Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The War over Sally Ride

I was considering writing an obituary for astronaut Sally Ride, when the war over the facts of her personal life broke out.

Was she gay? Apparently so. Interestingly, one of my old friends told me his gaydar went off when he saw her interviewed on TV back in the 80s, when she first went up in space (and was still married to astronaut Steve Hawley). I have heard this "gaydar" comment several times since. I had no idea if this was true or not, so I went to Wikipedia, like I always do.

And wouldn't you know? That's where the war is.

Wikipedia does not see fit to mention that Ride had a 27-year relationship with a woman, Tam O'Shaughnessy, whom she called her partner. Glenn Greenwald tweeted his disapproval of Wikipedia's omission, and got goofy (and thoroughly bigoted) replies, such as "not sure why it matters?"

Not sure why it matters? Does the marriage of a heterosexual person matter, if one is seeking factual biographical information? I think we all agree that it does. In fact, even heterosexual AFFAIRS (not sanctified by legal marriage) are covered in Wikipedia biographies. But since being gay is considered BAD, it is widely regarded as an INSULT if you include this fact about her. Even if its accurate.

So, we have the (possibly) first gay astronaut, and most people do not know this about her. The official accounts are leaving out her grieving widow, Tam. Imagine if this was a heterosexual astronaut 'hero'--and they refused to acknowledge their widow?

Impossible to contemplate. It would simply never happen.

The GAWKER's article about this homophobic fiasco includes a series of comments left on the Wikipedia 'history' page, which would be hilarious if they didn't seek to erase 27 years of two women's lives. For example:

There's another logical gap: according to this bio, Tam O'Shaughnessy was Sally Ride's partner of 27 years, i.e. since 1985. But the article says that "in 1983 [Ride] became the first American woman, the first lesbian [...] to enter space", and it doesn't logically follow that she was a lesbian in 1983.
Do you believe this stuff? ANYTHING to avoid the facts, that the first US woman in space was a lesbian.

Last Autumn, I wrote about this phenomenon (the emphatic denial of gay sexuality in obituaries) after the death of film producer Ismail Merchant. The same hysterical, ridiculous denials surfaced at that time.

Why can't the homophobes at least ACCEPT PEOPLE IN DEATH? It's like they can't let their hatred go, even for a second. They refuse to grant any gay person respect. And if they should by chance actually admire the individual in question (as so many admired both Merchant and Ride), then they MUST deny that they were gay. Because they simply CANNOT ADMIRE a self-professed gay person.

There really is no other explanation for this behavior.

And with that, I will end with my concluding comment in my post about Ismail Merchant:
Again, we see how gay people are disappeared by the culture at large, as heterosexuality, even openly illicit heterosexuality, is heralded.
Unfortunately, it's still an accurate observation.


EDIT--Wikipedia has added the following paragraph to Ride's obit, due to popular demand: After death, her obituary revealed that Ride's partner was Tam E. O'Shaughnessy, a female professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University and a childhood friend who met Ride when both were aspiring tennis players. O'Shaughnessy became a science teacher and writer and, later, the chief operating officer and executive vice president of Ride's company, Sally Ride Science. She co-authored several books with Ride. The 27-year relationship was revealed by the company and confirmed by Ride's sister who also stated that Ride chose to keep her personal life private including her sickness and treatments.

More than I expected.


JoJo said...

That's sad that her real story is being overlooked and widow being blown off. :(

Zadig said...

There was some interesting discussion on the wikipedia talk page before they agreed to include it:

bryce said...

great post, d

High Arka said...

Let's not get so caught up in the personal issues that we drag ourselves to the level of People.

We should be focusing more on what good things Sally Ride might have done, and less on her personal life. Ms. Ride went out of her way to keep her personal life, and the details thereto, private. She did not make herself a crusader for "gay rights" or "gay marriage"; she lived her life and accomplished things.

For us to now turn this into a circus over her personal details, and how they should be presented, is for us to ask that her accomplishments be cheapened to the level of a Hollywood celebrity's. Do we really want Ms. Ride to be remembered as someone with a "non-traditional relationship," rather than as someone who was an astronaut?

This would be a good opportunity to learn that we should be focusing public attention over all people--"gay" as well as "straight"--on things that matter, rather than making much national fuss over personal trivia like their favorite food item, book, movie, sports team, or sexual partner.

DaisyDeadhead said...

High Arka, I don't consider sexuality frivolous or unimportant, but crucial to identity and intrinsic to hierarchies of oppression, or I would agree with you. Something is kept secret because it is regarded as dirty, not because someone wants to "keep their private life out of the press". (Why did Ride allow people to know about her marriage to Steve Hawley, in that case?)

I don't agree with your analysis or accept your evaluation of sexuality as secondary, especially for women. Women are judged by our sexuality; it is in fact an axis of women's oppression, as is motherhood-status. Sally Ride being a historic "first" meant that it was therefore crucial to keep her other "first" out of the public eye.

Being gay DOES matter, as Dan Cathy and Mitt Romney have reminded us. This is a political issue, NOT a personal one, and as long as the right wing can assign it "merely personal" status, they can use that status to deny rights to GLBT people, which is exactly what they're doing.

High Arka said...

Not frivolous or unimportant, but is it really anyone's business, unless she would've wanted it to be? We know about the drug and bathroom habits of actors and producers, and maybe they like us knowing that, and maybe they don't. Ms. Ride might've been public about her previous marriage because she was trying to conform to the expectations of privacy-invasion placed upon her. We shouldn't need to turn a dead celebrity into a token in order to evaluate the unfairness of a system that constantly affects millions of people we never hear from.

Incidentally, poly and trans and just simply domestic-partnered people get the same ignored treatment. It's not a cut and dry case of denying benefits just to lesbians, or just to gays, but one of whether we should continue tax-subsidizing two-person economic unions of any kind.

DaisyDeadhead said...

As I wrote here (page down), heterosexual famous people do not get to choose about self-disclosure, so why should homosexual famous people? The price of being well-known (and the hefty salary that goes with it) is the sacrifice of one's "personal business"... If a dead celebrity is gay, that is news, the end. Whether it's "nice" or not, is not my point. I don't care whether it is or not.

High Arka: It's not a cut and dry case of denying benefits just to lesbians, or just to gays, but one of whether we should continue tax-subsidizing two-person economic unions of any kind.

I have to disagree... here in the south (check out comments in the other thread), being GLBT is waaay beyond the pale with religious conservatives (the people I am dealing with, who run my local and state politics). They will excuse literally ANYthing from their own, except that. I cover places like Bob Jones University, and I can tell from the way you write, there is simply nothing like that where you are. Please understand that you have a certain privilege for this reason: you don't have to deal with them. We do. They run the joint. These are the values I am confronting and that have shaped my opinions. You sound almost European and very enlightened... and that's very nice, but that is not what *I* am up against here in the most conservative county in the USA (according to Rick Santorum's campaign manager, who should know).

Around here, it really IS important to let the little Baptist lesbian homeschooled girls know that an important American was gay.

I honestly don't care if that is "fair" to Sally Ride or not.

And if govt can subsidize Goldman Sachs to the tune of $800 million, we can certainly subsidize marriages. I just want equality in the definition of marriage.

Zadig said...

A couple interesting articles about Mitt you and Greg might enjoy Daisy. The Brits are apparently comparing him to Bush and Palin.



Sera said...

I can see both sides of this. On one hand: until there ceases to be a heavy social stigma about being gay, yes, it is good for kids to know. On the other hand, she didn't come out herself (unless she's the one who wrote the obit); she was outed. Last time I checked, that was considered rude, borderline treasonous in the GLBT community. If it was done by her family with her wishes in mind, okay. Otherwise, it can be assumed that, for whatever reason, she did not want her sexuality to be publicly confirmed one way or another. Anyone can be rumored about, and Wikipedia has long since included "speculation" about people's private lives, so there's no reason why it couldn't be mentioned there. But maybe Ride didn't like the GLBT community (I know plenty of GLBT people who don't) or didn't agree with various of their agendas. Maybe she feared her sexuality eclipsing the rest of her legacy--which, let's not forget, was one that got thousands of little girls dreaming of outer space. Using Ride as an icon for a cause she never was known to support is about as right as using John Lennon on an ad for Lens Crafters.