I'm glued to my computer, reading any and every online article about the devastating news of Whitney Houston's death while playing Whitney Houston's YouTube playlist, and streaming CNN's coverage on my television in the background as I compose my own blog post about her impact on me.
My first recollection of Whitney was when I was a kid living in New Jersey. One snowy day, I was at my friend's house slipping and sliding on a frozen pond in his backyard and he pointed at the house across the way and said, "That's Whitney Houston's house". As a 10 year-old, I was aware of the celebrity name, but I didn't really know anything else about her. As my interest in music and pop culture inevitably developed, so did my parasocial relationship with this iconic star.
As a closeted adolescent, I would find my own private time to indulge in my secret gay identity with America Online via a dial-up connection. With my novice Internet research skills, I found repetitive information that painted gay culture in a confetti of rainbows and divas. I learned that it was imperative for me to become familiar with names like Judy, Liza, Barbra, Dolly, Cher, and Whitney.
When I came out after college, I finally allowed myself to be physically immersed in gay culture when I worked as a bartender at a gay nightclub in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I experienced the aesthetic of gay nightlife that included an overload of bright television screens playing old school Whitney music videos and cabaret nights of spot lit drag queens lip-syncing "I Will Always Love You" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody".
Basking in pride with other gay friends, a running joke among us was the imitation of Whitney's particular mannerisms on her then-husband's reality television show, Being Bobby Brown. Spontaneously dancing in a gift shop or yelling, "Kiss my ass!" entered into our lexicon. The strangeness of Whitney's performance-as-self is breathtaking, much like the simple documentation of Big and Little Edie.
Now on CNN, reporters are standing outside The Beverly Hilton with fans that have just broken out into song in honor of Whitney's legacy. The camera captures some of the fans holding candles and wearing solemn expressions. In comparison to the mediated images of gay culture that I saw as a kid on my computer surfing AOL fifteen years ago and the mediated images of gay men we see on television today, it is clear that some of those fans are gay. Whitney is undeniably an important component of a stereotypical contemporary gay identity.
At the rapid rate of information consumption, we've already received Dolly's quote and Mariah's tweet. At the time of writing this post on the eve of the Grammy Awards, I manically imagine who will perform in her Grammy tribute, and CNN suddenly confirms my suspicions with the news that Jennifer will be singing. Ken Ehrlich, the Grammy's executive producer, says that the tribute will be "something respectful" and "not going to be a full-blown tribute". My mind directs to the future and wonders what that full-blown tribute will be like.
On such a sad day of tragedy, I feel like a part of my identity has died. I am by no-means a Whitney superfan, but I realize her influence on me and a larger group I associate with. Throughout this post, I've managed to sprinkle the names of famous ladies as a kind of shibboleth of a particular sect of gay culture. She was a fixture throughout my life and will continue to inspire late-night dance sessions and impossible-to-reach karaoke notes in those times when life is rough and art is the only outlet to bring a smile to my face.