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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Facial Profiling

At first, I was outraged.

I mean, the thought that Elena Kagan, this otherwise and obviously brilliant, former dean of Harvard Law School, Solicitor General of the United States and Presidential nominee for Supreme Court Judge might be hiding in the closet made my head spin.

The possibility that the Obama administration might try to slip in a "win" under the closet door made me absolutely furious. That would be "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" at nose-bleed high altitudes of governmental service.

The blogosphere on both ends of the political spectrum have been positively humming with speculation.

The Lesbian panic attack was in absolute overdrive on the Right, many of whom were having a bad case of the vapors every time they saw her picture.

When this picture of her at a softball game was published in a major newspaper, the Right-Wingnuts went into a serious case of apoplexy.

Truth be told, so did the Lesbians - but for a completely different reason.

I absolutely agreed with those of the LGBT community who insisted that her sexual orientation was no more relevant than her gender or ethnicity. At the same time, I'm not naive enough to think that it's not an important issue.

Truth be told, it would be very important to me and to many other people in the LGBT community. We want to claim one of our own and celebrate just like any other minority group has - and will - when "one of ours" achieves an obvious marker of success and achievement.

Either way, if she is a lesbian, I agree with those who say she should 'come out' now - before the confirmation hearings begin.

Apparently, she's not.

Which is fine.


But, it does bring up an interesting point about 'facial profiling'.

For example, here is Kagan's yearbook picture from Hunter College High School in NYC.

The profile criteria for detecting lesbians seems to be: plain facial features sans makeup + unattractive eyeglasses + no real hair style to speak of + plaid shirt = Dyke.

Add: short hair cut when older + softball picture, minus husband, boyfriend or discernable dating record = proof positive ID as Dyke.

It reminds me of that old joke about lesbians: There really are more lesbians in the world than one might think. That's because there are only five authorized lesbian hair cuts so we all look the same - and, those of us who don't have an authorized lesbian hair cut (ALHC) slip right under the radar.

Which makes me laugh with a memory from years and years and years ago.

When Ms. Conroy and I 'ran away from home' to live in Maine, we first thought we had died and gone to Lesbian Heaven.

Turns out, there were lots of LGBT people on Mt. Desert Island who worked at Jackson Lab as well as on the faculty of College of the Atlantic.

However, we soon discovered that MANY women from Maine dressed the same way: Plaid flannel shirts, down jacket, cords or jeans, and boots.

In Maine, that's not a statement about one's fashion sense or politics or sexual orientation. It's a necessity.

I have never met Elena Kagan, but my sense of her is that she's much more interested in law than she is either fashion or politics.

Which is what I imagine one would want in a Supreme Court Justice. I mean, anything she'd wear would just get covered up in an ugly black robe, anyway.

The whole kerfluffle about Kagan's sexuality has provided some important lessons to political camps on both sides of the aisle and on all points on the spectrum of sexual orientation.

You can't judge a book by its cover.

You can't tell a lesbian by her haircut.

But, don't even try to tell a lesbian what book to read. Or, how to cut her hair. Or, what kind of clothes to wear.

We're a pretty independent, feisty bunch.

Just think: If you meet the above criteria, you, too, might be a lesbian.

Then again, you just might be from Maine.

Or, perhaps, just a really smart, independent woman.

Like Elena Kagan.



This reminds me of the advice Kay gave me the first time we visited Durango:

#1: one beer = two beers because of the altitude and

#2: short hair + flannel shirt + hiking boots does NOT (necessarily) = lesbian Colorado!

IT said...

I love it!

As a professional woman in a male-dominated field, I have dealt with all of this as have my sisters for years whether gay or straight.

It shouldn't matter.

On the other hand, it does.

I do agree that if Kagan is a lesbian, it's a pretty said thing if she can only become a SCOTUS justice from the closet.

Regardless of the haircut.

Anonymous said...

Does it really matter whether she is a lesbian or not? I do not recall that aspect in the criteria for Judges. I recall neutral, impartial, knowing the rules of evidence, legal acumen. But really why does it matter to you or anyone else what her partner looks like? This is the land of the free. Let her live freely as you so do.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think I answered your questions in my post, Anonymous.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Maine...or rural Missouri.

Oh, sweet baby Jesus, I score above the 90th percentile on the LesboMeter except for that one little problem, being straight.

plain facial features--check.

sans makeup--Holy Mother of God, the fashion industry would crinkle up and die if it depended on me; I have not bought a makeup item in 25 years.

unattractive eyeglasses--well, I kinda thing my glasses are "studious," but not unattractive.

no real hair style to speak of--I have never had a any color but my own, but I did willingly go gray without a thought to the contrary.

plaid shirt--more when I was younger. I'm a Henley t-shirt and hoodie kind of person.

short hair cut when older--check

softball picture--until I got too old and now play golf, and even my golf equipment is suspect--no pink, and I am strong enough I use senior men's shafts on my club b/c women's shafts are too light and whippy.

minus husband, boyfriend or discernable dating record--check. Hell, I love everybody. How in the world can I have time for one person, and who's gonna put up with me anyway without feeling intellectually threatened? (Not to mention inch for inch and pound for pound, I'm pretty doggone physically strong.)

Add to the list "plain, sensible shoes," "full size pickup truck," "Money clip instead of wallet," and "pockets not purses."

If I ever ran for public office or a cabinet post, I am SOOOOOO doomed. So I will just stay home and be me!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susan - I'm not sure, but I think the same applies in Wyoming. And, probably VT. Not sure about Montana.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - As I remember, your haircut is not one of the five authorized lesbian hair styles. ;~) It's okay. Neither do I. I'm not trying to 'pass'. I'm just feisty, is all.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - If 'facial profiling' resulted in an arrest, detention and deportation, you'd be busted and I'd walk. Imagine that!

That Immigration Law in AZ has GOT to be overturned.

Jane Ellen+ said...

The group of seminarians with whom I did CPE was almost ruggedly diverse: 2 celibate Roman Catholics (from Mexico and El Salvador), 1 gay Filipino man, 2 Unitarian lesbians... and boring old me-- straight, white, married with children and living in suburbia. The others collectively decided that because I a)wear my hair short, b)carry a pocketknife, c)worked in a steel mill and d)listen to the Indigo Girls, I qualified as an honorary lesbian.

Yes, we were silly. But then, stereotypes are very silly things sometimes.

MarkBrunson said...

I can relate. The Metrosexual trend frequently acts as gaydar-jamming technology for me. On the other hand, I've never belonged to a gym, don't shape my eyebrows, avoid the sunlight or tanning beds, have a stiff, undemonstrative body-language, go to a regular neighborhood barber, and have no taste in clothing, accessories, or furnishings.

I should know better, but I still facial profile.

Thom said...

Thanks for this post--very thoughtful and something that we all need to read and understand. For your information, the yearbook picture is from Hunter College High School (proud to share an alma mater with Elena Kagan), not Hunter College.

Alexa said...

I say a weary "Vive les differences!" ... live and let live ...

Revd. Neal Terry said...

I am delighted to hear that lesbian spotting is more complex than this story suggests. Anyhoo thought you may like to read a Guardian comment.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Just be sure and provide pastoral visits for me when I am in Gender Jail, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jane Ellen - I have often been told that because of my style of dress and my ability to select a good dinner wine, I qualify as an honorary gay man. Stereotypes can be entertaining.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - Oh, honey, we all profile to one extent or another, don't we? At least we don't end up in "Gender Jail" like some people in AZ. Well, not so much any more.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thom - duly noted and corrected. (In my haste, I just left it out. The dangers of multitasking at the end of the day.)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jaliya - It's still an important philosophy. Too bad more of us don't live by it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Me - Thanks for the link to the Guardian. I'm heading over to read it now. It will be interesting to hear what the Brits think, having had Maggie Thatcher - a woman for whom the term 'handsome woman' was most certainly created' - as PM for so many years.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - all the priests who are lesbian are already lining up outside the Gender Jail, waiting to see you. ;~)

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, crap, and Jane Ellen+ has reminded me of another one. I carry a pocketknife. I got tired of asking men to borrow theirs to cut off strings on my clothes and whatnot. All the rural men I grew up with used to carry a pocketknife--a nice sturdy Barlow or an Old Timer or an advertising knife with the name of a feed store or auto parts store on it. So I started carrying my own because urban/suburban men just don't carry one anymore.

Oh, hell, I might as be like Otis of Mayberry. Just give me my cell and hang the keys outside it, and I'll just let myself in and out as I please.

Jane Ellen+ said...

I'm not sure, but I think the same applies in Wyoming. And, probably VT. Not sure about Montana.

It DEFINITELY applies in Montana. One of the things I enjoy about serving here-- daily wear commonly includes a clerical blouse (under sweater or flannel shirt in colder weather), jeans and hiking boots. I would scandalize the Clergy Fashion Police elsewhere; here, it works.

Mary-Cauliflower said...

I think most 50-something women I know would run into the same type of scrutiny as Kagan is enduring right now. In her position, I guess I'd attract speculation as well - though I'm definitely "out" as a straight spinster.

Fashion options are pretty limited, so I too choose basic clothes for my professional life. With me it's jeans and blazers. I have done my time in pantyhose and non-breathable, trendy fabrics.

After a couple of scary perm/hair coloring experiences, I'm opting not to put a lot of chemicals on my scalp. The result is your basic above-the-collar haircut.

As most of us understand the correlation between aging well and being physically active, there's probably going to be some sports participation. With me it's mostly bicycling - and swimming laps (another reason to keep the hair short and not overdo the chemicals).

Kagan is wearing some makeup in her current-day photo (and so do I), but anyone employed outside of Hollywood or the Clinique counter at Nordstrom's knows enough to take it easy with the war paint.

Lack of visible relationship? Well, I admire anyone who has been able to hold down a challenging job and keep writing and do all the little career extras that keep one moving up the ladder AND maintain a vital and stimulating relationship with Mr. or Ms. Right. I sure as hell can't.

I'm just not sure (and perhaps this is the point of your post) that anyone can survive long enough to be in line for a major set of responsibilities and have a life that is media-proof and speculation-proof.

My shoes? Well, I do own a couple pairs of nifty mid-heel pumps, but they're not so good for bicycle commuting.

Mary-Cauliflower said...

Oops! That previous post was a bit long. Defensive? Moi? Mais non!

Bruce said...

Elizabeth wrote: "We're a pretty independent, feisty bunch. Just think: If you meet the above criteria, you, too, might be a lesbian."

My Gawd! I never realized it before: I AM A LESBIAN.

How do I tell that to "himself?"
You always make my day--one way or another.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MaryC: Honey, if ya got it, flaunt it, I always say.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bruce - If I can be an honorary gay man, you can be an honorary lesbian. You don't even have to get an authorized hair cut. Now, that ought to please Himself.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

@Bruce: I'm reminded of the old joke about the cowboy spotting a woman in a bar, and sending a drink over to her. She comes over to thank him, and says, "But before you spend too much money on me, I need to tell you something. I'm a lesbian."

The cowboy looks puzzling at her and says, "Wuuuts a lesbian?"

"Well," says the woman, "You see that woman over there?" and she points at another lady in the bar.

Then she says, "You know what I'd like to do to that woman?" and she whispers in his ear all the various sexual activities that she would perform on her.

The cowboy just looks at her and grins, "Well, hell," he replies, "I guess I'm one of them thar lesbians, too!"

Revd. Neal Terry said...

Please don't say 'Thatcher' at me again. My constitution is delicate at the moment. In the same sentence as 'woman' and 'handsome' is too much.

IT said...

You are right, Elizabeth, I do not have The Haircut at all (what's with The Haircut anyway?)

But I realized on the train this morning, with all the other commuters neatly dressed in their "casual Friday" khakis and polo shirts, that in my cargo shorts, flip flops, and hoody I did not exactly adhere to any professional sartorial standard. Maybe "beachbum". Damn liberal commie perfessers!

Eigon said...

A few years ago in the UK, a woman was definitely a lesbian if she wore dungarees. Flat shoes and short hair were also required, and of course no make up.
I had to be practically frog-marched into Boots at the age of 17 to buy my first makeup (I don't think I ever used it up and I'm nearly fifty now); I hate high heels and at the moment I have short hair. I even own a pair of dungarees - and I'm straight.
Aren't people stupid sometimes?