Wrote this on my Posterous, but thought you all might want to take a gander at it as well…

Some folks are wondering why questions of sexuality are bring raised for Elena Kagan when they were not done for Sonia Sotomayor. In my mind, it boils down to something fairly basic:

Kagan is white and Sotomayor is not.*

Let me explain. For the type of people who are fond of profiling, Kagan fits the description: white, unmarried, intellectual, not terribly “attractive”. Black or Latina women that fall into that same line aren’t questioned on their sexuality because they don’t “seem” gay; they’re just cast as accomplished yet pitiable career women who have little hope of snaring a mate with whom to settle down.

In the American conscience, to be a lesbian of a certain age is really just shorthand for being a feminist; a card-carrying member of NOW and an acolyte of Betty Friedan. While I won’t go so far as to say the sexual aspect of the questions regarding Kagan’s sexuality are irrelevant, I will say I think these inquiries are more a petty and contemptuous probing of her feminism. (I strongly doubt the president would have the stones to nominate a possibly gay man for the bench since male sexuality whips people into a different kind of frenzy).

It’s the radical feminist menace that ruffled the old boys’ feather and the representatives of that menace were overwhelmingly–and often deliberately–white.

The feminist movements in the United States had parallel histories split between the predominantly white–and highly exclusionary–narrative and the one that included women of color in this struggle. The former was able to set the tone in many regards and became the face of “what a feminist is.”

For many, feminists are merely smartypants white women that hate men and don’t do as they’re told. Given this perception, the “oh, well she’s probably a lesbian” coup de grace wasn’t/isn’t exactly a leap. In many ways, it’s the white version of being called uppity.

The logic:
- Kagan = Unmarried White woman intellectual of no particular beauty.
- Lesbians are unmarried White women intellectuals of no particular beauty.
- Feminists are unmarried White women intellectuals of no particular beauty.
- Feminists hate men.
- Lesbians hate men.
- Feminist = Lesbian
- Lesbian = Feminist
- Kagan = Lesbian = Feminist?

*A friend brought up the great point that the reason Sotomayor wasn’t questioned in that regard is because she was married once before. A reasonable point, though not bulletproof. A previous marriage certainly lends itself to avoiding certain questions, though marriage is by no means proof of being straight. Perhaps the figure of Condi Rice is more appropriate in this regard. The questions regarding her personal life were, more often than not, framed as, “Why doesn’t she have a man?” rather than “Is she gay?”

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