Frank Ocean Comes Out About His Sexuality, Feels “Like A Free Man”

Even just from the continued popularity of the protest “no homo,” it’s not hard to observe that homophobia is still an everyday occurrence in the world of mainstream rap and hip-hop. Although there’s a few up-and-coming queer artists like House of Ladosha and Le1f, some female artists like Azealia Banks identify as bisexual, and rumors have swirled around female MCs like Queen Latifah years, for the most part the culture of hip-hop is still one of compulsory heterosexuality. Which is why, in a week of big-name coming out announcements, Frank Ocean’s coming out and opening up about the fact that his first love was a man is maybe the most important story of all.

Frank Ocean (technically Christopher Francis Ocean) is only 24, but he’s written songs for Justin Bieber and Beyoncé, been featured prominently on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s platinum record Watch the Throne, and perhaps most interestingly, been working with the group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All since 2010. Ocean’s new album, Channel Orange, is set to be released on July 17. In a letter posted on his own website, Ocean doesn’t explicitly identify as gay or bisexual, but talks about the summer he fell for his best friends, in an incredibly moving story.

4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spend 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. There was no escaping, no negation with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love. It changed my life.

Ocean says his friend didn’t reciprocate his feelings — at least not right away, or soon enough that they could be together — but he writes “Thanks. To my first love. I’m grateful for you.” The letter was meant to be part of his album credits, but because of rumors preceding the album’s release, he posted it online.

Ocean’s association with Odd Future is maybe the most eyebrow-raising part of what’s a fairly historic announcement. Odd Future has made a reputation for itself as being, among other things, virulently homophobic, especially their controversial frontman Tyler the Creator. (Although one of Odd Future’s members, Syd Tha Kid, is an out lesbian.) Tyler’s public response to Ocean’s announcement was initially joking (maybe? probably?) and then later supportive, albeit sort of cryptic. (Tyler’s Twitter bio is, in part, “I AM NOT A DYKE.”)

Earl Sweatshirt of Odd Future simply posted “Proud of Frank.” Some fans have so far reacted very negatively to Ocean’s announcement, but many industry names have stood behind him, from industry professionals like Russell Simmons to a wide range of artists like Action Bronson, Despot, Mac Miller, and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquireOther major artists, like Jay-Z and Kanye, have yet to comment. Simmons has also published an article in support of Ocean in the Global Grind.

There’s already been an active conversation happening in regards to what the visibility of public figures does for the rest of the community when they come out. There are shockingly few role models for young queer men of color overall, and now a highly successful artist who’s performing at Coachella and Lollapalooza this year has become the most well-known face of queer masculinity in hip hop and R&B. Ocean’s coming out won’t solve all of the problems of homophobia in hip hop or in culture at large, but it’s a major step forward, and it was above all an extraordinarily brave and uncompromisingly honest thing to do. More than a coming out, it was opening up about a love story. As Autostraddle’s Gabby Rivera puts it:

Frank Ocean did not come out as a homosexual man. Frank Ocean came out as someone who has been involved in a gut wrenching love story that ended without the happy ending that only exists in romantic comedies. His love story began with a friendship, as many of ours have. The huge amounts of media coverage focused on his confession of love is over the fact that it was with another man. Maybe the next little boy in love with his best dude friend can find strength in Frank Ocean’s brilliantly written Tumblr ode to the deepest crushing sublime love.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 767 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. Thumb up 7

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    This made my heart flutter. I also really love that you gave a shout out to House of Ladosha. Also there’s Cakes Da Killa!

    Also, what Gabby said was really spot on and key in remembering, there are people who are like “Ok, is he gay, is he bi?” Well what those kinds of questions come down to is “Well can I support him in who he loves a lot or a little, or none at all?” and that is so besides the point, if there is fear here it is fear in flexibility, in fluidity, and in non-het life.

    This is exciting to me because he is an amazing talent, and has a huge following, and has such an opportunity to garner so much support so as to show those of us humans who don’t know how to react when a friend, or someone comes out.

  2. Thumb up 5

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    The letter was so beautiful. I liked the part where he said that when he fell for that guy, those love songs he used to listen to finally made true sense to him and seemed to fit in his life. To me that’s what falling in love is all about, even more resonant in a queer love story.

  3. Thumb up 4

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    This is tremendous news! Great article, and I love Gabby’s contribution, too. It’s great that Frank is talking from a platform of love because I think that’s what a lot of homophobic people forget about when they make assumptions about queer people. It’s what we hold in our hearts, not in our pants.

    • Thumb up 18

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      Well, of course, let’s put aside this groundbreaking thing he’s done for hip-hop and let him know what you’d rather he do, Ericka.

      • Thumb up 0

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        First of all, hes not Hip Hop. He is an R&B/Soul singer. And not that good of one. Period. Just because hes affiliated with OFWGKTA (who is known for being incredibly homophobic in lyrics) does NOT make that bullshit music Hip Hop. Know what youre talking about before you even speak to me with that snark ass tone.

        Second, he hasnt done shit for either hip hop or soul. Except rehash old 80s synth hits with some emo lyrics and references to doing coke. Youre either fucking kidding me or you have shit taste for music. Someone whos done something for soul? Me’Shell. Yall dont fuck with her though.

        Third? Since you asked, I’d rather him make good fucking music instead of using his sexual preferences to sell and move units.

        Miss me with this bullshit and go make some quality fucking music. The quality of music you make comes WAAAAY before sexual preference. And his music sucks. Fuck should I be impressed? Me’Shell Negeochello been out, Rashaan Pattersons been out, Omarion was outted as Bi…. many more. And NOW were supposta give a fuck? I remember an era in music where Luther Vandross had did this shit… people woulda turned. But NOW its okay? Oh.

        I dont care about you being gay. Clearly. If youre in the industry… you ALREADY KNEW he was gay. Big whoopty wow. This shit happens everyday in hollywood. YOURE just now catching up. Sorry if youre slow. As a musician, I care about this boy making some music that I can actually give a shit about. You know…. my PRIORITIES ARE IN THE RIGHT PLACE. AS USUAL.

        • Thumb up 17

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          lol oh lord.

          Seriously though this comment is so bizarre I’m surprised you actually have an account on a website dedicated to queer culture. That’s nice that you don’t care about sexual orientation, but a LOT of people out there do… in welcome and unwelcome ways. Which is exactly why an announcement like this would never ‘move and sell’ records. His sales will go down. And to pretend like coming out just as a queer Black man, for starters, in such a public way, could be anything less than a huge risk is extremely ignorant of you. But like Carmen said above, people also care because this is a role model, another example of visibility, that queer youth will be able to grab on to. ALSO, I’m willing to bet that Frank Ocean also wants his musicianship to come first and foremost, but unfortunately our society doesn’t see things that way.

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            I’ll have an account where ever Ill see fit, and frankly, youll shut the fuck up and get over it. As if I dont have something to do with this “queer culture.” LORD. Youd be surprised how many of us here actually arent worried about who you chose to fuck.

            The bottom line is this. His music sucks. That the ONLY thing I was EVER talking about. And you have yet to offer me any insight as to my original statement… his music fucking sucks. It sucks donkeyballs. Hes not Hip Hop. But you claimed he was. Hes not. Can you clarify? No? Then shut the fuck up; Im not reading that shit.

            Music is my career. Not your sexual orientation. Youre gay? Good for you. No go make music that doesnt suck.

            Yeah. Sometimes…. you people here are fucking morons.

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            Most bizarre of all: You are one of “them” as you say, but you have to cruise random queer pop culture/news sites because you hate frank ocean that much.

            I, frankly, doubt if anything is your career if you have that kind of time, much less music.

          • Thumb up 4

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            …And yet the point of this article is his tumblr post about his first love being a guy, which relates to sexual orientation, not how good or bad his music is so it seems like you’re the one who kinda missed the point? Plus, music taste is subjective, anyway.

          • Thumb up 1

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            O laaaawwwd. I’m taking a shot every time this train of thought goes in an argumentative, inflammatory circle.

            Seems a bit silly. Let’s celebrate instead!

            Drunk, guys! So drunk.

          • Thumb up 1

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            Wow, you completely miss the point here. If you wanna talk about his music, comment on an article that speaks about it; we’re talking about something else here. You are rude and disrespectful, how on earth did you decide to create an account here?

          • Thumb up 2

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            The news is his sexual orientation, so there you go. And his music… No he is not Hip Hop. At all. He’s R&B/Soul/Indie/Adult Alt.

            And in those regards, his music is amazing. His lyrics? His actual singing voice isn’t Luther Vandross, but his production and songwriting skills surpass a great many in the industry.

            Have many seats Sir Ericka.

          • Thumb up 4

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            “you people here are fucking morons.”
            lmao

            that sounds so jersey shore like “Hey, you’ze guyz are effin so effin stoopid. It’s like it’s like fuggedaboutit. Let me go put on sum of that hair gel on my hair now.” lmao

            mostly tho, i get your point on Frank Ocean not being “hip hop” but even that’s kind of elitist. I feel like that’s an argument for two types of people.

            1) music heads that feel like they know more about the purity of a genre than regular radio listening people do
            2) people trying to keep a genre within the confines of what is expected of it

            like when Hot 97s Rosenberg called out Nicki Minaj for not being “hip hop enough” and basically shit all over the fans of her more pop sounding songs for not being real hip hops heads. that crosses so many unnecessary lines…like hip hop started in a couple of different ways, right?
            like it came from funk and disco as party music to get people up and moving and dancing.
            it came out of the need to create a form of music specific to a group of people going through the same experiences and needing a way to express their feelings against mainstream boring bullshit.
            it came from the ever present need to show off in front of chicks to get laid.
            also politics, uplifting a people etc etc etc

            so who has the right to lay down the smack on what is or isn’t hip hop to someone else when it comes to music that falls within the realm of hip hop possibility/connectivity?

            let frank ocean decide if he’s hip hop or not.

  4. Thumb up 5

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    Can we continue the trend of celebrities writing eloquent letters to come out? Cuz that’s been fantastic.

    Also, as was stated earlier, can we celebrate the love story and not worry about the sexual identity? Cuz that would be fantastic as well.

  5. Thumb up 0

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    I just finished reading Call Me By Your Name. And now this. I was just thinking how lucky it was that I wasn’t still in love when I read that book, because I’d relate to it way too much and I’d be a wreck by now. Now I’m really, really grateful I’m not in love right now.

  6. Thumb up 2

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    Oh, frank. His first album has gotten me through some very rough shit. Much love to our honest r&b man. I am rather surprised he came out ( my ‘dar is down?), but how beautiful is that post? I am always shocked at how searingly honest and self-aware he is willing to be in public. Anway. Love. (Also I don’t listen to wtfbbq or whatever because of their rep. I don’t quite understand why he associates with them, but I ain’t gonna judge.)

  7. Thumb up 0

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    I knew there was a reason I’ve been listening to “No Church in the Wild” non-stop for like two weeks now! My gaydar was starting to register a little blip!
    I love Frank Ocean even more now!!

  8. Thumb up 1

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    Tyler the Creator did an interview with newsnight, Stephen Smith asked what they were saying with their lyrics, Tyler responded with “nuthin’, shit to piss old white people off like you.”
    He might be a tool, but I’m not surprised to see him support Frank Ocean, as I genuinely don’t think he’s homophobic. His outside voice is the little voice that you hear when you’re pissed off and you think, “if I really wanted to upset this person, I’d say this.” ut we don’t because it’s cruel, he does because he likes the reputation and reaction. He’s a toddler, really.
    I really don’t think he’s homophobic.

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