Schock and Sinema Pose for a Selfie: An Alternate Interpretation

No, the most salient point here is not that the congresswoman is bisexual.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
Jan. 29, 2014, 11:08 a.m.

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.

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