In this case a “good lesbian” being an “out lesbian.” Virginia Hefferman at The Lookout notes the issue:
Maybe the idea of gays in space is just so exciting that it has overwhelmed Sally Ride’s eulogists, who really should be parsing her achievements in astrophysics, accident investigations and middle-school education, rather than trying to make hay out of her mellow lesbian romantic life.
she and her collaborator and co-author Tam O’Shaughnessy, a biologist and school psychology professor, really did live together for three decades. This was well-known to family and friends.
Ride died Monday. Much of her adoring public learned the details of her domestic arrangements only posthumously. In this way, she was like most celebrities who die.
But for some reason the fact that Ride’s live-in relationship with O’Shaugnessy was only revealed when she died, bugged commenters like Andrew Sullivan who managed to find feminist secrecy in Ride’s and O’Shaughnessy’s promotion (O’Shaugnessy was the head of Ride’s company) as a woman first and a lesbian second.
I’m not so understanding. We can judge this decision in the context of Ride’s life. Her achievements as a woman and as a scientist and as an astronaut and as a brilliant, principled investigator of NASA’s screw-ups will always stand, and vastly outshine any flaws. But the truth remains: she had a chance to expand people’s horizons and young lesbians’ hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to.
He doubles down in a follow-up.
I’m struck by the notion that “being out was not an option.” Sure it was. It is always an option. A truly difficult option, but an option. She chose not to go there, while she embraced many other causes. Others took the risk and faced the consequences.
..The trouble is: you legitimize the assumptions about being a lesbian and not being a real woman by staying in the closet. And Ride was silent during the most epic and important years of both the AIDS crisis and the battle over marriage and the military. Those weren’t any old years to be gay. They were the critical ones – when gay people were dying en masse, and when the possibility of civil rights and civil equality hung in the balance. In that struggle, she was sadly AWOL.
Sullivan and his ilk have no use for you if you’re not hewing their narrative of what it is to be gay. Ride was a scientist and astronaut, not a gay activist. Judging her on Sullivan’s scale is just ridiculous. Who she slept with or didn’t sleep with has no bearing on her achievements except in Sullivan’s world.