Let's face it. To the world at large, being gay is a terrible thing to be. People whisper the word, gossip about it, trade in innuendos about it, as if being gay were a crime.
That brings us to Elena Kagan. Here she is: a brilliant, accomplished, fabulously successful lawyer and professor, dean of the Ivies, academic par excellence, and a good-time gal, a former smoker who plays poker and can swing a bat. She's a New Yorker
, a child of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, dutiful daughter of dutiful liberal parents, and soon-to-be Supreme Court justice.
Who could ask for anything more?
Well, by now you know that some people have got it into their heads that Kagan is gay
. Running between the lines of the serious articles and chatter in the media about her nomination to the Supreme Court is a whispered story line about her private life. Thoughtful and not-so-thoughtful people wonder, how come we don't know much about her day-to-day and after-hours habits, her close encounters -- in other words, her love life? How come she NEVER MARRIED!?
This is the aha moment: It's got to be because she's hiding something.
We are so degraded in this age of 24-hour revelations about the lives of the famous and infamous that we cannot believe for one minute that Elena Kagan may have a completely non-newsworthy life as a single woman who does not date, has not had a significant other, or simply does not want to blab to the whole world about any of it.
We have to put a spin on it. And what spin can be more intriguing, and juicy, than pegging her for a lesbian?
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It's really not surprising. Kagan, who is 50, fits the lesbian profile concocted by people who can't think outside trivial and inaccurate stereotypes. She's got short hair! She's stout!
She's got no fellow on a string! She wears pants and sensible shoes, and she's ambitious, driven, confident, has a swagger about her -- attributes too many people associate with manliness.
Funny thing about stereotypes. What about the other extreme, the lipstick lesbian, she of lean figure and flowing tresses and sexy come-hither looks? Check out some of the girl bars and you'll see plenty of them right along with the heavyset, booted motorcycle mamas.
Stirring the witches' cauldron is none other than Andrew Sullivan, renowned blogger,
former New Republic editor and gay savant. Since his life is, as they say, an open book, he wants to open hers as well for the world to peek. We used to call it "outing." In a heated column on Tuesday he lit the fuse, asking the question, "So Is She Gay?
'' and because his blog is published by the high-tone Atlantic magazine, folks pay attention. We mean, Washington pays attention, and New York. That is, the mainstream media.
Now, Politics Daily contributor Eleanor Clift
, a veteran of Washington's culture wars, poses the reasonable theory that Kagan's private life has no bearing when it comes to making constitutional decisions on the high bench. She's right, of course.
But we are caught in a trap of Obama's own making. Obama has held up Kagan's life experiences
(and before her, Sonia Sotomayor's) as evidence of her qualifications. It's hard to argue that the personal side is not a major component of life experience. And if that is the case, questions about her sexual orientation could be fair game.
That dilemma rarely comes up because most public figures play it straight and never tire of showing off their spouses and precious children and grandchildren (Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin), or, at the lower end of the marriage scale, revealing their cheating hearts (John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Tiger Woods, just in the past year). In the case of politicians caught red-handed in homosexual hijinks, there's immediate public condemnation, as there should be, not because they are gay, but because they denounce it publicly while reveling in it on the downlow.
We've not had this question of sexuality come at us full blown, certainly not this seriously. In the recent past, several high-level women
have been singled out for gay rumors: Janet Reno, Donna Shalala, Condoleeza Rice, Janet Napolitano. And then there's Hillary Clinton, a target of right-wing nuts who have painted her as a stealth lesbian for years.
But there's something a little different about the Kagan case. The White House hasn't been able to put down the flames, and her camp has decided to try to quash the rumor, bringing out a law school classmate to vouch for Kagan's straight sexuality, New York magazine's blog, Daily Intel, reported Wednesday.
"I've known her for most of her adult life and I know she's straight," said Sarah Walzer, Kagan's roommate
in law school and a close friend since then, according to Daily Intel. "She dated men when we were in law school, we talked about men – who in our class was cute, who she would like to date, all those things. She definitely dated when she was in D.C. after law school, when she was in Chicago – and she just didn't find the right person."
That is pathetic.
It's ridiculous and sad. None of what Sarah Walzer says proves anything. How sad that in this day and age people feel the need to defend themselves against gay rumors, that being gay is considered a dreadful condition.
Whether Kagan is or is not gay is, finally, not the point. But it's too bad that so many people see that as something shameful.