Frank Ocean — who made headlines last week when he blogged about a relationship he had with a man — has a new album that is now available on iTunes. Understandably, the immediate reaction to Ocean’s sophomore album has been very much in the context of his “coming out.” The media, celebrity, and fan response to Ocean’s “announcement,” while indeed uplifting and transformative, signals an important last step for full and total equality: allowing everyone to self-identify.
The fact is, though, Frank Ocean didn’t necessarily “come out” as gay in his Tumblr post. Rather, he eloquently details how he fell in love with someone who happened to be a man. Ocean leaves his so-called “orientation” ambiguous. But in a fervor to immediately define sexuality, even those commending Ocean’s courage have narrowed his attempt to not label himself.
Aside from American professional athletics, nearly every sector of society has a prominent figure who self-identifies as not-straight. This kind of major societal progress means more LGBT youth and people across America become familiar with likable gay role models. Anderson Cooper even cited the mistaken impression that he is trying to hide something as part of the reason he felt it necessary to come out as gay. Importantly, Cooper actually did come out as “gay.” Allowing people to self-define is key, and so it’s equally necessary that we let Frank Ocean call himself — or not call himself — whatever he wants.
With so much progress comes new challenges. The old compulsion to assign people “gay” or “straight” has evolved into a similar compulsion to place people firmly into “L,” “G,” “B,” or “T” categories, and perhaps Ocean’s blog post suggests he doesn’t want a category at all. He just fell in love with someone, as we all have the right to do.