Several famous people have died recently, but astronaut Sally Ride’s death weighs on me more than the others. It’s not just that she was cheated of her threescore and ten, it’s that she was younger than me. When you reach a certain age, that becomes a comparative yardstick, and a gloomy one.
I, like pretty much everyone else outside her immediate family and circle of friends, was unaware of Sally’s sexuality. I first heard of her death on Facebook. There was a link to a short news article, which I followed and read. I hope this doesn’t make me look small, but I immediately noticed the absence of a “survived by” sentence at the end of the article. That made me wonder, so I looked up Sally Ride on Wikipedia, where I learned that her partner of 27 years was a woman. Curiosity satisfied, I moved on.
I wish everyone else had moved on too, but they didn’t. Knowing how the wingnuts turned on Andy Griffith after his death, I decided I’d just as soon stay in my own epistemic bubble. I don’t want to know what the mouth-breathers think, so I’m avoiding right-wing sites altogether for the next few weeks. But my progressive fellow travelers can’t seem to let Sally’s sex life go either, though for different reasons.
For the first several hours after Sally’s death, no one mentioned her sexuality. Later that night I saw the first reference to it on a liberal site, The Agonist, which contained a post with this headline: Sally Ride, First U.S. Woman In Space, A Lesbian, Dies Of Cancer At 61. Oh, here we go, I thought. Now the lefties and LGTB activists are fighting over rights to Sally’s sexuality, trying to claim her as an gay rights activist and pioneer.
Sally was a pioneer, a genuinely cool, accomplished, and inspirational person. But in life she chose to keep her sexuality private. She wasn’t ashamed of it and didn’t hide it from family and friends, but she chose not to share the details of her personal life with the rest of the world … just like most of us. She was a strong woman who knew her own mind and lived the life she chose to live. Clearly she felt her sexuality was her own business. If she had wanted to come out, I have no doubt she would have done it … but she didn’t, and that’s her own business too.
Enough. I understand the impulse; it’s great to be able to point to an accomplished, successful, inspirational figure and claim him or her as one of your own, but there are plenty of out LGBT heroes to choose from. Sally Ride kept her personal life private and we should respect her choice in death. It’s time to leave Sally Ride alone.
© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.