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26 Aug 2011

Who's your role model?

The "most powerful gay man in the tech world" who was also named the most influential gay man in the US must surely be role model material, or not? Well, some of us are hoping he would be, if and when he comes out.

The tech world shook on Wednesday. Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, father of the iMac, iPod and iPhone, announced that he is stepping down.

The world shook too in the LGBT community. The person taking over the reins of Apple is Tim Cook who was ranked No.1 on Out magazine's list of America's most influential gays and lesbians this year although Cook himself has never confirmed nor denied his sexuality.

From Out.com

A friend’s friend asked, “Why make his sexuality such a big deal?” Another said, “It shouldn’t matter.”

In an ideal world, it shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t be a big deal if Apple’s next CEO is a woman, a minority or a religious person Buddhist, Muslim, Christian or Hindu. Why make a big deal about Tim Cook being gay? None made a big deal of Steve Jobs being straight!

In the real world, a woman or a black person need not face that choice – the fact that they are female or a minority race is clear as day. Not so for a gay person. In the real world, most gay people keep their sexuality private.

I remembered growing up gay and searching desperately for a role model. Here was my journey:

From my childhood till teenage years, my only gay ‘role models’ were perverts and pedophiles prowling in the toilets. They were hunted, arrested and paraded in the national newspapers and tabloids. I remembered my mother saying, “Those sick bastards!” So I concluded I might be sick too.

When I discovered Yukio Mishima, a Japanese gay writer, I poured through his books, thirsting for some clues to guide me. Unfortunately, he was a strange fellow indeed. While I was thrilled that he declared his love for the same sex bravely, I was less happy about his morbid passion that gay love must end in suicide. Since he was the only Asian gay writer I knew then, I almost bought into that fatalism – there was to be no happy ending for gay relationships.

In a better world, you might find it funny to know my next favourite role model, an unrepentant, cheeky playwright called Joe Orton, had his skull bashed in with a hammer by his deranged boyfriend, Kenneth Helliwell. After killing Orton, Helliwell killed himself with an overdose of pills.

AIDS unearthed a slew of celebrities – Rock Hudson, Brad Davis, and Freddy Mercury to name a few – and in the same breath, declared them dead or dying.

I soldiered along, and in the process found many LGBT writers and artists in my native land of Singapore. The arrival of Elton John, Ian McKellen, Ellen DeGeneres and Adam Lambert lifted my spirits, but they, along with countless gay fashion designers and celebrity hairdressers, still did not fit my definition of a role model.

I may be an artist, but a part of me is decidedly a science geek.

What I need, is a modern-day Leonardo DaVinci, or a contemporary Alan Turing: Someone who is gay but cannot be pigeon-holed into a strictly artistic environment. So you can imagine my excitement when news of Cook’s sexuality broke!

And my disappointment when later articles clarified that he never came out publicly. Waiting for my role model feels like grasping at mirages in a desert.

Tim Cook has been an integral part of Apple where he has worked for the last 13 years. How big an influence or inspiration he has been, or will be, to such an iconic corporation remains to be seen. It would be great if he comes out, but what if he doesn’t? Afterall, filling in Jobs’ enormous shoes is already a monumental task. He should decide for himself if coming out will be to Apple’s advantage.

We may never get his own confirmation.

Until then, he cannot be a role model for me or my community. But here’s another alternative for us: we can wait for that elusive gay role model to show us the way, or we can be that role model.

I won’t be holding my breath for Cook or any other gay men or women to show me the way. I won’t sit and wait for someone to share his or her formula for success. There is no road map that will point the way towards my dreams.

“Fine!” I tell myself, “All the sweeter when I get there first.”

And with that, I put my best foot forward. 

Otto Fong is a comic artist who'd created Sir Fong's Adventures In Science, a series of educational children’s books, and an openly gay man since 2007.

Reader's Comments

1. 2011-08-26 21:08  
Well, it's Long been known that Tim Cook is gay - even if some people/papers etc didn't notice that until this week, it seems - but his sexuality has no relevance to running Apple. None. As such, why Would he be a role model to Anyone, based Just on his sexuality?

Either we see ourselves as Equal, or we don't - leaving 'us' needing to appoint people as being 'worth' something just because they're gay, as well as successful. But I find that very... limiting, because I don't give a damn about anyone's race, sex, sexuality, faith etc.

I hope I respect people individually, and role models, for what they Do, rather than just what they Are. Or am I the only person to think like that?

[Everyone: "Yes, moron, you're the only guy here to think like that! Don't over-analyse Everything!"]

Doh! Okay, okay... who are users' role models, whether Gay OR Straight, and why? Do tell...
2. 2011-08-26 21:51  
hmm....anyone Asian???
Comment #3 was deleted by its author on 2011-08-26 21:53
4. 2011-08-26 22:07  
There are several industrial leaders who are gay. There seems to be a perception in the gay community that these people are closeted, or hiding. They aren't, they're just living their normal lives where their sexuality doesn't matter. I assume Tim Cook to be one of these.

However, there are always exceptions, take for instance, the case of Lord Browne, the ex Chief Executive of BP. He had a secret gay lover (although if you met the guy, your gaydar would be beeping by the way he looked you over...) Of course, the British tabloids got hold of the news and it transpired that Browne was paying for this guy to have sex with him. Up to this point, Browne was the leader of one of Britain's most profitable companies, he gave zero consideration to those looking at gay men, like him, to set an example.

In his defence, however, when general corporate responsibility is examined, his faux pas is relatively common. Does that make him a good or bad role model? I suspect that depends on whether you just want to be nice, or whether, you just want to make as much money as the Fed prints!

I do agree with article, growing up during the 70s and 80s there was precious little to cling to as a gay teenager, the unfortunate list in the article is very accurate. I have never looked for a homosexual role model, I look for role models of people who are happy and successful and created my own amalgamation.

Perhaps, the issue here is communication; there was no Internet, no chat rooms, no instant messaging, no porn sites, no dating sites et.c. so I would read books about the "disease" of homosexuality, its moral corruption and the sad lives of those afflicted with it. Only once I had started at University, did I see a far more positive gay references. I really needed to leave the small country town that I grew up in, that was inhabited by people of a bygone era, to find this out.

Today, with the advent of mass information via the Internet, the feeling like you're the only gay in the village doesn't matter anymore. What I do believe is important to stress, is that at least in Western countries, being openly gay is not a hindrance to being successful.
Comment edited on 2011-08-26 22:08:23
5. 2011-08-26 22:22  
Role model? Be your own!
6. 2011-08-26 23:01  
I do think it is still important to have role models even in this day and age. True that more and more gays are out, we have average citizens (gay and straight) fighting for LGBT equality, and there is not the stigma in many countries that there was in the past. However, we continue to have those that will do anything they can to stop or reverse these gains including spending vast sums of money, passing anti-gay laws, intimidation, and even murder. There are many potential role models today fighting for LGBT rights and they should all be positive role models. Growing up and dealing with my sexuality in the 70s/early 80s there were very few positive role models. I would say the first 2 that really left a positive impression on me were Harvey Milk and Martina Navratilova.
7. 2011-08-27 04:32  
I reject the idea that your role models have to be like you. Frankly, I have too many characteristics to filter on and there are way too many worthwhile people out there.

It might be different if there were some "how to be gay" skill worth acquiring but there isn't. How to work hard, persevere, be creative, love others are things all people can do.

I guess it might be different if I thought being gay was a significant characteristic. But it isn't. It doesn't even describe you, just who you want to be with.
8. 2011-08-27 09:16  
My role models are the shakers of the system, not the makers. The "successful" (need to be defined) do not interest me.

There seems to be a need within the LGBT western communiuties to gain recognition through celebrities- gay and straight- to speak out for them.
We can speak for ourselves with our very different voices.

And if I were to choose a role model:
Gore Vidal, a true shaker.

Read him.
Comment edited on 2011-08-27 09:17:30
Comment #9 was deleted by its author on 2011-08-29 21:41
10. 2011-08-27 11:05  
I personally think Tim Cook's achievement could well become a gay role model for many people. He is also a very HOT looking guy.
Comment #11 was deleted by an administrator on 2011-08-29 10:14
12. 2011-08-27 13:37  
I don't think I need a role model. I try to live as I please and be happy. That a certain celebrity is gay has no effect on my life :)
13. 2011-08-27 14:22  
I'd have been more impressed if Apple had named Tim Gunn as new CEO. Well, maybe not that. Design consultant?
14. 2011-08-27 15:55  
sure, his promotion will help build up a positive image for gay community struggling with so much stigma , finally we got someone to show we are no inferior in career development at least.
Comment #15 was deleted by an administrator on 2011-08-29 10:14
16. 2011-08-27 17:59  
"The most powerful gay man in the tech world who has also named the most influential gay man in the US must surely be role model material or not? Well, some of us are hoping he would be, if and when he comes out."

This introductory blurb is a hot grammatical mess. Good lord.

And agreed -- Tim Cook's sexuality is wholly irrelevant to his position in Apple (or any other company). Being an executive in corporate America HARDLY makes one a role model, anyway.
17. 2011-08-27 19:52  
brad davis is gay? wow ... didn't know that.
18. 2011-08-27 22:16  
I don't see why sexuality is an issue here. It's not as if he'll make a pink coloured iPhone or iPad lolz :P
19. 2011-08-28 02:26  
do you know why most successful gay men kept their sexuality private? its because most of them couldnt bear the public pressure they face, even friends and the people around them, and media like this that publish stories about them will only make them shut away their sexuality from the public...

he, as a successful person, by publishing his stories will neither help him to ease his situation nor even supporting him, in fact, it increases his pressure... if you want him to come out as a gay man, the best way is to do nothing at all...
Comment edited on 2011-08-28 02:35:12
20. 2011-08-28 10:47  
he's a very good looking men, and very smart too. those two things are some sort of privileged to a lucky few i guess!

however, my (non-sexual) role model must be, without a doubt my art and music teachers. to the point that i still be here today. i've been -passed- enough through many eyes, and there are these people that sees something in me... so that says alot. i try to applies this in my so-called relationship though... to don't judge too much on the appearence, instead, what they have to offer in my real little life!

as far as i remember, the 'sexual' role model for me, i would say half of them are singers from western world. i tend to browse their stories every now and then
Comment #21 was deleted by its author on 2012-03-03 17:54
22. 2011-08-28 21:54  
I think the topic relates to how much you love, accept and expect from yourself.

Tim Cook's sexuality is irrelevant to his job performance.
I am not surprised by his achievements and ability.
Good on Tim!

23. 2011-08-29 01:13  
@asianb0207: you might find this an interesting read that can help you move forward: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2011/08/26/why-im-talking-about-tim-cooks-sexuality/
24. 2011-08-29 01:48  
Wow that column is such a great read I feel I should repost some of the most pertinent parts here:

What business is it of mine what Tim Cook does with his genitals?

This isn’t an issue of sex, it’s an issue of sexuality — a central part of who all of us are. It’s about attraction, and identity. Not genitals.
Now admittedly Tim Cook’s sexual identity isn’t any business of yours either. But it’s worth asking who exactly we’re protecting here. Tim Cook hasn’t complained about coverage of his sexuality, but a lot of straight people who don’t know him seem to be very upset about it. It seems a bit like the old attitude of “I don’t care what consenting adults do in private, just so long as they don’t stick it in my face.”


Another commenter, RaidV92C, reacted a rather different way, but just as accurately: “This is not newsworthy, it’s west coast, liberal media, hollywood forcing homosexuality as NORMAL on the general public.” Yes. Exactly. Homosexuality is normal. And people who object to stories which cover an executive’s homosexuality as being as unexceptional as another executive’s wife and children are exactly the people who are winning if no mention is made of Cook’s sexuality.

Do we report that executives are straight?

Yes, all the time, especially when we talk about their families. And more generally straight is the default option — people are assumed to be straight unless we’re told otherwise. No LGBT person likes it when they’re assumed to be straight, but it happens every day.
Isn’t this a salacious invasion of Tim Cook’s privacy?

There is nothing salacious about someone being straight, or being gay. Insofar as you think it’s salacious, that’s because you think that being gay is somehow naughty, or shameful. Is this an invasion of privacy? To a certain extent, yes. More people know more things about Tim Cook now than they did a few weeks ago. That’s what happens when you become the CEO of Apple.
Comment #25 was deleted by an administrator on 2011-08-29 10:14
26. 2011-08-29 06:00  
@Megoville: thanks for the link, but really, it's none of my business to know what he does in bed or which sexes he sleep with. i really like Apple's products, if he keep churning out awesome stuff like ie...iPhone 5, 6, 7... or iPad 3, 4, 5... that's all i care about. Unless he did some awesome causes for the gays, then ya, he should be named the "most powerful" gay man in American, but he hasn't even come out or confirmed he's gay, until then, leave him alone.
27. 2011-08-29 09:24  
Why do you need a role model ? Be yourself and be true to oneself. Believe in yourself and go for it. As long as you do not hurt or harm others to get to where you are , kudos to you.

As to whether Tim is gay or not is not relevant , as far as I am concerned. But it will be good to know that a PLU has achieved so much and climbed the corporate ladder and that it's nice to know that there is no glass ceiling. But it will be sad to know that one has to stay in the closet and not discovered to be where he is today.

My hopes and aspirations is to see PLU accepted in the corporate world. All the best to all my brothers and sister. Cheers !!
28. 2011-08-29 10:43  
I agree with Ipark's succinct summary.. BE YOUR OWN ROLE MODEL!

Cook has nvr been, nor will he be a 'role model' for gay folks. In the dog eat dog world of the IT industry, he will hardly have time for his personal life, let alone to stand on a pedestal for gay men to adulate.
29. 2011-08-30 09:06  
Thank you for this article! It's really well-written, succinct, and thoughtful.

We pick our own role models of course... Mainstream media tends to highlight those people who fit the mainstream public's conception of 'successful' persons... Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that of course (I happen to be an avid Apple user).

Aside from being our own role models, it's good to seek other individuals who may be leading our communities in some ways but who may not typify 'gay role models.'

For me (in no particular order)
William Yang (Australian Chinese photographer and artist extraordinaire)
my older brother (also gay, also outspoken)
Tim Mansfield (who founded the site SexualRacismSux.com)
Andy Quan (who co-founded/wrote with him)
Margaret Cho (Korean American stand up artist/comedian)
the founder(s) and editor(s) of Fridae.com, who have inspired and are helping to coordinate a formidable, worldwide consciousness of Asian gay and lesbian issues
Martin Luther King Jr (even though he wasn't gay, he had some of the most sophisticated elaborations on social justice that I have ever read in my life... we have a lot to learn from him)
and the countless people whom I encounter on a daily basis, who inspire acts of selfless service to our communities.
30. 2011-09-02 11:54  
Can I be your role model? Hee-hee.
31. 2011-09-05 13:21  
I think we need some Asian gay role models...

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