She’s wearing a red jumpsuit. There’s a diamond clasp in the middle and a very low neckline. Her hair is teased for every single inch that it is worth, and she has a bold red lip. Her voice comes out clear as a bell, she is giving pitch, tone, clarity, and drama. On March 31, 1991 Whitney Elizabeth Houston performed at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk Virginia for 3,500 Servicemen and women who had just returned from the Gulf War. My mama taped that special on VHS and we watched it until the tape wore out. Whitney Houston was magical. She was ethereal. She was phenomenal. She was also —and most important for this alpha queer—allegedly bisexual.
A few weeks ago, Whitney Houston’s long-time best friend, and alleged lover Robyn Crawford released her memoire. In it she discusses her close personal and intimate relationship with the deceased diva. Robyn’s claim is that she and Whitney were in love, but that Whitney and her family believed that her career would suffer if she was queer. In all fairness, they were probably correct. Whitney went on to be one of the most successful recording artists of all time. She found fame being everyone’s ideal woman, then she married a man, had a daughter. She had all the issues generally associated with fame and success, she suffered from contract squabbles, a troubled marriage, and eventually succumbing to whatever demons drove her to addiction when she overdosed on February 11, 2012. Whitney wasn’t the first superstar to hide who she was in an attempt to chase fame, and unfortunately, she won’t be the last.
This story is important because it is a microcosm of a bigger issue plaguing the LGBTQ community. The fact that many of us hide our sexuality for the sake of people who claim to care about us. We often enter relationships we know will leave us unsatisfied because they will allow us to maintain a necessary façade within our communities. We marry people who we may have strong affection for but who ultimately don’t provide us with the love we actually need. These people give us the “beards” we conveniently put on to hide our true identities in order to live palatable lives for the people who raised us, loved us, sheltered us, and who often unknowingly cause us the most distress.
Our loved ones operate under the mistaken premise that grave harm and misfortune will come to us if we live truthfully and authentically. They also believe that the anguish, pain, and sadness that we may experience suppressing that part of ourselves is worth whatever positive trade off we get by “fitting in” as straight people.
However, the mental and emotional damage that is done by suppressing a fundamental part of who we are can be life threatening. Whitney Houston was clearly in pain and that pain lead to some terrible life choices and ultimately her death. Is that better than her just living authentically and maybe being a little less famous? In the end she lived her life the way she wanted to. Those of us who live in contradiction to the wishes of our homophobic loved ones have to absorb the disappointment and loudly expressed heartbreak of our loved ones who believe we are making a dire mistake in not hiding who we are.
This essentially means that those who love us…don’t really love us. And what a kick in the chest that is. They love who they want us to be. They love who they think we should be. They love what we should represent. And in Whitney’s case they didn’t really love her at all. Because she was dying, screaming out for help, drowning and still the most important thing to THEM was that she not be that one thing. YIKES. The fact that her family was MORE willing to accept her being a drug addict than being that other thing (allegedly) is a TERRIBLE look but a factual reality for many of us in the queer community, and it’s not until we die that people realize how serious sexual identity is. Now, it’s not fair to say that ALL of Whitney’s demons were caused by her not being able to be out (allegedly), but we can deduce that she was unhappy and we know that she couldn’t be with a person she loved (allegedly) and for many of us that would be a huge cause of melancholy.
Within the LGBTQ community there are a lot of “found” families. These are people we meet in life and claim as family because our own families are toxic. Our found families save us time and time again because they accept us as we are, and they allow us to live freely. There is nothing healthier than living in your truth and settling inner turmoil. Straight people know this, they live this, and they would deny it to the queer community because they have yet to fully accept our humanity. I would encourage straight people to imagine for ONE minute what they would do if someone forced them to live outside of their truth. Most importantly, I would encourage everyone to love the important people in their lives exactly for WHO they are when they are alive because no one can hear you appreciate them from the grave.