A substantial portion of GQ's new interview with Frank Ocean, "Ocean-ography" (part of its Men of the Year coverage) is devoted to his infamous Tumblr letter that identified him as...well, someone who once loved a man, nothing more, nothing less. Part of the exchange goes:
GQ: I'm sure if you'd wanted an excuse not to reveal the relationship, you could have found ten people in the industry who would have said, "Wait."
Frank Ocean: The pitch is, "You'll encounter less resistance in life if you say, 'No, I'm going to just keep dating girls.' " But then you're minimizing the resistance that you're feeling from yourself on the inside. There's so much upkeep on that shit. So much upkeep on a lie. But at least everybody else is cool with how you carry on with your life. That's what they say. But know what fear does to your strength. You don't even feel smart or capable. You just feel broken-and not just your heart. Just a broken person.
GQ: So do you consider yourself bisexual?
Frank Ocean: You can move to the next question. I'll respectfully say that life is dynamic and comes along with dynamic experiences, and the same sentiment that I have towards genres of music, I have towards a lot of labels and boxes and shit. I'm in this business to be creative-I'll even diminish it and say to be a content provider. One of the pieces of content that I'm for fuck sure not giving is porn videos. I'm not a centerfold. I'm not trying to sell you sex. People should pay attention to that in the letter: I didn't need to label it for it to have impact. Because people realize everything that I say is so relatable, because when you're talking about romantic love, both sides in all scenarios feel the same shit. As a writer, as a creator, I'm giving you my experiences. But just take what I give you. You ain't got to pry beyond that. I'm giving you what I feel like you can feel. The other shit, you can't feel. You can't feel a box. You can't feel a label. Don't get caught up in that shit. There's so much something in life. Don't get caught up in the nothing. That shit is nothing, you know? It's nothing. Vanish the fear.
If we take him at face value, he's bringing huge ideas to the realm of popular music and mainstream discourse. The idea that sexuality can't be saddled with even one of our liberal labels is profound and beyond our culture's grasp on queerness — we haven't even gotten everybody on board with the idea that gay is OK yet.
But I cannot help but wonder if there something less forthcoming behind his unwillingness to label himself. Is it something analogous to someone who believes in male/female equality but refuses to be labeled a "feminist" for fear of the stigma of the word? In 2004, author/"down low" expert J.L. King told Oprah Winfrey about his similar wariness regarding labels:
J.L. says there's a stigma that exists for gay men, and he doesn't see himself that way. "I don't want to get caught up in the whole gay culture because people look at gay people as being less than a man, that you are this sissy...this less than," he says. "The greatest taboo is to be black and homosexual, and I refuse to be labeled and classified as this character."
J.L. says men in the black community who come out and say, "I'm gay and proud," are treated differently. "All of a sudden I become: 'Oh, I want you to meet my gay friend, J.L. I want you to meet my gay brother, J.L. I want you to meet my gay father, J.L.,'" he says. "I don't want that."
(In 2010, King again went on Winfrey's show and changed his story: "I have accepted the fact that I am a black, gay, proud man.")
Ocean never confirms the nature of his attraction, exactly, in the piece — we can only glean from his music that he has felt romantic things for men and women. Maybe his attraction ebbs and flows over time and fluidity is bound to leak out of any box. The heart is sometimes too sophisticated for words and Ocean's not so interested in telling a straightforward story, anyway. As he suggests, the ambiguity has been great for his music and ultimately that is what matters, as far as those of us who aren't sleeping with him are concerned.
[Image via Getty]