One of the stranger stories to come out of the State of the Union address Tuesday night was that "anti-gay Rep. Aaron Schock" allegedly sat in the lap of "bisexual Rep. Krysten Sinema" and took a selfie with her.
What does it mean?
Is he embracing the rumor that he's gay or trying to signal his straightness by flirting with her? The political press wanted to know. The consensus from political reporters gossiping about it was that Schock was occasionally in Sinema's lap and at other times he was sitting on the side of her chair. So confusing! To get to the bottom of this, the Washington Blade posted a blow-by-blow photo essay of the encounter, complete with speculation about their "friendly" conversation.
Did we mention Sinema is bisexual?
It doesn't even look like he was sitting in her lap to us. It looks like he was sitting on the armrest of her chair. Perhaps if you really wanted to write a story about this you could say he was crouching near her lap?
He was much closer to the lap of the unidentified man sitting next to Sinema. Perhaps the political press should analyze that? But no. We don't know the sexuality of the guy sitting next to Sinema! So that wouldn't be nearly as fun.
This is going to come across as a real Slate pitch, but maybe the takeaway from the big Schock-Sinema selfie-gate is that even though they disagree politically about many issues, he still likes her as a human. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard took a picture with Rep. Tom Rice, and curiously nobody speculated about their sexuality. And when Sen. Mark Udall posed with Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Ron Wyden, there was curiously little analysis of their orientation. In fact, NBC News made an entire video of bipartisan selfies from the night and not once did sexuality come up. Curious!
It's possible the media is just a little overly excited about National Journal's admittedly awesome "Gay in Washington" issue, which featured on its cover a photo of all eight openly out members of Congress, pictured together for the first time ever. This is not, however, a good reason to run around the Internet reducing people to their sexuality. Although, come to think of it, that's an interesting exercise.
What if every time a politician made a gesture of bipartisanship, their sexual intentions were scrutinized? Take, for instance, when President Obama gave Speaker John Boehner a shout-out in his State of the Union Tuesday night, saying the "strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams" is apparent in "how the son of a barkeep is speaker of the House." Boehner responded with a smile and a vigorous thumbs-up. Why did nobody note how closely Boehner was sitting to Obama — we mean, how closely straight Boehner was sitting next to straight Obama? And why didn't Obama mention that Boehner's the son of a straight barkeep — or an allegedly straight barkeep, anyway?
And why was the State of the Union not annotated with everyone's sexual orientation? Ezra Klein once wisely observed the importance of giving people context for the facts. "Today, we are better than ever at telling people what's happening," he wrote, "but not nearly good enough at giving them the crucial contextual information necessary to understand what's happened." Good thing the media is on it.