Wednesday, May 12, 2010

roll up roll up the the carnival's come to town

pulling up the soap box to momentarily speak my mind...

Elena Kagan, Obama SCOTUS nominee. frankly, i watched with horror yesterday evening as over at the daily dish Sullivan pushed and pushed and pushed on the question of her orientation. given there'd been discussion over at the queer and queerer podcast and Peterson's blog over outing public figures with power, this was yet another case of murky moral waters in which intersecting issues collide.

from the daily dish daily wrap:
In Kagan coverage, Andrew scrutinized her careerism and elitism, readers continued to dissent with him over his outing inquiries, and others commented on her issues with recruitment on campus. Horton examined her views on the executive, Stuart Taylor did the same approvingly, Josh Green assessed the politics of the confirmation, Maggie Gallagher tried to decipher her stance on marriage equality, and a New Yorker commenter challenged Toobin on the closet. Andrew continued to mull over Kagan's identity here and especially here.
Finally, an answer appeared.

as in the discussion with Peterson and Zack, i sifted through it all thinking it's murky but in this case it's not because of the ethics of outing. it would be a major landmark in civil rights progress had she turned out to be gay. on that, i agree with Sullivan. but another factor comes in here that reminded me of Peterson and Zack's discussion because the other point of contention in it was over whether men (gay or straight) can be feminists...

here's the moment that got me really annoyed -- a reader dissents:

Gosh you are pissing me off today!  Toobin said they have been friends for 30 years, and he couldn't tell you what she is passionate about. If she is so private she doesn't share her own beliefs on many issues, I don't understand how anyone would expect her to share her sexual preference. She hasn't openly appeared with a partner, so whether she is straight, gay or just wants to be friends with a bunch of books is hardly my business.
The other thing I find disconcerting is everyone seems to assume because she is 50 and not married she must be gay? Couldn't she just be single? Maybe she hasn't ever met anyone she wants to marry, or someone who wasn't intimidated by her fierce intellect and ambition. Maybe she, and by extension, the White House are telling the truth, and have said all they are going to say.
Sullivan responded:
"I always know when someone has no idea how being gay can affect one's entire life-experience when they use the term "sexual preference." It's like a taste in rock rather than country. They would never use that context about a heterosexual."
(italics my own - LB)

another reader dissents:
"Did you ask the same question about Sonia Sotomayor that you are now asking about Elena Kagan?

In her early twenties Sotomayor married a man, but she has been single ever since when they divorced in her late twenties, and she has had no children. Did you demand information about her sexual identity, as you now demand it about Kagan? If not, why not? Is it simply because Kagan was never married to a man? Please consider for a moment the immense presumptiveness this implies."
Sullivan responds:

"Well, Sotomayor had some kind of private life that clearly tipped the scales toward heterosexuality. Kagan appears to have none at all."

i'll leave aside the many layered ironies of that absurdly narrow and ignorant view of human sexualities and indeed 'immense presumptiveness' about Sotomayor's orientation in that 'tipping the scales' comment, which i'm not even going to bother getting into because there's other things i want to do with my day. suffice to say if Sullivan's gonna reject a reader's comment based on their (presumably straight) ignorance by using the word 'preference' then frankly he deserves to be called out for his blindness as a man.

why all this speculation in the first place? (please look away now if you are sensitive, i'm about to say something quite unseemly and maybe to some even grotesque...)

my firm belief is that it's not whether she's gay or straight that's the real issue here - it's the persistent stigma of a woman being successful and ... single. i'm sorry, i know that's a distasteful thing to say but it had to be said. my response:

I always know when someone has no idea how being female can affect one's entire life-experience when they think a 50 year old woman's apparent lack of any intimate relationships is a matter worth this level of scrutiny.  

Sullivan's not alone from speaking out of his male privilege. David Brooks called her an "Organization Kid". a kid. that should've been called out for what it is: infantalization of a 50 year old woman. if there's one thing Kagan is not, it's a child. she's deserves the respect of not to be referred to as a "kid".

i might be wrong but those dissenting readers who tackle Sullivan read to me like women's voices. and i'm with them regardless of their gender, because i too was pissed off...

Kagan is a woman who's successful, learned, lined up for a tenured position of life-long power.
would it make any difference if she were gay as well as single? not at all. it'd likely be a good thing for the court. just as her being a woman is good for the court. but that misses the point. her life is being raked over because there was no apparent evidence that she's ever had a partner. she has "no private life". because she's single and from all reports it seems she has been for most of her adult life.

William Saletan made very sharp critique of Sullivan's scrutinising by turning his own words against him and Sullivan backed down shortly before an answer (she's straight) was published. 

should it surprise me that one of the most visible gay voices in the political media persists one of the oldest patriarchal tricks in the book? of baiting a woman because her lack of a partner must mean something... for generations men have assumed if a woman is single for long enough well, there's only one explanation - she must be gay.

i know it's bizarre to suggest what's going on here is a gay man doing what far too many straight men do all the time. after all, one would have to presume it's not as if Sullivan's male identity is threatened if she rejects men. but there it is all the same. i've been a woman in this world long enough to know the stigma that women experience if they don't have a man to give them dignity as a person. i know far too many women that are pitied for not having a partner. to assume that "she must be gay" meme is simply homophobia in action is actually to miss the underlying misogyny at work.

i read it all yesterday with horror because i read it as a woman.

Sullivan claimed saying someone is gay shouldn't be seen as libel. this direct asking about her sexual identity given shouldn't be seen as an act of shaming, because being gay isn't something to be ashamed of. on that we are agreed. and yet:

Elena Kagan: Successful. and it would appear, Straight. but dear god... 50 and Single. no wonder inquiring minds thought she must have something to hide. why's she not out and proud? what a curiosity... what a freak...



  1. If I ever do get a cell phone, I think this would be fun as a ringtone:

  2. Shirley7:50 am

    Read the Guardian's report about this this morning and then turned to your blog as I remembered you'd written about it. I had exactly the same reaction as you. This isn't (just) about her maybe being gay, it's about her being female. Perhaps it's also about her being a woman who has or may-have-had-and-even-(shock)-enjoyed sex at some point in her life.

    I wonder what she thinks about it all...

  3. i hear ya.

    i think the O'Reilly quote is incredibly ironic - the implication that her being straight would not have any influence on her voting. just like being male and white doesn't have any effect on how someone votes. it astounds me that the straight white male is taken to be a neutral, bias-free benchmark for the supreme court.



    double standards aplenty on a very similar theme to what you raised there, but in the world of CCM by a guest blogger over at

    i thought 'hate' was maybe too strong a word but when one reads the stories, one does have to question not only the discrimation bias but wonder at the motivation behind it. and my guess is that it all comes down to money in the end. i'm not sure 'Christian' and 'industry' can or should be bedfellows...