by: Rohan Lewis
Recently, two celebrities openly revealed their sexualities as different from mainstream societal assumptions: R&B artist Frank Ocean and CNN news reporter and television host Anderson Cooper. Chronologically, Cooper public cited his sexuality shortly before Ocean spoke openly about his at a party for his new album. Both men are to be applauded for showing such courage in an indecent time during which people like us must live in many countries as a hidden population, in which gender is constantly constructed, re-constructed and negotiated between countries, regions and cultures and their practices of gender, should such a concept exist in those cultures.
What irritates me is that many news reports compared the two, as though Ocean were imitative of Cooper. NPR notes titles such as “Frank Ocean Pulls an Anderson Cooper and Comes Out of the Closet” or “Frank Ocean Comes Out and Becomes The First Gay Rapper in History.” It is therefore logical that, while Ocean’s fame is dwarfed by Cooper’s, the media portrayal of the two men would favor the more established title.
I would like to state that it is unfair to compare the two figures for very different reasons. Race must be put aside when one considers that the two fields that both work in, the Hip-Hop/R&B Industry and CNN News.
One cannot speak of Cooper’s “racial privilege” without first establishing the fact that a U.S. Afro-American male CNN news reporter came out well before Cooper. Don Lemon, a colleague of Cooper, came out approximately a year ago.Conceptually, it is clear that diversity in sexual orientation was accepted in the U.S. news agency, and the cultural knowledge of Cooper’s sexuality was known well before this point in time. Race is irrelevant in this context, where the U.S. Afro-American male created the space and privilege for the U.S. Euro-American male to follow. What I do appreciate about Cooper’s declaration was that he had lived many years without feeling the need to define his sexuality. It should not be so significant that it defines him to the point that the media only focuses on him for his sexual life.
Ocean, on the other hand, is on the rise in an industry that is dominated by heteronormative and misogynist paradigms, in which women and LGBT persons are constantly persecuted. Hip-Hop and R&B has had a wide history of homophobia and misogyny, according to Independent Lens and, of course, general knowledge. Ocean, after partnering with powerful names such as Kanye West and Jay-Z, appearing on their collaborative album Watch the Throne, Ocean, and writing music for pop icons such as Justin Bieber and Beyonce Knowles, has broken a system of complex gender assumptions. Luckily, rather than receive harsh treatment for his bisexuality, other powerful figures in the Hip-Hop market such as Russell Simmons have praised him.
Through this actions, Ocean has effectively shaken not only exterior stereotypes about the industry but also interior constructions. How many Hip-Hop/R&B artists are working incognito in an indecent industry, where only the degradation of fellow human beings is marketable? Will there finally be a clamp-down on the industry, with powerful figures now so greatly affected by Ocean’s sexual visibility and power as a contributor to large figures in the Hip-Hop/General U.S. Pop Industry?
What I can appreciate over all about these two men is that they are directing a great shift in our culture and mainstream media. Although one’s sexuality should remain a part of their private life unless they choose otherwise, it is an undeniable fact that sexuality has increased in prevalence as a frontier of paradigm, perspective and representation in mainstream media, from television shows such as Glee to open mainstream figures such as Wanda Sykes. However, it is undeniable that this concept has a long way to go before sexuality is openly accepted, when people no longer feel the need to “come out,” but rather just simply be.
Rohan Lewis is soldiering their way through their third year at Northwestern University. An ethnomusicology major with a minor in dance, Rohan invests time in performance and creation. A choreographer, dancer, trumpeter, playwright, composer, poet and fantasy writer, Rohan loves all things “fairytale.” Zie is inspired by Yo-Yo Ma, Lin Hwai Min, J. K. Rowling, Isabelle Allende, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tamora Pierce and Shakespeare. Rohan, born in Florida but raised in Atlanta, also carries a Jamaican dual citizenship.