Frank Ocean and Anderson Cooper Come Out: Society Is Finally Over the Gay Label
News broke Wednesday from the Los Angeles Times about musical artist Frank Ocean's pronouns. Apparently the artist's love songs are about a him and not a her. Anderson Cooper has also been all around the news, and not because he's reporting it. What's interesting about these two stories and the individuals behind them (and a roundup of others from the Los Angeles Times) is the way in which individuals discuss their sexuality, and what it says about society.
According to the article from the Los Angeles Times, Ocean made a point in his statements about his sexuality to not actually mention his sexuality. There was no talk of labels like "gay" or "bisexual," there was just a story about Ocean falling in love. And Anderson Cooper? He made a point to be nonchalant and tell his story with little fanfare. Entertainment Weekly recently ran a special report on the blasé attitudes of stars as they come out of the woodwork to come out. The piece astutely noted how for public figures like Cooper and Ocean, "the current vibe for discussing one’s sexuality is almost defiantly mellow: This is part of who I am, I don’t consider it a big deal or a crisis, and if you do, that’s not my problem."
So, what's going on?
Quite frankly, this might be one of the better things to happen in pop culture since Rickrolling. No longer is coming out as non-heterosexual a career ender, or even necessarily a blip in your career at all. There's definitely still notice taken (proved by the multitude of articles written covering these stars' stories). But the shift in a stars' sexuality becoming the primary descriptor of their person, to it being just another facet of who they are, is something to celebrate.
Audre Lorde, a self described "black, lesbian, feminist, mother, warrior, poet" and most definitely activist, wrote often about the concept of intersectionality and the pressure she and others felt to prioritize one aspect of their identity above another in every day life in order to fit into the world in a more neat, packaged way. The easiest way to begin to understand this tension is to think of how you reference someone's person. It's the difference between saying "You know, Lisa, that black girl", "Yeah, Lisa, the gay girl", or "That's Lisa, the hardcore feminist". You can start to see how impossible it would feel to be Lisa.
The move towards stars coming out and having that action not necessarily define or redefine the work that they do or overshadow other aspects of self-identification (mother, activist, comedian, Latino, etc.), might mean that as a society we are inching towards a future where we don't solely define gay people by their sexuality. Rather, we are pausing to accept that "gay" or "bisexual" can simply be one aspect of a person's life. We are beginning to let people be people, in all of the various multitudes and varieties that they can be.