Tim Cook, AppleInsider and Boundaries… A GearChat

(Image courtesy BHConsulting)

Dan: The conversation started early this morning when I read a post over on Apple Insider that just didn’t sit well with me.

Apple Insider calls Tim Cook the most powerful gay man in Silicon Valley

I wrote to the other editors

This just offends me. Do we get articles that begin… “Most powerful heterosexual but currently celibate after his third nasty divorce” or “Most powerful 37 year-old virgin although we have no doubt she is straight”. ???

Who cares if he is straight or gay when it comes to running Apple… and who’s business is it anyhow?

Judie: I saw a post on another site with a similar title yesterday, and was offended enough to stop and stare at it for a bit, chewing my lip. Then after flipping through and looking at the pictures (mainly to see what Tim Cook looked like out of curiosity), I didn’t bother to read it.

Interesting choice of descriptives there, but then I have to wonder — are we being overly sensitive? We see “most powerful black woman in California”, “Most powerful Latino man in Chicago” type stories which may offend some, but they are usually positive/puff pieces. Is this all that different?

Michael: I think the whole ‘gay perspective’ thing is offensive.  Growing up in Massachusetts, I have now seen decades of people looking to Barney Frank for the ‘gay perspective’ … while all he was giving was the Massachusetts liberal view, identical to Teddy Kennedy, which they didn’t need to label as the ‘drunk womanizing, DUI vehicular homicide perspective’ …

Judie: That’s exactly what I heard Kennedy called, growing up… :-(

But see, those are all negatives. Are you saying that letting it be known that someone is gay is necessarily negative? Like I said, being called “the most powerful gay man in Silicone Valley” could be seen as a positive by some.

My thought here is that in light of the nationwide push to show people that it is “okay to be gay”, and all of the negative things that have been highlighted over the years, if anyone takes anything from an article that mentions the new head of Apple’s sexual identity, maybe it would be that “it does get better” (ie, the narrow-mindedness CAN dissipate)? And possibly — “Apple likes gay people and doesn’t have a problem with promoting them to the highest positions, so why isn’t the place I work at like that?”.

Maybe I am being overly simplistic, though?

Maybe that’s the point: that people aren’t all the same. We need descriptors to differentiate them. Why is one okay to use, but not another. When it is okay to call someone by a descriptor, but not okay to use another?

I mean, sure … I could have done just fine not knowing if Cook was gay or straight, but maybe it was something that will inspire someone else to greatness, because making it known that Cook is gay normalizes the descriptor for someone else. And maybe every time you see it used as a descriptor, the shock becomes less and less, until hearing that your neighbor is gay isn’t as big a deal?

Just thinking out loud here …

Dan: My thought is this; one might see this as reflecting “how far we have come”. But by the same token one might see this as an example of “how far we need to go”- because we won’t really have “arrived” at any degree of enlightenment until IT DOESN’T FRIGGIN’ MATTER what his or anyone’s sexual orientation is.

Women we first ordained as Rabbis in 1973. But we didn’t “arrive” until people stopped talking about “the woman rabbi” and just used “Rabbi”. My movement ordain Rabbis who are gay or lesbian but their title is RABBI not Gay Rabbi or Lesbian Rabbi.

Personally, when it comes to the workplace I don’t care what someone’s sexual orientation is because someone’s sexuality is IRRELEVANT (or should be) in work. If it isn’t, there is something wrong…

Judie: I completely agree that it should be irrelevant, but I think that this could be part of the process toward making it so.

Is this not part of the same type process that made this statement true? “Women we first ordained as rabbis in 1973. But we didn’t “arrive” until people stopped talking about “the woman rabbi” and just used “rabbi””

Michael: What Judie’s comments reminded me is just how very different things are in different parts of the country.  Things like ‘it is OK to be gay’ and gay marriage are old news in some places, but still being debated in others. Heck, there are places where interracial marriages are still not socially acceptable…

As for the ‘perspective’ I was being provocative … everyone has something different about them, but for some reason we ‘need to know’ if a conservative is black or if someone is gay …

Isn’t that why the rest of you read Carly’s e-book stuff?  Not because she is informed, fun to read and insightful, but because she is GAY, informed, fun to read and insightful? 😉 (JOKE!)

Dan: Yeah, well I read your posts because you are STRAIGHT, informed, fun to read and insightful?   😉

Judie: I was just thinking (after Mike’s Barney Frank comments) … picture a news room, and the anchorman saying …

“And now here is Carly, with the “gay perspective”! 😛

Carly: Lol.

Here’s the thing: being gay is an invisible minority. A woman rabbi, even today and just being “the rabbi” is still easily identified as a woman. Unless Tim Cook takes the stage at WWDC wearing a rainbow flag and leather chaps, no one sees him and says, “Oh, a gay man” on sight.

Unfortunately articles like the AppleInsider one force the issue. It forces Tim Cook into almost an activist role; if he comes out he’s a gay exec and suddenly he’s a de facto activist/role model. But it’s not a role he has shown interest in, and if he does it then it is almost at the point of a gun. He’s forced on the spot, and simply being out becomes a part of how he is identified (and since its not something immediately apparent it becomes a descriptor so everyone can identify him as such.)

Now, if Tim Cook isn’t Tim Cook, COO at Apple, but instead is Tim Cook, barista at Starbucks, no one cares. If he’s outed by his coworkers, it’s an offense against him and an hr issue. But since he’s the COO of Apple, there’s an expectation of a moral obligation to be out, since his success raises the profile of gay and lesbian rights.

I hate this view, and personally think the gay rights movement failed when they set themselves up to mimic women’s rights and racial equality. Because the latter two are visible no matter what (you know I am a woman without even talking to me, all it takes is seeing me) but being gay (or even being Jewish!) is something that requires the person to actively embrace the identity.

And it’s not just the Tim Cooks of the world with this issue. Our assistant at work, with the best of intentions, told clients I was on my honeymoon, and so I got a few congratulatory calls when I returned. It was fine, except I had to decide how open to be with clients; did I tell them “Hey, I married a woman” or did I play the gender dodging game? It’s not that I ever hide who I am, but its a question of how much of my private life is professional fodder as well.

So while I understand why AI ran with this story, and I think they had nothing but good intentions, it forces Tim Cook into a position of being more open than he might otherwise want, and that’s not OK.

Judie: Michael, where I live I have to deal with people who will argue with me that there is no “gay gene” and that it’s a behavior that is learned and conditioned into people — a CHOICE, not something they are born as, and I wish, WISH, WISH that there was some solid evidence I could give other than “I have personally known people who knew they were gay as early as 3rd grade. Tell me what kid would choose to be gay at that age?!”

Bleh. :-(

So I see articles like the one that says Cook is gay as something that helps normalize the situation for people who might otherwise have thought that “people like him” could never be very powerful in corporate America. Even if I also think it is distasteful to have to list his sexuality at all.

Michael: Well, given that the majority of the moralistic folks who want to ‘fix’ gay people tend to hold as fact a host of things that are much more unreasonable, harder to prove, and far-fetched than the possibility that people could fall in love and be attracted without regard to conforming to so-called gender norms, I don’t know what to tell you … 😉

Judie: Lol tell me something I DON’T know!! 😉

Dan: The whole thing just bugs me and, more than anything else, I hate the way this totally disregards HIS privacy. Moreover,  the entire thing is based on rumor and innuendo…  And IT DOESN’T MATTER!

I think running a story like that diminishes Apple Insider.

Carly: In the end, it’s about boundaries. Is something in your life off-limits if you don’t actively shout it from the rooftops, or is it OK to label you if your famous? Judie has a good point, that seeing a gay man heading Apple can help lead acceptance, but if Tim Cook isn’t shouting it from the rooftops why should anyone else? Visibility and activism aside, it doesn’t matter whether an executive is gay, straight, Jewish, female, etc., as long as they do their job well! Success is success, and it shouldn’t need an asterisk of “And he’s gay too!”

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  6. Very interesting conversation! I also read the AI piece and mostly thought “did they have to start that way?” but that was the English professor in me, not the gay woman. I agree with you Dan that it doesn’t matter BUT I’ll also say that my initial response (prior to the writing critique) was more like “how cool! represent, Tim Cook!” SO, while I’m not at all a fan of outing people, I do think there’s some value when people in the spotlight, particularly in fields that are “marked” as heterosexual, do decide to come out.

    • Right, don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to know a company like Apple doesn’t care about someone’s sexual orientation and even more thrilled that they go the extra step and have put policies in place that bring some equity that the current law or tax system does not allow.

      It is just that personal business is personal.