I've witnessed the death of many celebrities and I've watched the reaction of fans and the world with careful and often analytical eyes. I love pop culture and I love examining people's relationship with it, but I always watch with a little distance. I'm the observer of these acts. The writer. Whitney's death, however, hit closer to home and I've spent the last week thinking about why that is and the impact she had on my life.
As gay men, we often have a strong connection to great music divas. There's the cliche of loving Cher and Judy and Bette and for a little younger gays Madonna. I enjoy many of these artists, but I've never been the big queeny fan of any of them. I actually spent most of my teenage years listening to Ben Folds, alternative rock, and Alanis Morissette. In many ways, my music taste was far from what one might expect from a budding gay boy. There are, of course, exceptions and one of those is Whitney Houston.
Whitney's music has always been in my life and I can attach so many memories to her songs. Her early work I sang along to with my sisters on car trips from Indiana to Florida (all on cassettes of course). I remember being in a hotel swimming pool, age 9 or 10, and belting out "Greatest Love of All." Now that's a gay boy. Or singing "Didn't We Almost Have It All" while playing on our swing set in the backyard.
When The Bodyguard came out, my parents wouldn't let me see it because it was rated R, but I remember my older sister watching it and letting me come in and see the end and that's when I heard her version of "I Will Always Love You" for the first time. By the time I finally saw the movie, I knew all the music by heart from listening to the album over and over again.
I remember buying the CD single of "Exhale Shoop Shoop" and playing it on repeat in my room on my very first CD player that I bought with my own money. There I was a red-haired white boy queening it out to Whitney and loving every minute of it. Of course, I was still very much in denial about my sexuality.
When she released her album My Love is Your Love, I was a sophomore in high school and had just gotten my license. I remember driving around blaring "Heartbreak Hotel" and "It's Not Right But It's Okay" and feeling so free. There's nothing better than being young and having that first taste of freedom that comes from having your own car.
When I Look to You came out, I was also out and going to gay clubs often. It was my first chance to dance in a sea of men with Whitney booming through the speakers. I was well prepared for the moment and embraced it fully. I was glad to have her back. When this album came out it made me realize that Whitney was my gay diva and I suddenly understood that bond that so many have with other artists.
After finding out about her death, I finished getting dressed and we headed to the club. There's no better place to be when a great diva dies than in a gay club. That night I danced to every Whitney song that came on and I celebrated her voice and the impact it had on me as a young gay boy in the Midwest.
For me, Whitney is part of my past. A part of my childhood. A part of my own discovery of my sexuality. It's sad to lose that piece and to know it has come to an end. Yes, I know she was a celebrity and I didn't really know her. Yes, I know there many more important issues to write about and for the media to cover than Whitney's death. Yes, I know that it's our American obsession with fame and tragedy that contributes to the media storm and perhaps even to her own downfall. But even though I know how silly it might be, her death impacted me and for just a moment, I'm willing to turn off the analytical side of my brain and mourn the loss of a great artist.
-Stephen (It's Not Right)