Sally Ride was a brave woman, and I’m not just talking about the fact that she went into space. I’m also referring to the fact that she hid her true sexual orientation for 27 years.
People go on and on about how hard it is to come out of the closet. But sometimes I think it’s harder to stay in it. Sometimes the hardest noise to make is silence. I don’t know about Sally, but personally when I’m in love I want to stand atop a mountaintop and proclaim it to the world. Of course, she was a private person, and obviously smart. She might have known people would object to her preferences, not that it had anything to do with them. She might have known that no matter what she did, how well she did it or how much of a giant leap forward for womankind in general it was, the fact that she liked other women would have made all that a null in the minds of those who adored her. Maybe she saw that it would have turned her from a great pioneer in women’s rights to “just another lesbian feminist.”
Sally didn’t actually come out to the world at large and say, “guess what? I walked in space just like the boys, but I like the girls” while she was alive. She and her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, carefully worked out the wording of her obituary before her death from pancreatic cancer.
Why now? Why didn’t she come out and tell the world about it sooner?
Probably because she didn’t feel the need to. Whose business is it? If she and her partner were happy in their relationship, and many of their close friends were aware of just how close they were, then they have every right to keep it close to themselves. Celebrities nowadays seem to feel the need to air out all their dirty laundry in such a grand public scale, and it’s refreshing to see that someone hid something.
One thing I noticed a lot of as I was looking at different stories about this breaking news was that gay rights were brought into the equation. Do they belong there? My favorite headline was “Sally Ride chose privacy over gay rights.” This makes it sound like she completely disregarded gay rights to hide her secret. However, when USA Today speaks to Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, he says it’s a shame she didn’t come out sooner, because she could have helped people to understand gays and their contributions to society, but also that was her right. But due to the hush-hush nature of NASA, she probably would have lost her job.
However, I’m really hoping no one turns the passing on of a brave and wonderful woman into a march to end job discrimination against gays. Don’t get me wrong; I abhor job discrimination against gays. But this is not the person to use as fuel for the fire. It’s very obvious from her decision to not make the great reveal until after her death that she did not want to go public with it and be that warhorse. Can we respect her wishes and allow her to rest in peace, knowing she was incredibly brave in her silence and allowing her more of it?
If you’re going to use anyone for it, use a willing candidate. Sally obviously went to some considerable lengths to keep her secret, and it would be a shame to violate her desires simply because she no longer breathes.
I don’t know why Sally would decide to keep her secret quite so long as she did, because I don’t know her personally. But I do know that it was her decision, and I respect her for it. As long as she was happy with the woman she loved as she died, then she did what was right, no matter whether it wasn’t an uphill battle for gay rights or a shining example of bravery against stigmas. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what’s right for everyone, but I personally am glad she made her peace with it.