Last Thursday, Reuters economics blogger Felix Salmon posted “Don’t ignore Tim Cook’s sexuality“:
Tim Cook is now the most powerful gay man in the world. This is newsworthy, no? But you won’t find it reported in any legacy/mainstream outlet. And when the FT‘s Tim Bradshaw did no more than broach the subject in a single tweet, he instantly found himself fielding a barrage of responses criticizing him from so much as mentioning the subject. Similarly, when Gawker first reported Cook’s sexuality in January, MacDailyNews called their actions “petty, vindictive, and just plain sad.”
But surely this is something we can and should be celebrating, if only in the name of diversity — that a company which by some measures the largest and most important in the world is now being run by a gay man. Certainly when it comes to gay role models, Cook is great: he’s the boring systems-and-processes guy, not the flashy design guru, and as such he cuts sharply against stereotype. He’s like Barney Frank in that sense: a super-smart, powerful and non-effeminate man who shows that being gay is no obstacle to any career you might want…
This got quite a lot of feedback, including some two to five times the usual number of comments (not sparing the obvious jokes about Mitch McConnell and the Pope, of course). Which led to Salmon posting a follow-up, “Why I’m Talking About Tim Cook’s Sexuality“:
… Finally, one critical note I got went so far as to say that “I would think people who are gay don’t care” that Cook is gay. Which is almost hilariously, completely wrong. All the feedback I’ve got indicates, unsurprisingly, that LGBT people really care about this — they care about it a lot, and they want to see it celebrated as widely as possible. It’s perfectly natural to feel pride and joy when a member of your community rises to a position of great success and prominence.
I’ve been incredibly heartened by the thanks I’ve got from gay friends, gay acquaintances, and gay people I’ve never run across before, all saying that they wish there were many more people pushing this line of argument. And I was also heartened, when I talked to John Abell about this yesterday for the video above, that he thinks the same way: not only should the media cover Cook’s sexuality in a more matter-of-fact way, but that they will, as well. Cook himself need do nothing.
At the same time, though, I agree with Nicholas Jackson that it would be great if Cook was more open about his sexuality. The glass closet is not an unpleasant place to be. The more transparent the glass, the less likely you are to have people making you uncomfortable by assuming that you’re straight. And at the same time, by never “officially” coming out, you get to avoid having to talk about your sexuality in public — something very few people like to do.
It’s sad and rather silly that gays have to make some kind of formal and official statement about these matters; certainly straights don’t. But without such a statement, as we’ve seen, the media gets cold feet talking about sexuality, and perpetuates the stigma associated with homosexuality. A very common response to my piece from journalists was to question my sourcing: how did I know that Cook is gay? Do I have first-hand knowledge? (No, and if I did, I would never have written my post.) Do I have reliable sources? (No, I’m simply passing on information which is in the public realm, just as I do with dozens of other pieces of information every day.) And isn’t it unethical to talk about something unless you know for sure that it’s true?
What’s unethical, I think, is perpetuating the false idea that Tim Cook is straight — an idea which, it turns out, many people had. One person said it was “disappointing” that I disabused her of that notion. Why she should be disappointed to learn this news I can only guess, I haven’t asked. But honest journalism has to be honest. If I allow you to continue to believe a falsehood, that’s a form of dishonesty. And I, for one, am not comfortable with that.
Both posts should be read in their entirety, because IMO Salmon answers most of the immediate what-if objections. I normally try to be an absolutist about letting people tell their own stories, to expose as much or as little as they choose in public… barring those falsehoods with a potential to hurt other people. (For example, “anti-feminist” women who take advantage of the full range of educational & professional advantages won by feminists’ hard work to lecture other women about the importance of female submission to a vital patriarchal hierarchy.) Salmon argues that the general journalistic eagerness to ignore Tim Cook’s “dedicated, life-long batchelor” status is less about respecting Cook’s privacy than about reinforcing the ‘glass closet’ where LGBT businesspeople are required to implicitly lie about their entire human identities in order to protect the sensitivities of straight people and homophobes. But as an older woman in a long-term heterosexual marriage, I’m not exactly putting myself on the front lines here, either. Am I wrong in thinking that Salmon’s arguments override the argument that Cook has a right to keep this part of his life off-limits?
ETA: Over the past 40-odd years, I’ve had any number of people address me with some variant of “Oh, I/we never thought of you as one of those [feminist / bisexual / religious] — you’re just a normal person to me/us.” And even when it was meant as a compliment, with the very best will in the world, it’s always come across as the worst sort of insult.