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Whitney & Robyn What would a queer identity have meant for the pop icon?

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With the premier of BET’s “The Bobby Brown Story,” hitting the small screen earlier this month, we are taken for a ride through the life of the bad boy pop star, his past, vices, demons, and his relationship with Whitney Houston. Although mainly focused on Bobby Brown, viewers got some incite into an intimate, hush-hush part of Whitney Houston’s life from the vantage point of her husband— her relationship with long time friend Robyn Crawford.

 

The last two years have produced two Whitney Houston documentaries. In 2017, Showtime aired “Can I Be Me,” a story about the singer’s extraordinary and tragic life. In July 2018, Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney hit theaters. Both films have also explored in part, Whitney Houston’s relationship with Crawford. It’s possible Houston and Crawford were just friends, but I doubt it. And I can’t help thinking what if. What would have happened if, in 1989, pop’s first princess was queer? A Black, female mega star with roots in the church. Queer. 

 

In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow triggered a public conversation when she said on her blog that gay people have a responsibility to their community and future generations to come out. She added though that only gay people get to decide if and when that happens.

 

Inside the fame that would consume Houston’s life, Crawford seemed like a respite. It makes sense because Crawford was around before all that. The women met while working summer jobs when Houston was 16 and Crawford was a couple years older. In one of her interviews included in the Whitney documentary, Houston recalls worrying about not having friends during her summer gig. And then she said, “…here comes Robyn with this beautiful, beautiful afro. She was tall and very statuesque….” Apparently, Crawford, who had been friends with Houston’s older brother, was stepping in to protect her from being bullied. Houston took Crawford’s chivalry well. She reminisces, “Wow man. She stood up for me. I remember thinking I’ve known this person seems like all my life.”

 

Crawford was fly and handsome-pretty with a face sculpted by high cheekbones, a good jawline and arched brows. Her allure was obvious. Because Houston grew up as a church girl, I imagine that meeting a person like RobynCrawford was full of intrigue for her. She was not only fine, but she was also good people. “[B]eautiful, beautiful afro…tall and statuesque…I’ve known this person all my life….”

 

Houston eventually moved in with Crawford at 18. As her music career thrived, she would assume roles as Houston’s personal assistant, executive assistant, and creative director in addition to being her best friend. The Showtime doc claims that, in 2000, Crawford was paid by Houston’s family to give up all her roles. She left the Houston orbit in the middle of a tour and didn’t resurface until Houston’s death in 2012. Recently, folks who stuck around that orbit have been chatty about their relationship. But neither Houston nor Crawford ever confirmed anything more than a loving friendship. Early in her career, Whitney was often asked about Robyn and about whether the two of them were in a lesbian relationship. She always denied being gay.

 

Annoying as that must have been, I get it. There’s something about the way Houston and Crawford spoke about each other that was just…intimate. It’s undeniable.

 

Crawford is absent from both documentaries. Of course she is. After Whitney passed, Crawford told Esquire, “I have never spoken about her until now. And she knew I wouldn’t. She was a loyal friend, and she knew I was never going to be disloyal to her. I was never going to betray her.” Maybe Houston was bi, or she was just bi for Craword. Or maybe what the two of them shared wasn’t a romance. Either way, I think Robyn loved her different from everybody else. Better.

 

In the Esquire obituary, Crawford also mentions that Houston wasn’t just being led this way and that. “She was doing the driving… [s]he did what she wanted to do.” And that’s the tragedy. Houston lived the life she wanted, and the evolution of it was a culmination of her choices. Maybe I’m just being a sad fan. But I wish she’d chosen differently.

 

If Whitney and Robyn could have been open, maybe it would have been career suicide, but what if it wasn’t? Whitney’s voice was incredible. At her peak, no pop star could do what she did with pop music. Maybe she could’ve survived on talent alone and blown up what everybody thought about sexuality.  

 

I know. That’s a lot to put on a person and a relationship. But can you imagine? What if?

 

Whitney & Robyn What would a queer identity have meant for the pop icon?">

Monique Gamble

Dr. Monique A. Gamble is a Professor, photographer, and writer. Her academic specialties include American Government, International Relations, and Black Politics. Dr. Gamble’s photography was recently featured in the 2017 “Songs of My People: 25 Years Later” art exhibit. Currently, she is teaching courses on Black Politics and American Government in Washington, DC. Follow her on Instagram: @crownixxvi and Twitter: @thomasinacrown

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