I wish I lived in this mythical world in which being a gay Black male was a one-way ticket to immeasurable success.
Ever since Frank Ocean publishing a letter revealing he was once in love with someone of the same sex played a pivotal role in his success, I’ve seen many argue that it was nothing more than a marketing ploy to boost his career. And if they don’t argue it was a marketing ploy, at the very least the admission is categorized as one that gives Ocean some sort of advantage over his contemporaries. This would include your average social media simpleton and some of Ocean’s recording artists peers, including Miguel and, more recently, Wale.
Indeed, during an appearance on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, co-host Angela Yee asked Wale whether a gay artist can be successful in hip-hop.
Wale said in response: “If a dude was gay, man, he’d get a Grammy,” Wale said. “They’re gonna make fun of them. They’re gonna throw their Twitter jokes… but in the next three years, there’s probably gonna be a dude who’s not even gay that’s just like ‘Man, this is my last resort’… But nah, I would sign a gay rapper if he was dope. ‘Go ahead man, go do that thing. Go do them Versace fashion shows.’ ”
The Versace quip is interesting, given that although hip-hop remains heavily hypermasculine (as do most things in our culture), it’s always been overtly masculine rappers shouting out the gayest of fashion designers. In any event, Wale went on to cite Frank Ocean, declaring that he was “pushed to the moon” before later adding, “He got the Grammy joint, everything… People look at it like you a hero, you a pioneer.”
He has since tried to “clarify” by way of repeating himself in different phrasing.
Wale’s revisionist history does negate the reality that, although Frank Ocean’s celebrity may have magnified following his admission, his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape was a critically-acclaimed smash that was on many a music critic’s year-end list—cementing him as a rising star the likes of Beyoncé, Jay Z, and others immediately wanted to work with. As long as Frank Ocean stuck to the themes that wowed people, he was going to become a star no matter what.
Likewise, many tend to forget that Ocean’s letter came not long after a writer who heard his debut album, Channel Orange, early and proceeded to interject rumors about the singer-songwriter’s sexuality onto the Internet.
What grates me most, though, is Wale’s sentiment about what it’s like to be gay in America right now: “People are probably going to go bad on me for saying this, but it’s an advantage to be gay in this country right now. That’s just the fact of the matter.”
Many share this sentiment, and I invite them all to report directly to the seventh circle of hell in a winter coat.
Puberty’s hating ass stripped me of my singing ability, so until my mixtape drops, I can’t attest to what it’s like being someone in the music industry. However, as an openly gay Black man working in media, there are parallel experiences. For one, the second you admit you’re an outlier, you will very well likely be marginalized as “the gay writer.” If you happen to be Black, too, you will then be “the Black writer,” “the gay writer,” and “the gay Black writer.”
Then you have to contend with what all that means in this country. Yes, marriage equality exists, but marriage is a conservative and heteronormative institution. So while many of us can now be seen in the context of a spouse and children, we are still not totally embraced outside of that rigid prism. Look no further than Houston’s equal rights ordinance failing to pass largely due to the transphobia that fueled opposition. Look across the pond and see that the UK government has no plans to ban gay conversion therapy.
Or turn on your TV and see that very few LGBT people exist in that space, and of those that do, very few do as full functioning human beings. You know, having a present sexuality like the straight characters—especially if you are a gay man having sex, which does to fit into straight male consumption, thus contributing to its lacking presence.
Then turn on the radio and inform me if you lesbians like Syd Tha Kyd have as free reign to sing about her love of women as equally as many straight male R&B singers have spaces to croon overt misogyny.
After you do all of that, then maybe I’ll ask my literary agent if I can share emails in which editors worry my story of learning to fully embrace my sexuality (i.e., enjoy it) would essentially scare straight people away. Actually, I’ll send them to Sam Smith, who had the same fears a year ago and only now wants to actively speak on his sexuality.
Living out loud may lend to an increased exposure if for no other reason than there are very few of you within these spaces present, but it does not strip away the consequences. You will have to constantly deal with people’s limitations of you, what you have to offer, and other people’s own cynical views that your lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or questioning self can’t relate to the majority.
Sure, folks like Ocean, who, by the way, has never said he was gay (another example of rigidness thrusted upon LGBT folks), and me persevere, prove people wrong, and succeed anyway. But don’t tell any of us how “easy” it is to be gay right now if you haven’t a f*cking clue.
Don’t minimize our struggles. Don’t discredit our talent. Don’t be so damn stupid.