Outing Sally Ride

by Neil Rickert

Andrew Sullivan has posthumously outed Sally Ride in a post at The Daily Beast: “America’s First Woman In Space Was A Lesbian” (h/t to Jerry Coyne).

I don’t plan to say much about Sally Ride.  You can check the links at Andrew Sullivan’s post or at Jerry Coyne’s post if you are looking for that.  I do want to say a little about outing.

Because I don’t want to say much about Sally Ride, I’ll change the topic to be about myself and my atheism (or should that be my agnosticism).  The analogy here is that I have kept my religious views relatively private, much as Sally Ride seems to have kept her lesbian proclivities relatively private.

Why have I kept my religious views private?  Quite simply, it isn’t something that I want to spend time discussing.  I see religion, and arguments about religion, as a waste of time.  There are many things of far more interest to me, and I would rather spend my time with those.

I was religious as a teenager.  I gave it up a long time ago, when I concluded that it was mostly made up stories.  But even when I was religious, that did not dominate my life.  I was far more interested in science and mathematics.  So while at that time of my life, I did spend some time in activities related to my religion, that was small compared to the time that I spent in learning more science and mathematics.

I believe that I have been completely open.  I have never lied about my lack of respect for religion.  When debating creationists, I have often been called an atheist by my opponents in the debates, so I don’t think my views were ever hidden.  It is just that I never felt the need to make a public announcement.  I preferred to keep such questions private.

When asked about religion in an application form, I would usually say “no religion” or the equivalent.  When an itinerant preacher knocks on my door, I usually answer with “I prefer to keep my religious views private, and I would appreciate it if you do the same.”  That seems to end the session rather quickly.  I suspect that someone is keeping a list, because I am rarely visited by such preachers these days.

Back to Sally Ride.  I have never met her, so at best, I am guessing.  As best I can tell, she was a private person except in her science and space activities.  It seems to have been well known that she was in a lesbian relationship, so I don’t think she was actually trying to hide anything.  I’m guessing that she didn’t want to spend a lot of her time on public discussion of matters related to her lesbian proclivities.  Presumably, she preferred to spend her time on other things.  That seems reasonable to me.

I do not criticize Andrew Sullivan for outing her.  Being gay himself, that is doubtless an important issue to him.  I guess that I do wonder why Sullivan waited until now for his outing.  However, I disagree with Sullivan, when he criticizes the New York Times for not outing her.  Maybe the NYT simply wanted to respect her privacy on an issue that was not what brought her name into the public arena.

What if someone were to out me as an atheist/agnostic/ or whatever I am?  That really would not bother me, though I might wonder why anyone would think it important to do so.  It is not as if I have kept my religious views a secret.

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3 Comments to “Outing Sally Ride”

  1. “I was religious as a teenager. I gave it up a long time ago, when I concluded that it was mostly made up stories. But even when I was religious, that did not dominate my life. I was far more interested in science and mathematics. So while at that time of my life, I did spend some time in activities related to my religion, that was small compared to the time that I spent in learning more science and mathematics.”

    That pretty much describes me in a nutshell as well.

    “However, I disagree with Sullivan, when he criticizes the New York Times for not outing her. Maybe the NYT simply wanted to respect her privacy on an issue that was not what brought her name into the public arena.”

    Absolutely. For one thing, if gays in the world are looking for equality, then the only time their homosexuality should be brought up by themselves or anyone else is if they are defending persecution regarding that equality. Otherwise, it is irrelevant.

    “When asked about religion in an application form, I would usually say “no religion” or the equivalent.”

    This is a little off topic but anyways…I understand that people try to gather demographic information and some of the efforts behind this are based on good intentions, but I can’t help but think that race is supposed to be something that we no longer focus on anymore (as one effort to end racism and promote equality). If being a certain race, sex, religion, etc., isn’t supposed to matter with regard to being qualified for a job, being academically proficient or what-have-you, then it should no longer be something that is requested in applications for scholarships, jobs, etc. Giving a job or scholarship to someone based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation is discrimination. To say that it is meant to somehow reverse past “wrong-doings” by “leveling the playing field” is ridiculous and just a reverse play of racism utilizing a double-standard. People should be focusing on socio-economic factors (whether black OR white), academic or other proficiencies, etc. Only when we eliminate the discrimination (whether positive or negative to the person in question), can we start to gain equality.

    What if some country legalized gay marriage and said “Since the group “married gays” is under-represented, we are going to preferentially allow gays to marry over heterosexuals in order to level the playing field. This way we can help to reverse the years of those gays not being able to get married.” This would be just as ridiculous and I bet that most gays wouldn’t want this — because their whole battle is about allowing EVERYONE to marry, not only gays. A little off topic, but your post brought these previous thoughts of mine to the surface.

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    • For one thing, if gays in the world are looking for equality, then the only time their homosexuality should be brought up by themselves or anyone else is if they are defending persecution regarding that equality. Otherwise, it is irrelevant.

      Yes, I agree, though with the assumption that you meant “defending against persecution” rather than “defending persecution.”

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