So the criticism of Sally Ride’s decision to keep her sexual orientation under wraps all her life is already starting to appear. As a member of her generation (she was born just two years before me) I can’t find it in my heart to blame her for it. But my defense of her decision would not be this one…
Ride lived a quiet life, a throwback to another time not so long ago; when someone’s personal life wasn’t splashed all over television or Facebook. There’s a reason it’s called “a private life.”
In death, Ride has already become politicized. Progressive and gay blogs are lamenting the fact that O’Shaughnessy will not receive Ride’s federal benefits because of the Marriage Act (DOMA) and blaming Republicans.
Ride obviously didn’t want to be a gay icon. If she had, she could have easily sat down with Oprah or Ellen and told the world about her sexuality, her private life and her love for O’Shaughnessy, whom she had known since she was 12.
Instead, Ride lived in a world where we should all live, a place where we celebrate someone for her accomplishments and not her sexual orientation.
Yes, yes…another time not so long ago when being outed meant the end of your career, and that was if you were lucky. Another time not so long ago when homosexuals were routinely witch hunted out of the military. Another time not so long ago when sodomy laws were on the books in nearly every state in the union. Another time not so long ago when homosexuals could be locked up in some places simply for dancing together. Another time not so long ago when the popular culture portrayed homosexuals as either pathetic faggots, sinister child molesters, or psychopathic killers.
I can just see the writer of her closeting obituary in the New York Times nodding their head. Yes, yes, lets just keep these matters private shall we? What need everyone know about a person’s sex life? Really, that’s a private matter after all. Read this part again…
Ride lived in a world where we should all live, a place where we celebrate someone for her accomplishments and not her sexual orientation.
And there it is: Homosexuals don’t love, they just have sex. Heterosexuals have families, they have spouses, life partners, who they shared the hardships and the joys of their lives with. They have love lives, some rich, some poor, some blissfully content, some painfully lonely. Homosexuals have a sexual orientation. Please keep your sex lives to yourselves. There’s a reason why gay people of my generation, and sadly even today, “choose” to keep their sexual orientation “private”. It’s the other side of the same reason some people insist they do. Coincidentally it’s the same reason a lot of gay people choose to live out loud.
I know what it was like growing up in those days. I know how it felt to have a constant barrage of venom and hate thrown at you from every direction. I know what it is to loose your job the moment, the instant your employers figure out that you’re a homosexual. I know how it is that you find yourself right on the cusp of coming out to a parent and the words just choke in your throat and you can’t get them out. I also remember the struggle women had in another time not so long ago, to break free of the stifling straight jacket of femininity they were imprisoned in.
Sally Ride broke down one barrier. I can not find it in my heart to blame her for not wanting to challenge the other. You pick your battles. Unlike a lot of closeted and semi-closeted gay folk, she never waged a war on homosexuality to keep from having to know herself. That wasn’t in her. I am happy she did so much to encourage a younger generation of girls to live their dreams. Happier still, that she lived to see a better world on the horizon, where young lesbian girls don’t have to hide their hearts from the world so the gutter won’t have to see how beautiful they really are.