I feel deeply saddened by the news of the death of Ms. Whitney Houston. I am going to go out on a limb here because I must. I’ve read some opinions and the sparse details of her death announcement. We’re left waiting for a coroner’s report for the “real” story.
But what is the “real story?”
One can only speculate and read between the lines of any story of an individual whose talent and hard work leads them to a life of fame. We don’t linger much on what we consider cut and dry stories and that is totally in the eye of the beholder. But what about these stories that leave you questioning “why?” like Whitney’s story?
What could have been done to help and support?
I recall early in Ms. Houston’s career that there was a rumor that she had a very good friend — a female friend. Some whispered and rumored she might be queer. I listened. I heard the rumor. It reached my ears, unsolicited.
I wondered — could it be that a beautiful and talented young singer could be queer? A famous? talented? black? Lesbian? singer? Maybe she’s bisexual?
Hot on the heels of that rumor, I also heard that Whitney’s mom was not happy about that rumor (or truth) and she was very angry! I heard that Whitney had to give up that friend for her singing career.
As you may know, Whitney’s mom is a talented singer herself and Whitney’s cousin is Dionne Warwick. This tells me she was surrounded by support and people who were musically and vocally “in power” in her circle of close family and friends while she was growing up. Obviously they recognized her God-given talent as a child, not like us folk who try out for the “Voice” auditions on that ever-popular television reality show, or who take voice lessons at the local community college. No she was “in.”
So, she did go on to have a vocal and acting career, and she was loved by many and we lived to see it! I admit I only wanted to see the beautiful parts of her very public life. I never saw one episode of the reality TV show she was in. I closed my heart and my eyes because I was disappointed that she had married a man. It just didn’t seem right, but I could not articulate it at the time. As a culture, we are all guilty of watching the demise of a talented young black woman.
This happened in our lifetime!
I personally know many LGBTQ men and women who loved her and recognized her talent way before I did! She won me over with her song “I Will Always Love You.” It gives me chills when I hear it. It sounds to me like it comes down even from the very heavens. Every word is vocalized to convey it’s true deep meaning and it demonstrates range, agility and discipline. I wish she had had all the room she needed to grow and explore as a human being as she was able to accomplish vocally.
When I heard that she had started dating Bobby Brown, I felt sick to my stomach. I thought I heard he was doing drugs, and then it made me think of how often and pervasively I had heard from the queer women of color community about women being screamed at or scorned with the words “I WOULD RATHER YOU BE A DRUG ADDICT THAN A LESBIAN!” Or “I WOULD RATHER YOU BE A WHORE THAN BISEXUAL!” Or, “I WOULD RATHER YOU BE A PROSTITUTE THAN A QUEER!”
Oddly enough and humanly speaking, any one of us could be any of these, but sexual orientation is such a personal matter that no mother, father or culture can dictate. We have a better understanding now of what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender but in those days in the early ’80s we did not. I think “religion” has a lot to do with the discrimination of LGBT people, of Queer folks, if you will.
I fully understand Mr. Tony Bennett’s plea to legalize drugs as reported from the pre-Grammy party. Yes, there is something to be said about experimenting with drugs, thinking you can stop when you want. However, I don’t think this story is only about drug and alcohol abuse. I think this story is also about HOMOPHOBIA! Church sanctioned homophobia!
So often I have heard — in sacred circles of women of color sharing their stories — of homophobia that led to extreme abuse. For example, the story of a woman in her native land of Mexico who was raped with permission from her parents by a “friend of the family” –a man– who would take the lesbian out of the girl!
Oh yes! Sad and brutal, yet true.
Or the two young girls who loved each other so much but were prohibited by their parents to see each other, and who eventually committed suicide so that they would not have to separate!
While I was living in Chile, in a closeted relationship, I once lied to my mother so she would be happy and think that I wasn’t gay. I told her I was in a relationship with a man. I later took back my words.
For our beloved sister Whitney Elizabeth Houston, the damage has been done. May she rest in peace and rise in glory. I can only hope that the truth be revealed (personal and cultural) so that healing and forgiveness can come and we can do away with homophobia in our churches, our culture, in our hearts, in our minds and in our fragile world once and for all!
An earlier version of this piece was published on Epochalips