FROM THE ARCHIVE: Whitney Houston's 2000 Out Interview
By Out.com Editors
We remember the passing of the music icon by revisiting the singer's first interview with the gay press, in which she answered those pesky lesbian questions
After this second interruption, Houston again takes up the thread of her past. Davis launched her career in 1985 with an extravagance that was rare for an unknown artist 15 years ago, particularly a black female one. At the time, the music industry was hellbent on crossing over established black artists and newer, dance-oriented white ones. Michael Jackson broke the unspoken MTV color barrier, and Top 40 stations once indifferent to most black and dance-oriented performers in the wake of disco’s death were now embracing Jackson, Tina Turner, Prince, and Madonna. Davis knew the time was right for a singer with the spunk of a Jackson and the gloss of a Streisand. With video exposure replacing touring experience, Houston went from background singer to solo superstar within months. She was unprepared for the changes overnight success inflicted on everyday life.
“You never go back home,” she reflects, her mood turning somber. “I drove a Mercedes back home to see my mother when she still lived in East Orange, New Jersey. I parked my car in the driveway and when I came back, mayonnaise and mustard and all kinds of shit had been smeared on my car. That’s how things had changed. Because I had achieved, some people didn’t like it.”
Almost from the start, the media treated Houston with suspicion. While Prince pushed outrage, race, and otherness, Davis marketed Houston as a squeaky-clean, all-American songbird, adept at both mainstream-targeted dance numbers and Star Search-ready warblers like “The Greatest Love of All.” After the initial glow of her church background and star pedigree faded, the tabloid media started snooping for dish on the omnipresent-yet-mysterious star. “’Who is this Afro-American kid coming in here and singing pop music like Barbra Streisand?’” Houston says, recalling the tabloid attitude toward her. “‘We have to inspect this girl. We have to pick her apart.’ Barbra had her day, too, you know, as an American Jew. So did Diahann Carroll, Lena Horne. They had real tough issues to deal with—grinnin’ on stage with the white people and then coming home and having to deal with civil rights issues. They picked me apart ‘cause I surpassed the so-called rules. I beat the Beatles and the Elvises.’”
During her early hit years, Houston did few interviews. Music-industry insiders suggest that Davis limits the media’s access to Houston because of the disparity between her white-friendly image and her proudly black manner. It wasn’t long before the apparent vacuum of her personal life filled with a persistent rumor—that the diva was a dyke. How did that get started? “Mmmmm,” hesitates the usually quick-witted star. “I suppose it comes from knowing people…who are. I don’t care who you sleep with. If I’m your friend, I’m your friend. I have friends who are in the community. And I’m sure that in my days of bein’ out, hanging with my friends, having nothing but females around me, something’s gotta be wrong with that.”
Push closer to the Question and Houston’s playful demeanor vanishes, replaced by the bitterness that’s often defined her media profile. “Listen, I took a lot of grief for shit that wasn’t me, OK, ‘cause I had friends, ‘cause I was close to people,” she says, eyes blazing and hands waving. “But that ain’t me. I know what I am. I’m a mother. I’m a woman. I’m heterosexual. Period.”
“But I love everybody. If I was gay, I would be proud to tell you, ‘cause I ain’t that kind of girl to say, “Naw, that ain’t me.’ The thing that hurt me the most was that they tried to pin something on me that I was not. My mother raised me to never, ever be ashamed of what I am. But I’m not a lesbian, darling. I’m not [laughs].” Later, when the interview is over, she introduces me to her assistant, Robyn Crawford, the woman said in the tabloids to be her girlfriend. The introduction suggests these longtime friends have nothing to hide.
I mention to Houston that perhaps her new, public gay friendliness (such as this Out cover story) is not simply an opportunity to make sure the homo market buys a hits package sweetened with dance mixes of songs they’ve bought several times before, but a chance for her to set the record straight, so to speak, about her sexual orientation, and move on.
“Listen, I always move on,” she says. “Nothing can stop me from movin’. What didn’t kill me made me stronger, sweetie. [Laughs] People still don’t believe me. I did another interview today and after an hour and a half of talking to him, [the reporter] said, ‘I still don’t know you.’ I think he was looking for something he didn’t find, trying to understand if I was a jeans girl or a gowns girl. Is she R&B, or is she pop? I am me. I’m a mother, thank you. I love to hear my child call me mommy. That’s what I am, not lesbian, not gay, not all the bullshit. I don’t wanna hear that. It’s over. It’s done.”