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Spilling Whitney’s Tea Redux

Since I have done nothing but act like my mother’s child and mourn the passing of Whitney Houston for the last 10 days, I knew today’s post would be a return, in some way, to The Voice. Early last week, I had resolved to write a fun, lighter post, tentatively titled, “Whitney: Anatomy of a Diva,” where I post videos of Whitney singing with other, clearly lesser singers and offer commentary.

But that will have to wait.

After last Monday’s post, I got a really thoughtful and thought-provoking email asking about whether or not it was too soon discuss the nature of Whitney’s relationship with her former assistant, Robyn Crawford. It took me a few days to respond, because I thought I was deeply ambivalent about the matter. In reply, I questioned the impulse to posthumously out folks, and wondered if we had not found other ways to validate our own sexuality. I made that last claim with a little trepidation, because although I don’t find being able to identify with a celebrity in such a way helpful to my own self-esteem, I must acknowledge that others feel differently. (Moreover, I must readily confess that my addiction to poorly produced webseries starring lesbians of color does not stem solely from my thirst for things to hate on.)

Although I thought I’d simply no longer discuss the matter of Whitney and Robyn’s relationship, it seems necessary to reiterate my position after reading a deeply problematic article written by LGBT activist, Peter Tatchell. I found the post, subtly called, “Whitney’s REAL tragedy was giving up her greatest love of all – her female partner Robyn Crawford,” incredibly troublesome and an example of why I think we need not discuss this relationship beyond what Crawford said in her own eulogy of Houston. (And I say this with full understanding that I violate my own stance by contributing to the conversation. Such is paradox.)

Tatchell’s article is an appropriate example of the concern I was attempting to explain in my e-mail reply. He writes:

Whitney was happiest and at the peak of her career when she was with Robyn. Sadly, she suffered family and church pressure to end her greatest love of all.

She was fearful of the effects that lesbian rumours might have on her family, reputation and career. Eventually she succumbed. The result? A surprise marriage to Bobby Brown.

The marriage was a disaster. Bad boy Bobby was never her true soul mate. Giving up Robyn – they’d been inseparable for years – must have been emotionally traumatic.

Whitney’s life started going downhill soon afterwards. Previously wholesome and clean-living, she went on drink-and-drug binges – evidence of a troubled personal life and  much unhappiness.

It seems likely that the split with Robyn contributed to her substance abuse and decline.

There is a known correlation between denial of one’s sexuality and a propensity to self-destructive behaviour. Homophobia undoubtedly added to the pressures on Whitney and hastened her demise.

At the risk of sounding like a creepy conservative, this article sounds like an item on the gay agenda. It’s so predictable. (Compulsory) Marriage to a man + church/family pressure = drug addict lesbian. Cousin Dionne Warwick could’ve seen this coming.

C’mon, son.

A couple of things.

First, if Tatchell had done his homework, he would’ve read Crawford’s words and learned that Houston made her own (damn) decisions. And if that point is central to Crawford’s remembrance of her “best friend,” I think we should heed those words as indications that whatever pressure there might have been, it paled in comparison to Whitney’s own agency and her desires for her career.

Second, can we please stop blaming Bobby? Can we stop pretending like Houston’s off-stage life correlated directly with her public image? I seriously doubt that Bobby Brown introduced Whitney to drugs, or that the marriage marked the end of Houston’s “wholesome and clean-living” life. Seriously, Peter, what celebrity you know got out of ’86 without sniffing a line or several? (Word to Dwight Gooden.)

Third, as the funeral showed, the Houstons were not fans of the Browns. Further, Bobby Brown’s solo career helped usher in the nasty era of R&B. So the idea that Houston married Brown in order to quell lesbian rumors and please her family is utterly ridiculous. No diva with half a brain would’ve decided on Brown as the choice to clean-up an image. Clearly, Peter Tatchell has neither heard of nor visited Newark or East Orange, New Jersey. Since we’re going to play guessing games, I’m going to guess that Whitney saw home in Bobby, and he gave her permission to feel and be at home in front of the camera #somethingincommon.

To add, invalidating Houston and Brown’s relationship in this way is nothing but a pathetically veiled attempt to deny the fluidity of sexuality and forward the “born gay” argument at the core of this iteration of the gay rights movement. I’m not sure about a lot of things, but I’ll bet the $.30 in my savings account that Whitney and Bobby loved each other very deeply. So much so that the suggestion that Robyn was Whitney’s “one true love” (again, part of the “gay people aren’t promiscuous” argument also at the center of the gay rights movement) is reflective of a logic as foggy as whatever hovered over the center of Clive Davis’ head during the funeral. (Seriously, what was up with that?)

Articles like Tatchell’s exhibit the exact concerns I attempted to address in my response to the email I received after posting my Whitney eulogy. It’s so clear that Tatchell’s investment is not in honoring Houston or her relationship with Crawford. Rather, Tatchell sees Houston’s death as an opportunity to forward his own agenda. Houston is not a friend, but an example. And using people as examples is a horrendous thing to do, as it selectively chooses the portions we find (un)acceptable and does away with that we do not in order to preserve or undermine a myth we have locked in our minds.

And so, I must repeat myself: writing in a way that choruses 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. 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 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?

You prove my point, Tatchell. Tsk, tsk.

Let Whitney rest, y’all.


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