After my Whitney post, I got an email from someone who read it. She was in the middle of a debate about whether or not to it was too soon to discuss Whitney Houston’s sexuality, namely rumors regarding a relationship with her former assistant, Robyn Crawford. (Crawford’s response to Houston’s death can be found here.) The reader wanted to know my opinion on the matter.
It took me longer than usual to respond. Part of this is because I’m having the most random-ass mourning-a-celebrity experience ever. (I blame my mother.) I’m also deeply ambivalent about it, I think. Well, maybe. Anyway, this is what I said:
I appreciate your email. I generally respond much more quickly, but I had to take some time to think about this. I’ve been thinking about Whitney Houston a lot, in many different ways, and this part of her story is simply one of the myriad narratives we might draw from her life.
You know, I read Robyn Crawford’s obituary, and although it was restrained, it said so much. And I appreciated her loyalty—for whatever reason she decided not to say everything so blatantly—while still acknowledging their relationship. I think those who can see all that Robyn was saying about the extent of their relationship, will find it. Those who don’t, won’t. Their relationship was an open secret. Anyone who wants to know the tea, will.
But what was also important about Crawford’s remembrance was the fact that Whitney made her own decisions. She was an agent, in charge. I say that to say that Whitney’s choice not to divulge the extent of their relationship, in my mind, was probably not due to Clive Davis or someone else handling her career. I think she saw what she wanted, knew the image she needed to project, and behaved, more or less, accordingly.
And I think her relationship with Bobby was real, and points to the fluidity of sexuality. (A fact that undermines the discourse of being “born gay,” which is at the core of this latest effort at GLBTQ rights.) I think acknowledging the authenticity of both of those relationships could spark a really interesting conversation about sexuality’s fluidity, but I’m not sure it’s one we’re willing to have—ask Cynthia Nixon. As such, the idea of saying something like, “Whitney was gay,” is really reductive—and dishonest.
Furthermore, I’m gathering that your point that the “youth don’t know our history,” that this is a “cautionary tale,” relies on the idea that Houston’s drug abuse was because she was not able to be out fully? I don’t agree with that. I think other things, namely her genius and the demanding level at which people consumed it, probably compelled that kind of behavior. I mean it when I say that I don’t think Houston had a peer. And I think the kind of loneliness that comes with that kind of brilliance makes drug use a viable option and coping mechanism. (Way more folks have been way more destructive because of way less talent.) Or, she could just have daddy issues like every woman who has appeared on Intervention.
All that said, my response is that a post about Whitney’s alleged (homo)sexuality is something I don’t really agree with. I’m taking my cue from Robyn. If she’s not saying anything, I don’t think I have a right to beyond what I’ve outlined here. I’m not a fan of outing—even posthumously so. To more directly answer your question: It’s not that it’s too early to discuss. I question the impulse to want to discuss it at all. I question what we reap from it. I question the desire to continue to pick apart a life that has already been so unforgivingly dissected on front street. I think about an article about this very subject that appeared on The Daily Beast. An article that was so ugly I couldn’t get through the first paragraph; so ugly that if I ever see the writer, I might have to abandon pacifism. I don’t mean to suggest that same gender relationships are ugly, that they should not be talked about, that talking about this would tarnish Houston’s legacy. I say that because I want to think about the interlocuters of those conversations, their motives, etc. What’s the point of the conversation if the news just sounds like pornography emanating from gossipy lips? Besides, haven’t we found a more constructive way to validate ourselves? Our youth?
I’m rambling, but I don’t think, in this instance, that such ends justify the means. The evidence is there for those who are interested and invested in knowing the full case. But I’m not sure how it benefits us, even GLBTQ youth, in any way beyond having another, juicy factoid about an icon whose public persona obscured her real humanity. But isn’t everybody a more complicated version of their public selves?
I hope that makes some semblance of sense.
I’m curious about other responses. I know many don’t agree. I’d love to hear those opinions.