I have felt sadness, nostalgia, elation, and validation since I read of the death of Sally Ride and then her posthumous outing. The official NASA photo that stared at me over the death notice was the same one that looked at me from my childhood bedroom wall for at least four years. The years I saved to go to Space Camp, the hours spent assembling models of shuttles, rockets, and planes, and the seemingly lifetime of self-imposed isolation I experienced all took place in my one-man space station, my room. Under the gaze of my hero. And this is where the anger hits.
A good chunk of my isolation was from knowing I was different, knowing I didn’t see or want the same things as I was told I ought to. What everyone else wanted. I let myself feel like I was ‘less than’ everyone else. The very fact that I wasn’t ‘girly’, nor did I want to be, drew condemnation and concern. Gay wasn’t an option. Not because it was wrong or disgusting, part of me never accepted those arguments, but because I didn’t really know what gay or lesbian was. I know that sounds ridiculous or naive, but I lived in Catholic bubble before the internet. The priests and the bullies were obsessed with gay men, and lesbians were either damaged man-haters or transitory.
Am I still naive to think that if she had publicly come out when she and her partner got together, which was the same time I taped her picture to my wall, that I might have felt better about myself? Not so alone? Not that I would have all of a sudden come out at ten or twelve, well maybe, but rather ‘this is what a real lesbian is’. Whatever insight I may have gained from her outing herself would have been fleeting. It would have drawn hatred and scorn from my mother and put me in a place to defend something I didn’t understand. Not to mention put an historical astronaut in jeopardy of loosing her job.
That was the late 80’s. A far cry visibility and rights wise from where we are today when the CEO of Apple is able to proclaim himself a proud gay man, and though I can still be fired in my home state for being gay I can now marry the woman I love. I’m not angry that Sally Ride stayed in the closet, I think I am just sad for the kid who stayed in their room.