party in the city AND our DJs birthday so you know we’re going all in!!!! We’re also celebrating the one-year anniversary of Urban Cusp!! You never know who might stop through. Plus, there’s an open bar from 930-1030 and no dress code. Come party with VSB P and get your boogie on. We party hard! RSVP here—–>http://reminiscedc.eventbrite.com

Last but not least, go peep The Champ’s latest piece at Ebony.com, entitled, “An Obit for the Obitless”. Also, peep Panama’s latest post over at Guyspeak, “The Notebook and 5 Other Movies That Might End Your Marriage”.

A Conversation About Double Standards And How “Reformed Homosexual Man” = “Promiscuous Woman”

***A (somewhat) paraphrased summary of a conversation I had with a female friend last week***

“I read your “Slut” post”

“Congrats!”

“Shut up.”

“What did you think?”

“You’re a semantics ho.”

“You always give me the best compliments.”

“That wasn’t a compliment. More like an assessment of how annoying your awkward principles are”

“Thanks!”

“Anyway, I see the point you made, and I agree…kind of, sort of. But, there are certain words that’ll never be cool. Bitch. C*nt. Kappa, etc. Slut is one of them. There’s just too negative history behind it.”

“Why are you bringing this up now?”

“Something about that discussion just rubbed me the wrong way. It wasn’t really the discussion itself, either. It’s just…I don’t know. I know that promiscuous women are  frowned upon by men, but I have trouble understanding why y’all n*ggas even care. I get the whole male ego thing, but if a woman is sleeping with you, devoted to you, and monogamous, why should it even matter how many men she’s slept with before she met you?”

“You kind of answered your question right there. I doubt that most adult men would dead a relationship with a woman who’s sleeping with, devoted to, and in love with him just because he found out that she’s been around the block more times than a mailman with dementia. Thing is, if he found out that information beforehand, he’d probably be less likely to want to get into a relationship with her”

“Why?”

“Because, many men feel that a woman who has been promiscuous is less likely to be devoted to him, monogamous, and capable of staying in love with him. Basically, it’s not as much about “being with someone everyone else has been with” as much as it’s about “The more men she’s been with, the less likely she is to be completely fulfilled by what I’m bringing to the table.” You really don’t “get the male ego thing” because this is all about ego.”

“Yea, I’ve heard that before, and I still don’t get it.”

“Get what?”

“The visceral dislike many men have of promiscuous women. I guess I understand why it matters. What I don’t get is why it seems to matter to y’all so damn much. Are all of you really that damn insecure?”

“Hmm”

“Why are you making that face?”

“I know you hate my analogies, but I have no choice but to make another one now.”

“Give it to me.”

“That’s what she said.”

“Huh?”

“Nevermind. Anyway, remember the conversation we had about homosexual men, and how you wouldn’t be able to be with a dude who’d done even one non-straight thing in the past — even if you knew the guy was devoted to you and monogamous?”

“Of course. I’m not special, though. Most women feel that way.”

“Exactly.”

“Exactly what? Will you stop speaking in f*cking code for once?”

“How you (most women) feel about “hetero” men who might have done something gay before is exactly how many (if not most) men feel about promiscuous women.”

“Apples and oranges. How do those things even compare? It’s nowhere near the same thing.”

“Maybe not, but how that knowledge makes the opposite gender feel and react is the same. The same reasons why many woman wouldn’t want to be with a guy with a homosexual past — the doubts she’ll have if she’ll ever be enough for him, the fact that she might not be able to help picturing him f*cking or getting f*cked by another man, etc — are the same things going through many men’s heads when thinking of promiscuous women.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“That’s ok. You don’t have to.”

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Danger of The Sexuality Spectrum

I'm sure they're very interested in today's comments

I read an article a couple weeks ago (I’d link to it here, but I forgot to bookmark it and I honestly can’t remember where I read it) where the author used the gay marriage in New York news story as an introduction to their feelings about how all sexuality is on a spectrum. Basically, there are two ends — 100% straight and 100% gay — and most of us fall somewhere in between.

I have to say, out of all the theories I’ve heard trying to explain why we’re attracted to who we’re attracted to, this makes the most sense to me. While some argue that you’re born with your sexual orientation and others remain steadfast by the idea that it’s a conscious choice, the logical conclusion seems to be that the box you decide to check on the sexuality SAT’s comes from a combination of nature and nurture.

But, if we admit that your placement on the orientation spectrum is dependent on myriad factors — a theory more and more people seem to believe — don’t you also have to accept the validity of more “dangerous” theories such as the belief that a person can choose to become “ungay” or even that prayer can influence sexual attraction?

I mean, a person who’s born, I don’t know, 90% gay or 90% straight (according to the orientation scale) probably isn’t going to be swayed by an experience or some really creative Bible study classes. But, if someone’s born in that 30 to 70 range, it’s not too far-fetched to suggest that people such as Dr. Marcus Bachmann (husband the horsemaiden of the Apocalypse, Michelle Bachmann) and Dr. Joseph Nicolosi (a psychologist with a really shitty website who believes that therapy is an effective solution for modifying sexual orientation) might be (partially) right.

Maybe there’s truth to the idea that, for some people, the environment they grew up in can definitely help decide their orientation, and maybe there are people who can genuinely be convinced not to be gay (or straight).

Now, I understand the danger of accepting this as truth. It would give fuel to each and every anti-gay doctor, pundit, politician, and person who believes that gayness is curable, and if some gayness can be “cured,” all gayness can be cured. But, what might be even more dangerous is us — the “enlightened and educated” populous — being just as intellectually lazy by completely dismissing the fact that some of us were (and still are) an experience or even a discussion away from being gay (or ungay).

Anyway, people of VSB, I’m curious: In regards to our sexual orientations, do you believe in the spectrum (the theory that our orientation is a combination of nature and nurture and that we all fall somewhere inbetween 100% gay and 100% straight), nature (we’re born the way we are), or nurture (a combination of experiences and conscious choices decide our sexual paths)?

For those who believe in the spectrum, do you also think that a person’s orientation can be changed? If not, why not?

Lastly, do you believe that women’s sexuality is naturally more “fluid” or that both genders are equally fluid but we’ve just been socialized to believe that women have more inherent sexually flexibility?

—The Champ

The “I’m Lucky I’m Black” Passes: Things Black People “Get Away With” That Others Can’t

There’s an episode of “Louie” — the hilariously awkward and awkwardly hilarious FX series starring comedian Louie C.K. — where a older male police officer asks Louie for a kiss. The cop had just gotten Louie out of a tight jam, and the kiss would be the reward for that service. Since the cop was rather cool about the request (and since the cop seemed rather desperate), Louie obliges, planting a kiss on his lips. The cop thanks him, and they go about their ways.

Now, in real life Louie C.K. is by all accounts a heterosexual family man. In fact, much of his act (and much of the show) is based on him being a father and husband. But, even if this wasn’t true, even if we knew absolutely nothing about his personal life, most (reading) adults realize that actors occasionally have to, well, act, and that cop kissing scene alone wouldn’t be enough to convince anyone that he was homosexual.

Louie C.K. is also white¹, and his whiteness allows him a certain peculiar privilege, a privilege my girl (who was watching the show with me) quickly observed.

“It’s weird. That scene didn’t make me think twice about whether he was straight. But, if a black male comedian did the exact same thing, I can’t lie; I’d question whether he was completely straight. I know it’s a ridiculous double standard, but it’s true”

Although that statement wasn’t exactly politically correct, she was completely correct. Men like Jake Gyllenhaal and Matt Damon can star in movies like “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and still be considered 100%  hetero, but black male actors aren’t afforded that same luxury. Sh*t, there are still bisexual rumors floating around about Will Smith, rumors stemming from a movie he did two decades ago.

This double standard goes beyond the silver screen. For instance, if I were to post some Facebook pics of a few white frat boys jokingly and drunkenly wrestling and hugging each other a bit too closely, your first thought would probably be “Eh. Typical crazy college white boys.” If these frat boys were black, however, the thought changes from “typical frat boys” to “typical Mean Girls of Morehouse.”

This, this pretend gay” pass, is one of the myriad passes unique to white people, not as game-changing as the get an easy bank loan” pass but definitely much more useful than the ultra annoying if college aged, allowed to end every single sentence with an interrogative inflection” pass

But, since we’re already aware of the hundreds of thousands of “white” passes, I’m actually more curious about the “black” passes — things black people can get away with that whites (and other races) just can’t — and I thought of a few.

The “say somewhat insensitive things about other races and still feel no real repercussions” pass

Let’s just say that if I founded a website called VSR (Very Smart Rednecks) and allowed black people to be referred to as “1613′s” (Why 1613? Because the 16th letter in the alphabet is “P” and the 13th is “M,” and the PM stands for “Porch Monkeys”) in the comment’s section of said site, I most likely wouldn’t have made business cards advertising the VSR, I probably wouldn’t be so quick to put my real name on the cover of the VSR relationship book, and I definitely wouldn’t have rocked a Very Smart Rednecks t-shirt yesterday evening while taking some black people on a tour of my apartment.

The “beat our kids in public” pass

At the extra snooty Whole Foods two blocks down the street from my place, I once saw an entire checkout line full of people stare down and ice grill a woman just because she forcefully grabbed the arm of her out of control child.

At the much more hood Giant Eagle a mile or so away, I once saw an entire checkout line nod their heads in appreciation and admiration as a woman forcefully choke slammed her not really all that out of control child.

The “I’m a grown ass man/woman who still needs some “time” before I’m ready to get married, and it’s perfectly ok” pass

Um, moving on…

The “wait, did you call me a n*gger???” pass

Donald Glover actually joked about this in one of his stand-ups, but once a black person has been the real (or perceived) victim of any type of racial injustice, we basically have carte blanche to do whatever the hell we want. Seriously, you can go to an Apple store and take a piss and full dump on every iPad, but not only would you get off if you tell the judge you thought Steve Jobs called you a n*gger, you’d probably be able to sue (and win!)

Anyway, people of VSB: did I forget anything? Can you think of any more “black” passes? Also, are there any “white” passes you’d trade one of your most valued black passes for?

¹He’s actually part Mexican, but since he looks white, that’s all that matters.
²Is this just a Pittsburgh-area thing, or do 18-25 year old white woman across the country all end each of their sentences with the same inflection they’d use if they were asking a question?

—The Champ