Finding Myself in Frank Ocean’s “Chanel”

3/14/2017

I remember reading Frank Ocean’s open letter on Tumblr, discussing his romance with another man, the beginning of my senior year of college. At the time I identified as straight, despite having drunkenly hooked up with a dozen men, if not more. Despite my many sleepless nights asking the cliche existential question, “What am I?” — and by that what I really meant was, “How do I identify sexually?” — the “B word” was never an option.

Zachary Zane

Gay, now that was an option. Straight and horny. That too was an option, and the one I chose. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’d used the phrase a “mouth is a mouth,” and encouraged my straight male friends to try getting blown by a guy because they’re “so much better at it.” They’d all laugh and (surely) speculate about my closetedness behind my back. But goddamn, I was convincing as all hell. Not only to others, but to myself. I even convinced a few of my straight friends to hook up with guys.

Needless to say, they weren’t into it. I hoped they’d come back from their experiences with affirmative views similar to my own. That was never the case. They came back with, “Yeah… it was fine, but not for me,” or “I had to keep thinking about women to get hard. It was really awkward.”

It turns out there’s a person behind the mouth. My straight friends were able to see that. And while I knew it, while I knew I was actually attracted to the person behind the mouth, it was easier for me to proudly proclaim being a selfish, perverted jackass who uses people. So that’s what I did.

That’s where I was in my life the beginning of my senior year of college. At the time, I was living with my two straight best friends, a close gay friend, and his boyfriend.

Together, the five of us read Ocean’s letter aloud and speculated on the “true nature” of his sexuality. I remember one the gay guys I was living with asking incredulously, “So is he gay or what?”

We all agreed that he liked men, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s gay. I brought up the counterargument of myself. They all shrugged me off as an anomaly.

“Zach, no one knows what the hell is going on with you!”

Then the “B word” came up. One of the gay men I lived with used the label bisexual as a stepping stone before he came out as gay. I had refused to label myself as bi, and as such, the conversation about bisexuality was less than positive.

“No guy is actually bi,” were words that came up.

Eventually, the conversation ended without having reached a consensus. He’s not straight. It’s unlikely he’s bi (because, like, seriously?) And he may be closeted gay.

Frank Ocean

Now Channel Orange, to this day, is one of my favorite albums of all time. My two favorite songs on it, not surprisingly, are “Forrest Gump” and “Bad Religion.” I repeatedly listened to these songs senior year to help put me to sleep. To help quiet the existential and confusing thoughts. Ocean’s music helped calm me because I felt comforted knowing that at least one other person was having thoughts, attractions, and behaviors similar to mine.

Shortly after college, I moved to a new city, Boston. There, I started testing the bi label. Finally, with the help of my therapist, I realized the word fit, although I didn’t come out to my parents until Thanksgiving of 2014.

Frank Ocean is part of the reason I was able to embrace the bi label. The way he openly discusses his sexuality, with such candor, allowed me to realize I wasn’t different. I realized that my sexuality isn’t sensational, as it’s so often depicted in the media. It doesn’t mean anything else about me besides the fact that I am attracted to people of various genders. Besides that, my bisexuality doesn’t exist in conjunction with dishonesty, perversion, confusion, or any other personality trait. Frank Ocean helped me realize that bi people are just like everyone else, looking for love.

So when I saw on Twitter today that Frank Ocean released a new song that’s being hailed as a “bisexual anthem,” I immediately stopped what I was doing and listened.

It was emotional listening to his new song, Chanel. Like Ocean, I see both sides like Chanel. I see the beauty in femininity, masculinity, and everything in between. I can love various genders.

The thing is, visibility matters. There’s a reason why all us so called “social justice warriors” repeat this time and time again. Visibility feeds the human need for authentic validation by realizing that you are not alone.

Frank Ocean is a beacon of visibility for folks who are attracted to more than one gender. His music and words have helped me, and I’m sure thousands of others like me, by showing me that I’m not alone.

That’s why Chanel is so important.

Thank you, Frank Ocean, yet again.

Zachary Zane

Zachary Zane a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, speaker, YouTuber, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He’s a contributing editor at The Advocate Magazine, a columnist at Bi.org, and currently writes for The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Out Magazine, and PRIDE.