ricky and sally

image by Sara Krulwich/NYT

Girls can have crushes at any age. My mother had a dream about Bill Clinton (I kid you not) when she was well into her 70’s, not that I am anywhere near that golden age.

Now, it’s really not a crush, but it was sort of dreamy to see him tonight, on stage as Che, dancing with Evita with his white shirt and workman’s suspenders. I love the fact that having visitors from afar makes me go places I might not have gone.

Ricky. Yep. Ricky Martin. Ay dios…

He and I, you see, we go way back. When I came back from many years in Spain I had a sort of añoranza or homesickness for all things español. I listened to a lot of Latin Music, made a lot of Latino friends (not a hard thing to do in NYC), and enjoyed living a double life via the key my Spanish fluency gave me to the other half of New York, one invisible to many of my friends.

I vividly remember watching (hearing) him perform, live, on the Grammy’s  in 1999 and feeling, knowing that this was huge, inmenso. His performance was electric and viscerally alive as it announced to the world that he, and the world he represented, was a force to be reckoned with, and a joyful one at that.

Sure enough, that performance has since been marked as a pivotal moment which opened the door to Latino crossover, or at least to opening the anglo world’s eyes to the fact that there was this other music, these other cultures having a grand old time just on the other side of town. That night the world got up and danced, finding that their hips could swivel and their arms could wave, that they too could share in the alegría.

Since then I’ve listened on and off to his music, read snippets about him here and there. His voice and his songs were reflected, or so it seemed, in his generous and kind soul, in the way he lived his life, in the causes he embraced.

I admired the news that he took a few years off from the business and its insanity to center himself and was pleased when I read that he’d had two sons, apparently via surrogate. I was impressed with the ease in which he announced, two years later, the answer to the way-too-oft-asked questions about his sexual orientation. Why? In part because of his sons, Matteo and Valentino, who “are so full of light and who with their outlook teach me new things every day.”

Another admirable person announced the same, in this case via a simple acknowledgement of her partner in her obituary. Sally Ride. The first American woman in space, at the time the youngest astronaut. A huge advocate for women and science.

She didn’t hide her sexual orientation any more than she hid her cancer, she just kept it private. Those who knew and loved her knew. As for the rest it was, you see, none of their business.

Unfortunately there is more press about this one final sentence in her obituary and what it implies than about the life she led in her 61 years of incredible achievement.

So… Ricky and Sally. Each led their lives privately, preferring the attention to be on what they did, what they sang and wrote and studied and the way that they used their actions to speak louder than labels.

One journalist (who I quite like, actually) harshly and unfairly criticized Ride by calling her an “absent heroine” because she did not advocate in life for what she deemed to be private choices. How judgmental. How can one advocate for choice when one does not grant that right to all? Choices are, afterall, wherein freedom lies.

Because you see, really what I wanted to talk about was that voice, that dance, the brilliance of creation and intellect. It does not matter to me and it should not matter to you what Sally Ride or Ricky Martin divulge or keep private about their life choices. For me? Well, Sally is the first American woman in space and Ricky is, well, Ricky. Ahhhhhh.


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