The Trouble With Labels: On Frank Ocean’s Sexuality

Unless you’re just emerging from a bat cave, you probably already know that up-and-coming R&B singer Frank Ocean recently made history by announcing via Tumblr that his first love was a man. It is a rarity in the entertainment industry for men, especially black men, to be open about their involvement in same-sex relations. Naturally, the news made waves in the media, which was just coming down from the high of popular television journalist Anderson Cooper coming out about his sexuality.

After Ocean’s huge announcement, we were left trying to define what impact Ocean’s revelation would have on his career, as well as on the world at-large.  Many people also struggled to define his sexual orientation, which is still shrouded in mystery. Ocean’s songs, revolving around the trials and tribulations of love and loss, often employ pronouns such as “her” and “she.” Does that mean he’s bisexual? Or does he strictly enjoy the company of men and only sings about women due to societal mores and pressure from the music industry? Perhaps Ocean is actually a heterosexual, and his relationship with another man was a one-time occurrence springing from a fountain of youth and confusion.

Our society loves labels. Labels turn chaos into calmness by creating manageable categories and divisions, helping our brains sift through infinite amounts of information. While labels prove useful on occasion, more often they are harmful, marginalizing and stigmatizing certain groups of people. When we put labels on people’s sexual orientation, we are ignoring the fact that sexual fluidity is alive and well. Sexual fluidity means that a person’s sexuality constantly develops and evolves through-out their lifetime, similar to attitudes and beliefs about politics and religion.

During our lives, we all change because change is inevitable. It only makes sense that one’s sexual preference is not a stationary thing. Let’s not worry about which label Ocean chooses to identify with regarding his sexuality because it will always be subject to change. Instead, let us feel compassion for him as a fellow human being who wishes to love and be loved in an authentic way. We should applaud him for the strength it must have taken to disclose an intimate part of his life that is reviled and shunned by those with hate and intolerance in their hearts. The only adjective that I can find to label Ocean right now is… “brave.”

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