This article first appeared in Attitude issue 287, September 2017
A couple of months ago, in this column, I mused on recent experiences of homophobia I’d encountered which highlighted how far we still have to go in our fight for equality. Since then, a further incident has led me to reconsider the mindset of the perpetrators of homophobia.
Early this year a friend invited me to see Frank Ocean at Lovebox. Four months later we’re standing in a field waiting for Frank to arrive. A black man bounds over. As he does, I notice his beauty. Shirt unbuttoned, skin the same as mine — only younger — body taught, face like Bambi. But in his eyes sits hate.
“You lot are definitely gay, I’m not even gonna lie!” he yells in our faces before his companion pulls him away.
First comes the shock, then the anger. I’m at a gig of a mainstream black artist who rejects heteronormative binaries. A man who, to quote Chris Mench in A Lyrical Analysis of Queer Themes in Frank Ocean’s Music, “infused his music with lyrics and themes addressing his sexuality, and the way in which it intersects with and complicates his racial identity as a black man…” A dude who openly sings: “My guy pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell.” It’s like I’ve just been called camp by a Boney M fan!
Then there’s the most troubling factor for me: homophobia from one black person towards another. This always feels worse because they know what persecution is. Now they want the whip.
On the way home with my friend — who is white — we consider where this outburst came from. Perhaps he was angry with Frank. Maybe with himself? Perhaps he’s had wet dreams over this idiosyncratic R&B singer from California and now feels repulsed.
Chances are he spent a lot of money to attend this gig and yet he’s affronted by those with homosexual tendencies, or does he only accept homos with a six-pack, who are overtly masculine and who rap? I love Frank. I love how he makes me feel about myself and my place in the world. The way I see it, you can’t receive some of his songs without receiving the jolt caused by what it is to be a black man who likes to fuck men in a straight, white world.
But that’s one of the strange paradigms about art. Nicholas Hytner once said art doesn’t necessarily convert the masses, that’s never been the point. Someone can watch Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children, leave the theatre and still ignore a person begging in the street. I don’t want to compare being gay to homelessness, but the point is someone can behave like an arsehole regardless of whether they’ve “received” the art or not.
The homophobe I encountered said, “I’m not even gonna lie,” implying that he often might. Having blessed us with his judgement, he stumbled back into the crowd. Then Frank stepped on stage to deliver the truth.