“why does she have to have a sexuality at all?”

May 11th, 2010 | Uncategorized

I like that question!

Here’s how Richard Kim ends his very lucid post in The Nation.

I don’t know if Elena Kagan sleeps with women or men. I don’t know if she sleeps with anyone at all. I don’t care. What I do know is that she has never claimed to be a lesbian, that she’s never spoken out in the first-person as an advocate of gay rights and that she has never publicly discussed a romantic relationship with a woman. Gay isn’t some genetic or soulful essence; it’s a name you call yourself–and Kagan has not done that. So in my book, case closed. Elena Kagan is not gay. Is she straight? I don’t know, and again, I don’t care. Why does she have to have a sexuality at all?

In a way, the mystery about her sexuality mirrors the mystery about her legal philosophy. We just don’t know a whole lot. The Senate and the press have the right and responsibility to interrogate her about her legal opinionsโ€”not about her sex life.

*Actually, it’s in The Nation’s blog, which they call The Notion, which always seems kinda funny to me because it’s what I always called The Nation when I’d draw it in my comic strip.


55 Responses to ““why does she have to have a sexuality at all?””

  1. Eva says:

    Thanks for posting! Excellent point! And kudos on anticipating the zeitgeist with The Notion!

  2. Richard Kim says:

    Alison Bechdel read and quoted ME, and now I can just die a happy happy homo. xoxo and maybe one day we can meet up!

  3. spoilsport says:

    Oh! I agree totally! Thanks for posting and sharing and thank you Richard Kim!

  4. Holy Smokes!
    Richard Kim was here!!!!

  5. JR says:

    (So can I paraphrase The Hues Corporation and say that now we know where they got “The Notion?”)

  6. ksbel6 says:

    I can’t wait for the day when no one cares about someone else’s sex life.

  7. Lurk-A-Lot says:

    @ JR #5

    Ha haha ha! Clever!

  8. L'Oreal says:

    Thank you so much Alison! I was just thinking about this last night…it’s like you are inside my queer head. ๐Ÿ˜›

  9. Calico says:

    Again, like P.E.T. said, The Government has no business in the bedrooms of the Nation.
    (If only in the USA.)

    #6, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  10. Kate L says:

    (AB #4) Alison, everybody who’s anybody reads your blog! ๐Ÿ™‚

    That’s an actual paraphrase of a major political figure of the 1960’s, and I always think of it at times like these. A few weeks after Robert Kennedy spoke at this university (his first speech after declaring for the presidency), New York’s governor, Nelson Rockefeller, came to speak here. Rockefeller started his remarks by saying, “This year, everybody who’s anybody is coming to (Moo U)!” At least, I think that it was Rockefeller who said that. I was only listening to him via the radio (yep, it was 1968, old-time days, with me wearing my Amelia Earhart scarf). The nuns had let my sister and me and our classmates out of school to hear Robert Kennedy, but a radio in the classroom was good enough for Rockefeller!

  11. Bechadelic1 says:

    Yay! someone finally expressed the stuff that’s been circulating in my head for the last few months….and expressed it so well. Thank you for sharing this Alison. Thanks for saying it Richard Kim ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. --MC says:

    Richard Kim, you said it, and furthermore I have the idea for a new board game for kids: “Happy Happy Homos”.

  13. The Right can’t stop her nomination so they have to make this an ideological war to their advantage. Slinging lies works. Making women afraid they’ll be called (gasp) a LESBIAN always works.

    There is no way on earth homophobic, “I just want to not upset people” Obama would have nominated a lesbian to the Supremes. All this hoo-hah obscures the fact that he had several other excellent, genuinely progressive female candidates who were NOT once toadies for Goldman Sachs to choose from, but he went for the one who is likely to veer very right of Justice Stevens.

  14. Kate L says:

    Did I just compare this blog to (Moo U)? Sorry, A.B.! At least this school does have protection for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression written into our code of conduct. Or, we do as long as Sam Brownback (of C-Street fame, for you Rachel Maddow fans) has not yet become our governor. He’s likely to to become governor later this year, and another of his C-Street irregulars (Congressman Jerry Moran) is likely to replace him as a U.S. senator. Unless Rachel can uncover the truth about these guys before election day. Stay tuned!

  15. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    I’d like to put it to you that Elena Kagan has a sexuality, but that the big point is it’s none of our damn business! I’m still fuming about the women’s luncheon at my church (see last post) and nnot self-identifying primarily as a woman. I am one, as anybody who looked at me could tell (cute eyebrows, droopy ol boobs)but it’s nobody’s business what I do with it!

  16. Kate L says:

    (Therry and St. Jerome #15) Don’t get me started about the local LGBT “support” groups and how they view the transgendered. They seem to think of transition as reparative therapy, and reparative therapy for the transgendered as just good thinking. Moo U? Indeed!

  17. judybusy says:

    And coming out of nowhere, this amusing article from the Onion.

    I figured if there were a high percentage of folks who’d get this, it’d be here.

    Right on, Maggie, Obama would never nominate a lesbian to such a high-stakes post. Discussion over.

  18. Judybusy, that made me laugh in an umcomfortable way. Thx,

    Kate L, every time you say “Moo U” I’m reminded of the Jane Smiley book — are you intentionally referencing it? I should add, one of the best (most realistic) lesbian sex scenes of all time is in that novel. I actually use it as a model for how to write good, realistic, hot sex without all the ridiculous language and losing your center crap.

  19. ksbel6 says:

    I remember that sex scene and I only read it once, and that was about 10 years ago.

    It is her sticking one finger into the guacamole for just a bite before going into the bedroom that makes it stand out.

  20. Marj says:

    Prime Minister Cameron. Huh.

  21. ksbel6 — YES. And the butt massage. And worrying about her lover’s hip if she fell off the counter, their being of a certain age now.

    Oops, forgot to say SPOILER ALERT. ;-0

    Marj #20, is that good for you?

  22. GrrrlRomeo says:

    I think it matters to a lot of gay people to know that an openly gay person could be nominated to the SCOTUS. I want to believe being openly gay isn’t a hindrance in one’s career. But the irony is the point at which it doesn’t hinder someone to be out is the point at which no one is having to push someone out in order to prove it. So having to ask Kagan or even ponder it answers the question.

    I thought we were passed the point where identifying as gay meant revealing whether you’re a top or a bottom and how many times a week you have sex. ๐Ÿ˜›

  23. Acilius says:

    I suspect theis kerfuffle may have started with an innocent mix-up. Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan was often mentioned as a possible Obama Supreme Court nominee, and Professor Karlan is indeed an uncloseted lesbian. The names “Kagan” and “Karlan” sound enough alike that a person wouldn’t need a sinister agenda to mistake one for the other. Of course, I’m sure nasty people will try to use that mistake to achieve nasty ends.

    As for R. Kim’s question,I always remember Dorothy Parker’s lines, “As I grow older and older/ And todder towards the tomb,/ I find that I care less and less/ Who goes to bed with whom.”

  24. Marj says:

    Maggie #21: Nope: shiny young Conservative (Tory), all clean living and family first. Has taken the European Tories out of the mainstream centre right and allied with a bunch of out-there rightist loons… the only only mitigating factor is he has had to form a coalition with Clegg (he of the mania) and the Liberals, which will hopefully curb his enthusiasm for the axe…

  25. Marj says:

    “only only”? – sorry, it’s late. Acilius, lovely piece of Parker.

  26. Kate L says:

    (Maggie #18) Really? A lesbian love scene in the novel Moo U??? I had no idea that such hot, passionate lesbian romance ever went on at one of our great Midwestern institutions of higher learning! No idea at all! I swear, Governor Brownback, there’s no lesbian wimmyn here at Silo Tech! Oh, wait a minute… I flash forwarded to the early next year, and the first days of Governor Sam Brownback’s inquisition into “alternate lifestyles” at Regents’ colleges and universities. Damn that CERN Supercollosal Supercollider and its space-time bending Higgs particles! I was being burned at the stake in Salem this time yesterday.

  27. K.B. says:

    It may not be an appropriate question for a senator to ask at her confirmation hearings, but I’m just a homo commenting on a blog, and I am extremely curious to know what shapes her world view way down. And if she’s hetera, lesbian, closeted, or sacrificed a sex life for a career is super important in that regard!

  28. Ready2Agitate says:

    “Don’t throw this book away lightly.
    Throw it with great force.”
    -Dorothy Parker

    SCOTUS scrotum feh.

  29. Ready2Agitate says:

    Har Har! “The Onion” is all satire and spoof, you know that, right judybusy and Maggie J.? I could tell by the second para…

  30. judybusy says:

    Um, yep, R2A, that’s why I posted it…..I love humor for which you’ve got to be little bit smart to really get it! Thinking back to their article about the gravity deniers (in actuality, making fun of those who don’t believe the climate is changing) still makes me laugh, and that was “reported” in 2005!

  31. Feminista says:

    Re: the Noam Chomsky satire. The Onion does it again. My nephew introduced me to the fine publication,and I in turn told him about Funny Times. The latter is a monthly compendium of leftist political cartoons and columns; DTWOF used to be one of the regular features. http://www.funnytimes.com.

    You’ll be amused: I gurantee it.

  32. Feminista says:


    True story. My nephew David,mentioned above,gave my late husband The Onion’s version of a U.S.history book. My daughter brought it to school to show to her 6th grade social studies teacher. When I met him at a school conference,he said he was pleased with her contribution. When I said,”You know it’s a satire,right?” he replied,”No,it’s a regular book.”

    As Mo would have said,”snork.”

  33. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Feminista (#32)

    The 6th grade social studies teacher couldn’t distinguish between satire and reality… sad indeed. No wonder so many believe the lies and dreck of charlatans such as FoxNews, even their teachers can’t tell the difference.

    There must be something daft about 6th grade teachers (no offense to any 6th grade teachers reading this). My 6th grade teacher tried to divide by zero, in front of a class of so-called “gifted” kids. Needless to say, we all challenged her on this, trying the equation in reverse to show it wasn’t possible, etc. She eventually had to enlist the help of the teacher across the hall to explain it to us.

    Had she been a tad smarter, or perhaps a bit more adept at recovering from her fumble, she could have pretended this was a thought exercise so WE could prove that dividing by zero was impossible. But of course, her class of on-the-verge-of-puberty know-it-alls stumped her.

    (… goes off looking for the tangent of 90 degrees …)

  34. NLC says:

    More Noam Chomsky (and David Barsamian) humor: [Here].

  35. Anonymous says:

    #26 Kate L: Hmm,*another* midwestern multi-versity is nicknamed Moo U. I thought the honors went to MSU (Mich.State Univ.),which claimed to be the first of the land-grant places o’ higher ed. Its original name was Mich.Agricultural College.

    By the way,our across the street neighbors when I was growing up met at KU and taught at MSU. They were the best neighbors I have ever known. They did everything from bailing out our soaked basement when we were on vacation visiting my grandma to providing casseroles and desserts after a family tragedy to helping dig out the snow following a huge snowstorm.

    None of my neighbors have come close to that level of care and attention.

  36. Pam I says:

    Good grief. Desperate Housewives has got lesbians in it. My life is complete.

  37. ksbel6 says:

    The book Jane Smiley wrote is about Iowa State University in Ames, Ia. I’m pretty sure all of the “state” universities are land grant schools. Wait, maybe it was about University of Iowa? Crap, one of you will post the correct one.

  38. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    I LOVED Moo!

  39. j.b.t. says:

    Thanks for the hilarious Onion article Judybusy – I laughed out loud.

  40. hairball_of_hope says:

    Somewhere online today I saw a 1990s photo of Elena Kagan swinging a softball bat at Univ. Chicago Law School. She was wearing a Movado watch and earrings. Who plays softball wearing jewelry like that? I think she was trying hard NOT to look dyke-ish.

    Did any Senators question Condoleeza Rice about her sexuality during her confirmation hearings? I don’t recall any whispers about her, and she is single and childless. I think *looks* play a part here… Rice is very conventional femme-looking, and Kagan looks more like a member of the flannel shirt crowd. Unfair characterization, but probably true.

    Speaking of looks, today I saw a very familiar-looking woman walking down the block, and I was trying to place her. As we passed, I realized she was Donna Shalala, former HHS Secy.

    I thought a bit about her looks (short dyed-dark curly hair, short dumpy stature) and compared her to Kagan and Sotomayor (both also short dyed-dark hair, short plump-ish stature). I wondered why, of the three, only Kagan had the whisper of “lesbian” following her.

    It could be that Kagan sets off our collective gaydar, but it could also be a whisper campaign by her opponents. No such whispers followed Sotomayor, who is also single and childless, nor for her predecessor David Souter, also single and childless.

    Perhaps only ascetics will be nominated to the Supreme Court, average people with messy relationships that can’t be aired in front of hostile Senators won’t even make the short list.

  41. Feminista says:

    #35: That was me. Don’t know how I ended up Anon.,even considering how often I quote Virginia Woolf:”Anonymous was often a woman.”

  42. Feminista says:

    #41: Sonia S. is divorced from a man,so that’s probably why they didn’t bother her re: sexual orientation.

    Remember all the nasty jokes about Janet Reno? And Dana Carvey in drag satirized her regularly on SNL.

  43. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Feminista (#41)

    You end up as ‘Anonymous’ because you’ve cleared cookies from your browser cache (or the cookies have expired). That’s a good thing.

    I type my handle each time I post because I set Firefox to clear everything (cookies, history, temp files, etc.) when I close it, and FF is set to reject cookies unless absolutely necessary (e.g. online shopping). Jusr another piece of a sensible security routine.

  44. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Feminista (#42)

    Yeah, Reno was a pretty good sport about the SNL recurring feature “Janet Reno’s Dance Party.” On her last weekend in office, she made a guest appearance on SNL in the exact same blue dress as Dana Carvey. Very funny.

    It is a sobering observation of powerful women, that many have either felt it necessary to remain unencumbered by relationships/children to achieve their professional goals (or could not find partners with whom they were compatible). It’s much more rare among powerful men.

    As Gloria Steinem famously observed, “I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.”

  45. Ready2Agitate says:

    sorry, judybusy! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  46. Straight Ally says:

    Just want to point out, or reinforce, that the title of Jane Smiley’s novel is just plain Moo.

  47. Annie in Norway says:

    @6 ksbel6: I so agree. I was having an *ahem* discussion with a colleague the other day about a related topic. I wound up asking her if she intended to pursue a relationship with the lady in question and when she responded with a stunned (dare I say horrified) demur that I knew she was heterosexual, I said ‘then why does it matter if she likes men, women, both, neither, or small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri? Why does it matter? I guess the biologist in me wants to put it into a reproductive bias, but honestly… I can’t wait til we move past all the crap and evaluate people on the basis of professional merits and not about with whom they carry on sexual (or asexual) relationships.

  48. Andrew B says:

    If to be in the closet is to be gay but deny it, and to be gay is to assert that one is gay, then it is logically impossible to be in the closet. No one ever was, is, or will be in the closet. You can’t even imagine anyone being in the closet. Do we really want to say that?

    I can’t believe that to be gay is (entirely) a matter of self-identification — in spite of agreeing with practically everything else Kim says in his column. It should go without saying that the sexual privacy of Supreme Court nominees (and everyone else) should be respected. Privacy of course is different from secrecy. Enforced secrecy is a violation of privacy.

    (I find it weird that I am the only person thus far who has been bothered by the part of Kim’s article that Alison quoted. In the past I counted as a skeptic of identity politics who thought the concept of an identity was problematic but necessary. Has the world really shifted out from under me to that extent?)

  49. Bechadelic1 says:

    The animation was so cute. Loved the bunnies.

  50. Bechadelic1 says:

    Darn, commented on the wrong post!! *heads back to correct post*

  51. ksbel6 says:

    @#48: I agree with your point Andrew, I just did not think that was the most important part of the quote. I think we care more about whether or not Kagan will make a good judge than we do about whether or not she is a lesbian.

    On another note, it is quite worrisome that she has never been a judge. I understand that does not mean she will not be excellent, I would just feel better if we had some previous decisions from her.

  52. Anne Lawrence says:

    #31 —

    I first discovered DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR in FUNNY TIMES. I adored it and went looking for more.

  53. Dr. Empirical says:

    Judicial experience is definitely a factor when considering SCOTUS nominees, but it is by no means the most important factor.

    Hey- Clarence Thomas had judicial experience, and what sane person would claim he’s qualified for the supreme court?

  54. Andrew B says:

    ksbel6, thanks for the response. I am probably reading too much into a couple of blog posts. What can I say? It was a WTF moment for me to read Alison’s post, then double-WTF that nobody else seemed fazed.

    As for judicial experience, on one level I agree with you. It would be good to be able to look at some previous decisions. To the very limited extent that I’ve followed this, though, I think Kagan makes sense for the present situation. She’s a confirmable candidate who will be a force for moderation and real decency on a court that is in danger of going hard right. But basically I feel like my opinion on this matters about as much as my opinion on whether the Celtics can win another NBA championship.

  55. Brooklyn Phil says:

    Hmmmm.. I’m inclined to agree with Andrew.

    “Why does [Kagan] have to have a sexuality?” Well, because most people do. (I do believe a small minority of the population happily choose to be celibate and are not at all concerned with sexual matters).

    I think the better question would have been:
    “Why do we have to make anyone’s sexuality a matter of public record?”

    The fault is not Kagan’s. She should be able to be as open or as closeted as she wishes, no matter whom she sleeps with. That’s her right as an individual on this planet.

    We don’t have the right to demand she be out or closeted, again no matter whom she sleeps with. I agree that it shouldn’t be an issue, and maybe I’m just quibbling about Kim’s original phrasing.