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Why Powerful Female Politicians Are Often Dismissed as 'Secret Lesbians'

Rumors about Hillary Clinton’s sexuality have swirled around her for decades. An expert explains the misogyny and homophobia underlying the baseless attacks.
October 27, 2016, 1:05pm
Photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Criticizing Hillary Clinton is often justified—after all, politics is a dirty business, and she's fair game. But dragging the Democratic presidential nominee for alleged Sapphic proclivities is both ridiculous and homophobic in equal measure. Sadly, "Hillary is a secret lesbian" rumors have been swirling for a while, and with days to go until the US elections, they've just been given a boost in the tabloids.

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In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, Arkansas native Dolly Kyle claims that she was in a sexual relationship with Bill Clinton for years, during which he allegedly confided in Kyle about Hillary's sexual orientation and said they had daughter Chelsea to quell the speculation.

"Now, he did not say Hillary is a lesbian," Kyle said. "Billy didn't have to spell out what that meant… Everybody in Little Rock knew the same rumors about Hillary being a lesbian as they did about Billy being a lech."

Other highlights from Kyle's interview, which also excerpts her 2016 book Hillary the Other Woman: A Political Memoir, include allegations that Hillary Clinton had body odor issues, was mean to autistic children on an Easter Egg hunt, and—worst of all—had failed to maintain proper eyebrow grooming. "Hillary's eyes glared at her from behind coke-bottle-thick lenses with an air of real hostility," Kyle writes. "Her thick eyebrows melded together stretching across her forehead."

Read more: A Body Language Expert Decodes Donald Trump's Lurking in the Presidential Debate

Not all the allegations about Clinton's sexual orientation have the tannic tang of sour grapes. Some of them—like this fan fiction about a lesbian romance between Clinton and her long-serving aide Huma Abedin—are kind of cute, if you're into sexual humiliation ("Hillary wrapped her legs around Huma's slim waist. She offered up her wrists. 'So lock me up, bitch.'")

Female politicians are often attacked for alleged lesbianism by political opponents looking to burnish their family values credentials with homophobic voters, and voters themselves aren't immune to a little baseless speculation. Even twice-married German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been the subject of debate on online forums, which offer up as their evidence: "No fashion sense [and] an eternally drab hairdo."

Photo by Flickr user quinnanya

"I'm not surprised by these 'Hillary Clinton is a lesbian' rumors," says Dr. Maarja Luhiste of Newcastle University. Luhiste is an expert in politics and gender and specializes in how female political candidates are represented in the media. "They're part of a pretty common election strategy, especially when you take into account how Trump has campaigned overall."

Does Clinton's stance on LGBTQ rights and support of equal marriage make her a particular target? "Yes, whoever would allege [that she's a lesbian] would say she's only doing so for the good of her own "in-group," rather than for broader human rights reasons."

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Luhiste explains these types of rumors only flourish in certain political landscapes. "The USA is very traditional-values-based in certain states and certain demographics. These rumors play together in very conservative contexts," she says, emphasizing that the claims need to be set within the broader emphasis on the heterosexual family unit in American political life.

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Put simply, while you no longer need a dick to be President of the United States, you do need to fuck people of the opposite sex, in a matrimonial setting, and produce offspring.

"It's interesting because in Estonia—where I'm from—no one cares about these things," Luhiste observes. "Our president recently got divorced and remarried while in office and no one seemed that interested."

For Luhiste, rumors around Clinton's sexual orientation are inevitably misogynistic. "It's about our social expectations of what a 'good woman' and a 'good politician' mean, and the two don't always match. As a female politician, you're either accused of being not a 'proper woman,' or not a 'proper politician.'"

For example, women like Sarah Palin, who conform to typical gender roles and raise large families, are criticized for lacking political experience—but women who emphasize their career over their personal lives and only have one child (or, god forbid, never marry) are slammed for being secret man-hating lesbians.

"It's a lose-lose situation," Luhiste says. "Whichever route you go down, you'll be challenged." However, she is hopeful that the US may eventually make progress and elect an LGBTQ president. "A lot depends on the party, because some parties are much more open towards sexual minority candidates. But I don't think it's totally unfeasible. I hope it happens faster than it will happen."