by Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Tommi Avicolli Mecca
San Francisco, California, US
July 25
I am a writer, performer and activist, editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: the early years of gay liberation (City Lights), and co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italian-American Writers Sail Beyond Columbus and Hey Paesan: Writings by Italian American Lesbians and Gay Men. To view my creative stuff:


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JULY 24, 2012 11:19AM

Why did Sally Ride wait to come out posthumously?

Rate: 8 Flag

The first woman in space is dead at 61 and has come out as a lesbian posthumously. Astronaut and physicist Sally Ride, who in 1983 became the first female astronaut to go where only men had gone before, declared in a postmortem announcement on her website that, among other family members, she is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her female partner of 27 years. 


Ride lost a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, but gained herself a permanent place in queer history. Too bad she couldn’t talk about being lesbian while she was still alive. 


Ride’s sister, Bear, told BuzzFeed, an internet site that boasts of having the hottest content on the web: “That (LGBT rights) wasn’t her battle of choice -- the battle of choice was science education for kids. And I just hope that all the different components of Sally’s life go towards helping kids.” What about queer kids?


I’m not going to win any fans for saying this, but I’m honestly disappointed that she waited until death to reveal her sexuality. 


I understand that some people prefer to be quiet about their private lives, but imagine all the good she could have done as a living role model rather than a dead one? Especially for all those girls struggling with their sexual identities in hostile environments (and there are a lot of them) throughout this still very homophobic country. She wanted to teach them science, but what about accepting themselves for who they are?


She didn’t even jump on the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying bandwagon when tons of other celebrities made it their cause of the day.


Ironic, isn’t it, that now she will become a hero to the LGBT community, simply by virtue of the fact she was a famous person who happened to be a lesbian. That alone gives her a special status that the countless women who marched and organized and actually helped change the homophobic attitudes in this country will never ever have.


We will never remember the names of those heroes, those brave women who came out in the 50s, 60s and 70s and endured rejection from their families, discrimination in the workplace and harassment on the streets. They fought long and hard to make this country a better place for the next generation of lesbians. Young dykes today owe a huge debt of thanks to those unnamed women.


Sally Ride certainly deserves a lot of praise for her work in blazing trails for women in the space program and for encouraging young women to join the sciences. But before we rush to canonize her as a queer saint, let us first pay tribute to all the women who blazed trails so that Ride could be an out lesbian posthumously. 

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I had no idea. Thanks for the news.
She grew up in an era when she probably had to be in the closet to get where she did. We don't know how she lived her life with her friends; perhaps she was open. But at least she will go down in history as another famous, accomplished member of the LGBT community.
I cannot fault her; I do wish she had felt comfortable enough to come out earlier.

As a woman interested in sciences when I was a little girl, and good at them, my pressures to not pursue it were social. I wonder now what my life would have been if I had pursued the maths and physics more vigorously then instead of wondering what boys would have thought of me. Perhaps Sally felt that it was important for her to be a woman only, not a lesbian or a hetero, for all girls. Because if the major heroes of science that were women were also openly gay, it would reinforce the stereotype that pursuing them is not for hetero girls, and that there was something inherently male (or non-hetero-female) about it. Whether or not you agree with that, she understood that she wanted to inspire all children- and all girls- by doing nothing to marginalize the conversation, and nothing to distract from her individual achievements. If she had come out as asexual for her life, it would again show that women have to choose between careers, and their sexual/reproductive preferences.
Sally Ride was the first U.S. woman in space. My understanding is that Sally and Tam were open about their partnership. They weren't hiding. They just didn't publicize it to your satisfaction.
I don't recall there being much of anything being written about Sally Ride other than her historic contribution to the space program. Maybe she didn't define herself by her sexuality and preference alone. And maybe her obituary was not as much a 'coming out' as it was a traditional listing of survivors. I wouldn't judge her about which cause she didn't choose to foster.

When I first saw news of her death on the 'Net, I looked at her photo and thought, "She looks like a lesbian..." Sure enough, shortly thereafter I read that she'd had a same-sex partner for almost three decades.

Yes, it's too bad that she wasn't out when she still was alive.

However, Ronald Reagan was president at the time she became a national celebrity, and homophobia was fairly strong in the nation at that time. (AIDS emerged in the early to mid-1980s, too...) I can forgive her for not being out at that time, but I'm with you; it's difficult for me to understand why she never came out before her death.
I think that the reason she "waited" was that it just wasn't anybody else's damn business. And you know, she was right. I'm guessing that's what this is all about. I never knew Ms. Ride's sexuality. And I didn't care. Because it would not have made a difference to me.
I just 'came out' at work this week, because of something malignant that was effecting another person.
Not all of 'us' feel up to being a spokesperson. Sometimes you just want privacy regarding your family. If you are open about your sexuality, you are not allowed that. Everyone feels fine in asking about the most personal *squirm* details and if you put them off it offends them. *shrug*
I do have an equal marriage sticker on my car. Anyone that is burning with desire to know about my sexuality usually figures it out from there. Just don't feel the need to chat at work about it.
I see your point, but maybe she valued her privacy? Don't we all?
I figure her sister, at least one hopes, knew her best. I'll honour what she had to say about "why". It's good enough for me.
This "privacy" crap!

No one has said that Sally Ride should have divulged exactly what she likes to do in the bedroom, for fuck's sake!

Heterosexuals don't believe that it's "private" whether or not they have a boyfriend or girlfriend or wife or husband. They will talk about their significant others, not hide the fact that they even have a significant other.

Why, then, are we homosexuals supposed to keep such a basic fact about our lives "private"?

This isn't about "privacy." "Privacy" sounds so acceptable, even desirable -- doesn't it? -- but this isn't about "privacy." This is about the homophobia that sleepwalking people (straight and gay) who believe themselves to be homo-friendly aren't even aware that they possess within themselves.

We're here to change the world, and you don't do that "privately." You do that publicly.

And if it's privacy that you want, you don't, um, become a NASA ASTRONAUT!
"Why, then, are we homosexuals supposed to keep such a basic fact about our lives "private"?"

No one is 'supposed' to do anything. I don't talk about what I do in the bedroom. I don't advertise that I am married with children. It isn't on my cv.

My friends and family know about my wife and children and I don't feel the need to advertise it.

Maybe Sally Ride felt the same way.
"The first woman in space"? Valentina Tereshkova beat her to space 20 years.
I think Sally Ride was well within her rights to do exactly as she pleased with her personal life. At the time she was active in the space program, homophobia was alive and well. Hell, it's alive and well now.

I fully champion her devotion to science education for kids. There are so many kids growing up in places with marginal public schools, or where science is marginalized because it's not on the state tests. By the time many girls get to middle and high school, they think science and math are for boys. Kudos to Sally for doing what she did do with her life--asking her to be all things to all people isn't fair, and it marginalizes the important things she did.
Sally was a heroine her whole adulthood, not for gays and lesbians but for humanity of all flavors - and not because she was the first woman in space. Her private life was just that - private. Curiously, why is it that people expect gays and lesbians to "come out" as "homosexual" but straight people aren't expected to expose their sexual orientation. We will indeed be an enlightened culture when people just are, and no heroism is attached to anything except personal integrity. Sheesh. Is this kind of diatribe what passes as quality writing/thinking these days???
Things were different then, not that this is an excuse.

Had she come out way back, she most likely would never have been chosen to go.

Excellent thought-provoking post, so well done.


I am pretty sure that choosing to live a private life after having a public career was a quiet choice. Really none of the public's business. Some people choose to live quietly and privately. She certainly had that right.
"Ironic, isn’t it, that now she will become a hero to the LGBT community, simply by virtue of the fact she was a famous person who happened to be a lesbian."

Why is that ironic? She deserves to be a hero for exactly that.

You make some interesting points here, but so have others. I liked Barbara Weicksel's thoughts, highlighting a different view on this subject:
Thanks for all the responses, I wrote the piece to generate discussion, I think this is an important issue, when I came out 42 years ago, coming out was a way to change attitudes in this country, I still think it's important that people in positions such as the one Sally Ride was in, should come out and help educate people about who we are, outside of the liberal big cities, being queer is still risky in most places in this country, a role model such as Sally Ride goes a long way to helping folks see who we are, and by the way, straight folks don't have to talk about their sexuality, everyone IS ASSUMED TO BE STRAIGHT until proven otherwise, it's just the way it goes in a homophobic culture (which ours still is), I wish Sally had stood up and said, "I'm a lesbian (or bisexual)" so that we had an out queer astronaut and scientist and young queer folks could look at her and say, "I can do that, too." But she chose not to do that. I will respect her decision. I have enjoyed reading all the comments.
I came out in mid-life. Not because I was too selfish or too scared or valued my privacy too much. because I was too stupid. Too clueless to piece together the clues staring me in the face. Because I accepted the authority of church, family and society almost without questioning anything.

In the way you wonder what Sally's impact on queer youth might have been had she come out before she died, I wonder what my impact has been since I did come out 17 years ago. My kids have nothing to do with me. Members of my family of origin yet shun me. I live as an out gay man in a rural neck of the Midwest woods. The home my husband and I share has proved a target for repeated vandalism.

What difference any of us make is ultimately beyond our control. The choices we make seem closer to hand. May we each choose wisely and in keeping with our inner lights. As for Sally, death comes to us all.