Anonymous Commenters Question Sally Ride’s Courage

One would think that people who have decided that commenting on a political blog under their own name isn't worth the risk of blowback would feel a certain sympathy for a scientist-astronaut who values her privacy deciding not to tell the world she was gay.

Something odd stuck out at me in the comment thread on my post asking whether Sally Ride was cowardly for not being an advocate for gay rights: some of those most harsh on Ride’s choice were commenting anonymously or pseudonymously.

To be sure, there’s nothing particularly hypocritical in a coward pointing out that someone else is also a coward, especially if that other person is being singled out as a hero. Still, one would think that people who have decided—perhaps for perfectly legitimate reasons—that commenting on a political blog under their own name isn’t worth the risk of blowback would feel a certain sympathy for a scientist-astronaut who values her privacy deciding not to tell the world she was gay.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Gender Issues, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Boyd says:

    Mmmm…can you taste the irony? Delicious!

  2. SKI says:

    anonymously or pseudonymously

    Very different things on-line.
    Anonymously is just that, a unknown entity.
    Using a pseudonym, on the other hand, is tied to a real on-line identity (presuming the individual posts regularly using that pseudonym).

    Also, I didn’t see anyone questioning Ride’s courage with respect to traveling in space or any other issue; just merely pointing out that she, as was her right and for completely understandable reasons, wasn’t courageous about releasing her sexual preference.

  3. MBunge says:

    @SKI: “wasn’t courageous about releasing her sexual preference.”

    And FDR wasn’t “courageous” because he tolerated segregation.

    And when did Martin Luther King, Jr. ever speak out against homophobia?

    And what were Ghandi’s views of women’s rights?

    Yes, it’s too bad that Sally Ride couldn’t have been more “courageous” in talking about her sex life. Just look at the “courage” exhibited by Bill Clinton on the same topic.

    Mike

  4. SKI says:

    @MBunge: Please. As I’ve repeatedly said, pointing out that in this one area of her life she was not a hero is NOT a criticism!!!!

    None of us are a hero in everything, most of us aren’t a hero in anything.

    Sullivan responded to claims that Ride was now a hero for the LGBT. He objected. I think he was, at least in part, correct. That doesn’t change the reality that she was, like all astronauts, incredibly brave with respect to going up in space.

  5. MBunge says:

    @SKI: “As I’ve repeatedly said, pointing out that in this one area of her life she was not a hero is NOT a criticism!!!!”

    Then why point it out? Sullivan has tried to “claim” Abraham Lincoln for gay folks. Why should Honest Abe get a pass on living in the closet but not Ride?

    Mike

  6. SKI says:

    @MBunge: I can’t speak for Sullivan and have no clue what he has said about Lincoln.

    I can tell you that I responded to James post and agreed with his final statement:

    While coming out as gay and serving as an advocate for the gay cause might have been heroic, failure to do so doesn’t make her a coward.

    I also clarified that Sullivan had a point is dismissing the claims from Ride’s sister that she was an advocate for LGBT BUT that she had no obligation to do so.

    Why can’t you accept that Ride wasn’t a perfect person? (None of us are?) Or that pointing out a failing (say Jefferson and slavery) doesn’t negate everything else that person has done? Get some perspective and nuance…

  7. MBunge says:

    @SKI: “Why can’t you accept that Ride wasn’t a perfect person?”

    Did I ever say she was?

    Sullivan has a point in that he carries a not unreasonable grudge over the AIDS nightmare of the 1980s. He does not have a point, however, in that grudge leading him to crap all over gay people for being in the closet because he thinks it contributed to the “silence = death” environment.

    Let me put it this way. I put “Andrew Sullivan comes out” into the Google and it led me to an interview where Sullivan said he first told a priest he was gay and then WENT BACK TO ENGLAND to tell his parents. I emphasize those words because, according to the timeline of his life, that would seem to place the event either during his college years or sometime thereafter. So, Sullivan was either in his late teens or early 20s when he came out and he did so in the early to mid 1980s to an English family. Sally Ride was born in 1951, which puts her at Sulivan’s equivalent point in the early 1970s in America. Not only was Ride raised in an entirely different environment with regard to open homosexuality, she was still facing a very different circumstance than Sullivan at the same point in her life.

    Mike

  8. @Boyd:

    Double irony, with the first-name only and shaded photo.

    I happened to see that “john” is the most common name in my zip code. I could comment with just that, and not be “anonymous” by internet rules. Adding a “personna” makes me more traceable, not less.

    On Ride, she lived her life in the DADT arc, give her a break.

  9. I don’t recall anyone saying she was cowardly in the comments, only that she was not heroic. Most people are neither.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Still, one would think that people who have decided—perhaps for perfectly legitimate reasons—that commenting on a political blog under their own name isn’t worth the risk of blowback would feel a certain sympathy for a scientist-astronaut who values her privacy deciding not to tell the world she was gay.

    Heh.

    Once upon a time I felt, “go ahead, be gay, but be a man about it.” but as the years passed and I found myself with more and more gay friends, I became educated to the costs of coming out of the closet. I do not know what it must be like to live like that and I make no judgement on the costs no matter which side of the ledger you look at. That is for each and every person to choose of their own free will.

    As to commenting pseudonymously, I have said before that I do so because it allows me to comment on matters of divorce, child support, ex’s who go to prison, etc etc etc freely. Not for fear of blowback on me, but blowback on my sons. They don’t need it.

  11. SKI says:

    @MBunge:

    @SKI: “Why can’t you accept that Ride wasn’t a perfect person?”

    Did I ever say she was?

    Well, you are getting upset when I am saying she wasn’t perfect so…

  12. rudderpedals says:

    I apologize for the snark about context cuts and headline that I made in that coment thread, James. Sullivan updated his thread today holding Ride’s passive in closetedness was a moral failing. You’d read him better than I did and I was wrong.

  13. Boyd says:

    @john personna: If you’d been active at OTB since the beginning as I was (or very nearly so), you’d have seen the evolution of my personna here (heh) and it wouldn’t be nearly so doubly ironic.

    I’ve always posted here just under my first name, but back in the day I was an active blogger myself, and my name linked to my web site. When I stopped posting to my own blog, I quit linking since it wouldn’t take you anywhere useful (not that it ever did).

    And my gravatar image changes from time to time, and for the longest time it was just a “normal” self-portrait. Then when I took the self-portrait that I use for my current gravatar image, I thought it was kinda neat and out of the ordinary. I love few things more than I love being out of the ordinary.

    Oh, and James has linked to me by my full name in several OTB posts over the years, both to my blog and to comments here. It’s absolutely no secret that my name is Boyd D Garrett Sr, and I’ve never deliberately done anything here or on any blog to obfuscate that fact.

    Lastly, I would apologize for being so long-winded, but if you don’t expect that from me by now, you haven’t been paying attention.

  14. Boyd says:

    BTW, if you drag my avatar photo to a Google Image Search drop box, one of the top links you’ll see on the results page is my Google+ page, which demonstrates that my identity would have been obscured only to those who didn’t bother to look for it.

  15. Tano says:

    I think James is using some pretty sketchy logic here.

    There are 35 comments on that previous thread – of those, only six bear a full name – and one of those is from James himself, and two from Doug. So there are only fhree out of 33 outside commenters whose name appear on their comment.

    It is true that all three signed comments are supportive of James’s point, but so are most of the other 33. So if James thinks that almost all his commenters are cowards, it seems that the majority of the cowards support his take on things.

    So I don’t think you have a credible case that the “cowards” are all attacking Ride. In fact, of course, NO ONE, especially not Andrew Sullivan, actually called Ride a coward. So this is a completely fanciful post of James part. Very bad show indeed.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @Tano: I’m mostly being snarky here. I was set off by a comment from a drive-by commenter, @alanmt, that “She had the opportunity to contribute to the trend of social change which has led to greater opportunity for legal equality, and she failed to do so.” My initial response was a reply to “alanmt” but then I noted that most of the detractors were similarly not posting under a real name and decided to post.

    The point isn’t to criticize anonymous and pseudonymous commenters–the latter, in particular, I understand (Steven Taylor blogged as “PoliBlogger” for a while before using his real name, for example)–but to not that you’d think that said commenters would understand Ride’s decision.

  17. george says:

    @SKI:

    Why can’t you accept that Ride wasn’t a perfect person?

    Not sure that her not coming out has anything to do with her being perfect or not (and I assume, like everyone, she wasn’t) … I don’t think a perfect person would necessarily think his or her sexual preferences were the public’s interest. I’d argue her not coming out was in fact neutral, and had nothing to do with either heroism or cowardice.