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The danger of coming out

The danger of coming out

Thanks to television darling Anderson Cooper and hip-hop recording artist Frank Ocean, coming out is back in the news again in a big way.

And, of course, people are posing the usual questions about celebrities and whether it’s a good thing for them to admit to being gay. Does the right to privacy trump whatever good famous people might do by publicly saying they are gay?

There is a side to this debate that often gets missed. Both Cooper and Ocean are excellent candidates to examine when posing the question: is it sometimes too dangerous for some people to come out?

Anderson is a globetrotting journalist, and his work has often taken him to places where being publicly out could have a detrimental effect on the way he does his job, or perhaps even threaten his life. For example, if he has to interview some powerful anti-gay religious figure, could the integrity of the interview be coloured unfairly by the fact his subject hates everything Cooper represents? Or could his being gay and out make him a target on the streets of some African or Middle Eastern country when he is covering a news event there? These are valid concerns, and I know of a number of queer journalists who play their cards very close to their chests for this very reason.

In the case of Frank Ocean, the admission has even further-reaching implications since Ocean is part of the notoriously homophobic (and often misogynistic) hip-hop community. No doubt there are many queers and bi people doing the “down low” in this genre, but for Ocean to admit to having been profoundly in love with a man for two years takes mega cojones, because he’s not just talking about sex, but about actual, deep, intimate emotions for another man, which, I suspect, is much scarier for a lot of his peers and listeners than simply thinking about sucking someone’s cock or taking it up the ass.

Interestingly, Ocean seemed to invite the attention that led to his coming out by refusing to change the pronouns in a song from “he” to “she,” a handy little bit of concealment many gay singers having been pulling off for years. It was questions about these lyrics that led to his revelation, and I’d love to have been a fly on the wall of the office of his collaborators Jay-Z and Kanye West when Ocean told them. Neither rapper is known for being friendly to the gay community. Are they and the rest of their ilk admiring of what Ocean’s done, or are they looking for ways to push him out of the business? And what of the music buyers who are now being asked to purchase the songs of a man who admits to loving a guy? Will they continue to support him, or will they support the artists whose work doesn’t challenge them in any way?

What I find most encouraging about the steps these men have taken is that they have decided to do it while they’re at the height of their fame and power, rather than, like so many gay celebs, when their careers are in definite downswings and they’re desperately in need of some major attention.

The Queer Star Hall of Fame is full of such folks. The world-famous athlete who’s hit his or her expiry date, whose lucrative endorsement deals have dried up and who needs an attention-grabbing hook to sell a memoir or call attention to some new job. The coy politicians who spend decades in office laughing off questions about why they aren’t married or referring to partners as “travelling companions” or “assistants” until they retire and admit they’ve always been out, just not to anyone outside their immediate circles of friends. The pop star/actor/television host whose once brilliant career has faltered who then decides it’s time to announce the fact he or she’s been living a secret life and spill all the sordid details to keep the gossip vultures feeding and the public’s interest for another 15 minutes.

While I like to think of the act of coming out as personal and liberating for anyone who does it, at any point in one’s life, it is sometimes hard not to look at these “Johnny-come-out-latelies” as somewhat opportunistic in their actions. But, in the end, the important thing is they did come out and have provided examples for the many young people in the world who are struggling with the same issues.

Some of these people live in countries where being publicly gay is extremely dangerous. They could be imprisoned, tortured or killed simply for being who they are. And yet many of these people, just like gay cops, soldiers, athletes, freedom fighters and rebels all over the world, still have to admit to who they are despite the danger, proving, along with Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean, that closets, in the developed world at least, really are only for clothes, brooms and cowards.

Comments

Gays doin' Rap is clownish comedy
Hip-Hop is on its way out anyway. Last year the sale of Rap music dropped by 20% in the stores. Good riddance !!! -I saw a Black man on TV the other day and he was actually singing, not just talking. Educated Blacks now want to enjoy the pleasure of singing. They want to be associated with upwardly mobile arts which require vocal skill, such as 10 years of vocal training and several octaves of voice... Rap is and always has been “Folk-Art” and finally has been left behind to the lower classes --like smoking cigarettes. “A man should always have an occupation of some kind.” (Oscar Wilde) ___RAP-CRAPP___ Rap has degenerated into a formulaic idiom __like sad country songs ___or the art of paint-by-numbers idiots ___just fill in the spaces ___with new words in the same style ___of repetitive monotone conventional rhyme. __+___ Rap has decayed and moved to the burbs ___as tawdry velvet paintings of thugs ___now spoiled kids with rosy cheeks ___sheltered vanilla-pudding crackers ___who have everything and more __doin’ Rap ___goin’ through the motions ___pretending to be rough ’n poor ___--is awkward cheesy hypocrisy !!! ___But dancin' Bears and Trans hookers doin' Rap ___is red-nosed clownish comedy !!!
Mixed messages
While it's clear there's a great deal of change happening within the hip hop community it has not always been that way and the writers themselves seem conflicted as well. It wasn't my intention to generalize. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84wHXT2KgWY
Dull Edge
Yes, please, let’s all participate in the Orientalist narrative that constantly names “some African or Middle Eastern country” as perpetually dangerous but conveniently erase the queer communities living in these countries and organizing communities and movements, while making no mention of the dangers of being queer, trans or gender non-conforming in this city, province, country and continent. What’s more? Let’s then perpetuate essentialist understandings of the Hip Hop community, denying the lives of queer Hip Hop artists, allies (The Game? Fat Joe?) and the entire sub-genre of conscious Hip Hop. With this, let’s make false allegations on artists who have recently and very publicly come out in support of the queer community like Kanye West and Jay Z. And then! Then! Rather than pointing to the structural and institutional heterosexism and violent homophobia that keeps people in the closet right here in the ‘developed’ world, let’s call them cowards. Yes, yes, they are all cowards! Wow. Why does Xtra allow this person to publish such garbage? Fraser, keep your racist “suspicions” about communities you have no idea about to yourself.
Blanket Statements on the Hip hop world don't fly
Jay-Z and Kanye West have been very vocal in their support of our community. Where did you do your research? Please do send links that gave you an idea that they'd take issue with Frank coming out? Without proof your accusation of their not being friends to the community and this assumption that there must have been fireworks when he told them is insulting. Are they looking to push him out of the business? are you serious?!
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