Marc Ambinder has an interesting post up on the speculation that Elena Kagan is gay (she's not), but not interesting in the way he intended it to be. Mainly, it typifies the way mainstream political journalists understand gays and gay rights issues. He a) pretends that there's equal validity in both gay and anti-gay political positions, b) pretends like the sexual orientation of politicians is off limits if he's talking about a gay candidate but then shows that it's a free-for-all if they're straight, and c) calls everyone shrill and angry and irrational and calls the whole thing off, since he, as a straight man, is just tired of all this fighting!
People think Kagan is gay, and the White House is saying she isn't. I'm guessing most people who say she's gay just don't know that she isn't - it's not like her picture was plastered all over when people started mentioning her as a Supreme Court possibility. But she's also single, middle aged, pro-gay, and butch, so some people jump to conclusions. It doesn't help when a respected media source like CBS says that she's gay - most people assume that she's out when that happens.
In other words, not a big deal. Clarify and move on.
But not enough for Ambinder, who questions the motives of gay people in thinking that she might be gay:
Why gay rights activists? Because Kagan is a public figure and her appointment would represent an enormous advancement for their cause.
Nope, it's not that CBS said she was gay and lots of journalists have implied it and so most of us just assume that she's out, and it can't be that it'd be affirming for us to see someone like us in a position of power, as well as a sign that we're welcome in American politics. No, it's because she'd "advance the cause." Because no straight judge has ever "advanced the cause."
That's the equivalent of:
And social conservatives? Because she'd fit neatly with their narrow paradigm about gender non-conformity and with their overall suspicion that Obama aims to radically re-engineer society.
Us wanting to participate in the political process is the same as paranoid reactionaries who think Obama's going to take away their penises!
(Not to mention that I just haven't heard too many gay people say Kagan is gay - as evidence for his assertion that both sides are the same in that regard Ambinder cites a British gay news site and Queerty.... not the rough equivalents of the National Review and CBS News.)
The false equivalencies continue:
Gay groups want to appropriate and use these public figures to advance a cause, and conservatives, many of them, consider homosexuality and gender non-conformity to be fundamental character flaws.
Appropriate? Sorry, it's not like we're going around just labeling people gay in order to say, "Look, gay people can be president, just like Obama, Bush, and the prettier Roosevelt! Now let us radically re-engineer society." Yeah, there's some "You think everyone is gay" in the community, but it isn't the same thing as saying that the Muslim/Socialist/Kenyan usurper is putting sinful, hell-bound bitches in positions of power in order to persecute me.
Then he says that it's hard for journalists (like him) to report on sexual orientation:
It's tough for the media to cover, because reporters have trouble writing openly and honestly about a very contested subject, and because they don't want to appear to be outing anyone.
Except the Washington Post did, and he did a couple paragraphs up:
People who know Kagan very well say she is not gay
And if they did say she was gay, would he have published that? Would the issue be so beguiling if she were actually in the closet? Would it receive any attention?
It is an important part of the discussion, because Ambinder says all over that it's not important, that being gay and being straight are the same, etc., when clearly the media don't think so.
Homophobia exists. This isn't an issue where people can just throw their hands up and say that both sides are equal - one side is homophobic and the other isn't. Consider this odd wording:
She is an active and open supporter of gay rights. This might mean that she'd trigger a filibuster in the Senate because Republicans like Jeff Sessions consider vocal support for gay causes to be extreme.
No, she'd trigger a filibuster if she were gay because Jeff Sessions is a homophobe. That's not an opinion - the guy's a homophobe and that may be a good or a bad thing. But if he'd filibuster someone because they support DADT repeal, then, yeah, he's homophobic.
But that won't stop Ambinder from trying to throw up his hands and be the happy center:
Once it does come out, though, distinctions immediately dissolve into the basic cultural liberal-conservative arguments, which many Americans seem to have grown tired of. It's hard to have a rational discussion in an atmosphere dominated by shrill and self-interested voices.
Now we're "shrill and self-interested" to have the right not to be fired from our jobs just for being who we are. Sorry we're so greedy! We'll step aside and quit our jobs en masse so that decent, non-extreme, non-controversial straight people can take them. I can't believe we kept on saying that we were full human beings well into a time period where "Americans seem to have grown tired" of our antics.
So everyone is confused. Ideally, we wouldn't ask the question because it matters to no one. Less ideally, though it matters to gay rights groups and social conservatives, we'd not ask the question because it shouldn't matter. But are we at the point, right now, where being gay doesn't matter?
No, we're not at that point, because of homophobia. And it's not just "social conservatives" who are homophobic, it's latent, cool, casual homophobia among many people who say, repeatedly, that they don't care about anyone's sexuality that makes this an issue. I'd even say it matters to gay people, and should matter to gay people, because of lingering internalized homophobia many of us face.
Until that reality is dealt with - and it won't be so long as people try to find a middle ground between homophobia and acceptance of gays - public figures' sexualities are going to be issues to everyone paying attention.
The fact that we're even talking about Kagan's sexuality, a rumor that was started because she's single, has short hair, and has a good career, should prove that point.