July has certainly been the month for a whole lot of heat and a bit of gay bashing -- except the ones doing bashing are actually the gays. Apparently we can give as good as we get -- case in point Sally Ride and Anderson Cooper.
Sally Ride is dead, and a lesbian, who knew? Apparently her family, friends and co-workers all knew, but the "world" didn't. Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast recently labeled her "the absent heroine." Well, personally, I think he got that wrong. She may not have been a gay icon, but Sally Ride gave hope to girls everywhere -- letting them know that they too could "go where no one has gone before" and do it well, with dignity, courage, intelligence and a good dose of humility. It's easy to point fingers at individuals who opt for personal privacy, especially if they're dead, but do they deserve all this backlash?
Aren't they entitled to privacy, just like straight people? We have no idea about the hows or whys of her decision, but I'm sure there are lots of variables involved. Her sister Bear Ride, a very out lesbian, explained it by saying, "She was just a private person who wanted to do things her way." Does that mean her decision was driven by homophobia? Or is it just what her sister suggests -- a desire to be out of the spotlight?
Perhaps for Sally Ride being gay was just that -- "being gay" -- and maybe that was enough, but these days in some circles individuals who opt to go that route for whatever reason are more often or not vilified. But frankly, it's not the pre-'90s anymore, when being gay was really hard. Not that it's easy now, but it is easier in the U.S. and Europe, that's for sure. Sometimes I forget how hard, and often dangerous, it actually was back then. For Sally Ride being the lesbian astronaut back in the day, especially those days, would have certainly taken her out of the running for future missions, or even put her life at risk given the climate.
On the other hand, Anderson Cooper came out and started a brouhaha that certainly riled people up, many suggesting that he had no right to a personal life, and that he was hiding his "gayness" to make money and build a career. Well, for many of us in New York City who've seen Cooper "being gay" around town, it wasn't a big surprise or revelation. More often than not when he's in town he can be found at the Eastern Block, the gay bar his lover owns. But you can actually see them all over town, so if it was a secret it wasn't a very well kept at all.
He suggested one of his reasons for keeping the fact that he's gay private was to protect himself because he, like Ride, was going into dangerous and uncharted territory -- and they really were. For Ride it was space; for Cooper, the Middle East and other war-torn areas around the world, where combatants -- whether ours or theirs -- were not what you would call gay-friendly, or women-friendly for that matter. Who can forget CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was attacked and raped during the Egyptian uprising?
The other night I watched Soldier Boy after a late night on the town, in which the main character, an infantry soldier, falls for a trangender woman -- which is not okay in the military, just about on par with being gay. What struck me about the movie besides the fact that it was incredibly hot, thought-provoking and heartfelt, was that the soldier didn't know if he was gay or not, but he simply wanted to live his life -- saying over and over again to his homophobic and probably gay cross-dressing roommate, "everyone is entitled to a private life -- right?" Isn't that what we all want? In the end the answer to his question was no, because he paid the ultimate price for his private life.
And yes, people say Cooper didn't announce it sooner because he wanted to make lots of money and build his career, but the truth be told, Anderson Cooper is, and always has been loaded --he's Gloria Vanderbilt's son, after all, complete with a huge trust fund. But when it came to getting his career started he didn't take the easy way out. Cooper faked a press pass, got into Myanmar, met with students fighting the Burmese government, taped it, and ultimately sold his homemade news segments to the now defunct Channel One. He could have easily been arrested or worse while he was in Myanmar -- now, in my world, that takes balls.
In fact, it took balls for him and Ride to do what they did professionally. Many of the bloggers, writers and others weighing in on this topic do so, like myself, from their computer terminals, safe and sound, in their apartment, a coffee shop or office, and not in the midst of battle or while in space.
Does the fact that you live a good life, are kind, work hard -- or are a hero as in Sally Ride's case -- become moot because you don't come out? I hope not. In fact, while I think that coming out when you're a celebrity, politician, sports star or even an astronaut has far-ranging and extremely positive effects, we shouldn't sit in judgment of each other, or invalidate the contributions made by individuals who opt to have a private life, that's truly private. With all the brouhaha it's easy to forget that both Cooper and Ride came out -- just in their own way, in their own time.
As for Sally Ride being an absent heroine -- that's wrong. She was, and is, a hero -- ask any woman who grew up in the '80s.