In the 1980s, Whitney Houston ruled TV as “a glamorous showgirl shaped by a Svengali,” who was the powerful Arista Records producer Clive Davis. But not many people knew that she was a lesbian.
In his new book, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All: In Defense of Whitney Houston,” which came out on February 1 (Abrams Press), author Gerrick Kennedy reveals the timeless diva’s deep and dark secret.
Whitney kept her s*xuality a secret from the public because she felt like she had to fit in with her strict religious upbringing. She did this all the way up until her tragic death 10 years ago this week.
Kennedy wrote –
“Because her music didn’t fit squarely in the boxes expected of a Black girl making music in the ’80s, she was seen as not Black enough. She was ridiculed. Brandished ‘Whitey’ — and endured endless speculation on her s*xuality.”
Whitney’s Christian mother, Cissy, raised her in Newark, NJ. Cissy was a member of Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church and one of the Drinkard Sisters, a group of gospel singers. Even when she was a little girl, Whitney felt different.
Kennedy said that she was a tomboy who didn’t want to wear the girly clothes and hair bows that her mother chose for her. The New York Post said that instead, she liked to wear jeans and t-shirts and run track with her two older brothers, Gary and Michael.
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In the summer of 1980, Whitney met Robyn Crawford, who was 19 years old. She was 17 at the time. Both of them were youth counselors at the East Orange Community Center in NJ at the time.
Kennedy wrote –
“It was a bond that formed almost immediately, and they were inseparable that summer. If you saw one, you saw the other.”
Robyn was Whitney’s first close friend and the only person besides her brothers she could trust completely. With her best friend, the future star felt at ease and could be the rough-and-tumble tomboy who liked to smoke cigarettes, get high and cuss. Kennedy wrote that Whitney and Robyn met in the living room of Whitney.
The author wrote –
“Their lips met, bound by all that had been unspoken between the two. That first kiss was long, warm like honey.”
“It was free and honest — loving and tender,” Robyn wrote in her 2019 memoir, ‘A Song For You: My Life With Whitney Houston,’ as she broke her silence after decades.
She remembered –
“We both wanted to touch and explore each other, and we did until we fell asleep in each other’s arms.”
That summer, the couple sunbathed at the Jersey Shore, went to gay clubs, and were even caught kissing in a rental car by a cop, who told them to move along.
Robyn wrote about how she drove Whitney to club shows while Whitney went to see Robyn’s college basketball games. She also wrote that the couple went to Harlem to buy a dime bag of weed and get some cocaine.
Kennedy wrote –
“They were partners in a traditional sense but never had a real conversation about labels — lesbian, gay, bis*xual, girlfriend.”
Robyn explained in her memoir –
“We were friends. We were lovers. We were everything to each other. We weren’t falling in love. We just were. We were one: that’s how it felt.”
They made plans for both the songs Whitney would sing and their own future. They even moved in together because Whitney said she would go with Robyn wherever life took her.
But it wasn’t long before Cissy found out about the strange relationship. When she did, she told her daughter she couldn’t even walk in public with her lover.
At the time, there was a lot of homophobia in the church and in the music business. After Clive Davis gave her a record deal, Whitney knew that the affair had to end, so she talked to Robyn about it.
She told her lover, Kennedy wrote –
“You know how I feel about you and we will always have that.”
The affair ended the summer it began, but Whitney would hire Robyn as an executive assistant, a role that, according to the author, “grew over time.”
As expected, the appointment did not stop the rumors from spreading. In 1985, there was a lot of talk on the radio and in tabloids about whether or not Whitney Houston was gay.
Kennedy wrote –
“The public concluded that Whitney was a closet lesbian and she and Robyn were star-crossed lovers doomed by the oppression of society and Whitney’s religious family.”
Robyn helped Whitney run her business and was her best friend for 15 years. Robyn told Cissy about Whitney’s drug use, but when the “I Will Always Love You” singer was asked about it, she brushed it off.
Unfortunately, she was using drugs a lot and it was getting out of hand. The star was found face down in a bathtub full of water at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 11, 2012. She turned 48.
Robyn didn’t talk about her relationship with Whitney for almost 40 years until she wrote a book about it in 2019.
She finally fell in love again with Lisa Hintelmann, who was 49 and worked as an executive director at a talent search firm. They got married and took in twins.
Robyn wrote in her memoir –
“I realized that I needed to save myself.”
Touching on her romantic history with Whitney, she said –
“Yes, in the end, it was tragic, but the dream and the rise were beautiful. I owe it to my friend to share her story, my story. Our story. And I hope that in doing so, I can set us free.”