This is part of This Made Me, a HuffPost series paying tribute to the formative pop culture in our lives. Read more stories from the series here.
R&B saint Frank Ocean told a lot of lies in his 2012 song “Thinkin Bout You.” His whimsical lyrics cheekily spoke of having beach houses in Idaho and fighter jets he couldn’t fly. But the one lie that struck the most dissonant chord within me was denying his feelings for the man he was in love with, which he later rectified in the song’s chorus.
Ocean’s ode to a life-changing love made me realize that I was trying to tell a similar lie to myself. It also made me reflect more on my sexuality than any piece of art had ever done. With “Thinkin Bout You” marking its 10-year anniversary in 2022, I can’t help but ponder even more how one song changed the entire course of my life and gave me the strength to be someone I thought I could never be.
2012 was one of the most formative years of my life. I was approaching my senior year of college and struggling to figure out which direction to go professionally. I was also having a hard time coming to terms with my sexuality. After a set of tumultuous flings, I was finally in a relationship and experiencing what it was like to give and receive love from a man.
I was happy but hidden. I was ashamed of myself and was struggling to understand emotions that felt natural in a society that said otherwise. Like many Black queer kids raised in the church, I could sense that there were others like me. But I couldn’t see models of young men like me who were completely themselves: unhinged from the shackles of homophobia and dancing in the light of Black queer boy joy.
That lack of representation in my community and within the media (save for the gem “Noah’s Arc”) reinforced my distance from and confusion over an identity that I didn’t know how to navigate. It was as if a broken compass was leading me farther from the true happiness I needed. Unfortunately, that lack of direction drove a wedge between me and my family, my friends, and eventually, the man I had fallen for.
Whenever I fail to understand my own feelings, words and music give me the ability to process things clearly. When a 20-year-old me heard Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” and read his accompanying Tumblr note, I felt like I had seen myself reflected in a lyrical mirror for the first time.
“Thinkin Bout You” took different queer canonical elements, like “The Wizard of Oz,” and popular queer topics of that time, like gay marriage, and mixed them with melancholy and fantasy to manifest a song about queer love and longing that resonated within the hearts of many — mine included. When Ocean compared his emotional state to a mess made by a tornado, I knew what he meant, and I knew what it was like to experience love and to long for it in spite of that mess.
At the time, same-gender marriage wasn’t legal in my home state of North Carolina, let alone nationwide. Still, Ocean’s desire to marry the man in his song, implied in his lyrics, conjured images in my head of what that could be like for me.
Along with his Tumblr note, Ocean proclaimed that his first love was a man. Others had their own opinions. But ultimately, through Ocean’s lyrical storytelling, he made room for other Black queer boys like myself to question their sexuality, to explore it without labeling it prematurely, to fall in and long for love, and to be vulnerable about it. His note and song added to the conversation on how queerness doesn’t have to be confined to one thing.
Although there have always been Black queer musicians in the music industry, the scenario that Ocean painted was different. A Black man wedged between the worlds of R&B and hip-hop, genres known for perpetuating homophobia and toxic masculinity, shone through with his moment of vulnerability.
“His song shook the walls of the music industry, echoed throughout society and somehow struck a chord within a Southern Black queer kid searching for understanding.”
“Thinkin Bout You” made room for another conversation on Black queer artistry in the recording industry. While Black queer musicians have brought this conversation to the table before, Ocean’s career-defining song sought to bring more Black queer men in R&B and hip-hop to the table and opened up more doors for other Black queer men to do the same. Now Lil Nas X, Taylor Bennett, Steve Lacy and more exist in the same space, and Ocean plays at least a small part in that.
His song shook the walls of the music industry, echoed throughout society and somehow struck a chord within a Southern Black queer kid searching for understanding. A decade later, Ocean’s emotive song still receives my love.
When I hear Ocean melodically asking the man he loves if he thinks about a future between them, I remember a Black queer boy who wouldn’t dare think so far ahead about the man he loved. I see a boy who needed Ocean’s words to help him make sense of change, stop fixing what wasn’t broken and make the dream of who he could be a reality.
Ten years later, that boy, now a man, finds comfort in the places where vulnerability, softness, queerness and love lie. He now gets to comfortably think about forever with the man he fell in love with in college.