The last three weeks at SmallAgency have been brutal. Not because the management style has changed, and not because we have a client who is being a righteous pain in the ass. The last three weeks have been brutal because I have a co-worker who doesn’t know when to ask for help.
I know I shouldn’t be one to judge for a lot of reasons the most major of which is I should probably have “please confront me if I don’t ask for help” tattooed on my forehead. The reason for that is muddled. Some of it is how I was raised, some of it is personality bent, and some of it is learned behavior for in the realm of geekdom there is very little more annoying than the user who just wants you to do it for them and hasn’t bothered to try any solutions himself before asking for help. That is a key distinction in the geek ethos: try to find the solution before you ask for help. It is the distinction that led to my co-worker’s downfall.
It takes a certain amount of self-confidence and maturity to admit you were wrong. Since we won the project, the one that turned all fruit shaped, this co-worker has been claiming it as her own. The organization does work in an issue space that matters to her, the client’s reps who came in to meet with us for the kick-off impressed her personally (I think there may even have been a little crush action going on.), and the implementation used a content management system (CMS), in this case WordPress, with which she has a high degree of comfort. Confidence, however, is not this co-worker’s strong suit. Combine that with her inability to think strategically, her other major weakness, and you have the perfect conditions that end up with all four developers working 10 hours a day for 12 work days and still missing the client’s soft launch deadline by a week and their hard launch deadline, which luckily turned out to be not all that hard, by two days.
Working a ten-hour day, full out, with a project lead who is flustered and who must distribute the tasks but hasn’t thought enough about what the tasks are to be able to parse them out turned me into a lump of oatmeal by the end of the day. I wasn’t capable of doing more than grunting and staring at the television when I got home from work every day. Because I was looking for the lowest pressure possible narcotic to soothe my overloaded nervous system I did that thing that everyone with hundreds, or even dozens, of available channels and a searchable interactive program guide does when she wants to zone out in front of the TV: I aimlessly flipped channels. This is how I found Cozi TV which having just read its Wikipedia entry to find that link makes complete and utter sense with respect to programming.
Cozi seems to run nothing but classic TV shows from about 1960s through the 1980s and on this particular evening they were running back-to-back episodes of the quintessential television narcotic Charlie’s Angels. This particular episode was vintage Angels, second season so we’re dealing with Kelly (Jaclyn Smith), Kris (Cheryl Ladd), and Sabrina (Kate Jackson). And as I’m watching the flickering images on a TV that’s in a form factor no one could have imagined when this show originally aired in 1977, as I”m being lulled into submission by the simplistic plot, the quaint lighting and camera techniques, the set dressing, the clothing, and that oh so familiar frission of sexual attraction that was so scary when I was eight and is less scary at 40-something I noticed something interesting. Sabrina was wearing a pinky ring…on her left hand no less. This may not seem significant at first but it is when you locate Charlie’s Angels in its cultural context.
This year has been historic in terms of the cultural changes regarding Americans’ attitudes toward LGBT people. Gallup reported in May that support for same-sex marriage was solidifying above 50% as indicated by three separate readings, at that point in time, in 2013. They also wrote “Just three years ago, support for gay marriage was 44%. The current 53% level of support is essentially double the 27% in Gallup’s initial measurement on gay marriage, in 1996.” In June the U.S. Supreme Court partially struck down (DOMA granting Federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married and the changes to immigration laws, military spousal benefits, and other aspects of life heterosexuals taken for granted have continued to roll out. Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, started in 2010, uses the power of technology, chiefly cheap video recording capabilities and free video hosting at YouTube, to reach out to LGBT youth, but really to anyone, to let them know that while they may be miserable now (’cause yeah verily does adolescence suck and it sucks double or triple sometimes if you’re queer) life does get better. Gay/Straight Alliances at high schools and colleges are becoming more popular even in places like Mississippi which have historically not be known for their tolerance of anything that wasn’t Christian, White, and heterosexual. Pretty soon we’ll have cats and dogs living together and mass hysteria*!
All the changes we’ve seen in the past few years started, at least for me, in August 1993 when Vanity Fair put Cindy Crawford and kd Lang on the cover. Lang, who stated in the accompanying article that she got more criticism from her country fans for being a member of PETA than she did for coming out as a lesbian, wasn’t as well known at the time by mainstream culture as she was by country music fans so this cover shocked on a couple of levels by playing directly with our notions of gender but was Lang really queer? Was Crawford? You had to buy the magazine to find out.
Four years later, Time left nothing to the imagination when they put Ellen Degeneres on their cover. “Gays” even got a mention on the controversial 1994 Newsweek OJ cover; Stonewall (and I) turned 25 that year. There was a brief, disconcerting moment in the 1990s when the mainstream press shined a really hot light on lesbians in particular and while this moment may not have been the true beginning of the end stage of integrating LGBT people into American society, it’s an important one because it’s when we started to assimilate and though that assimilation is gaining us tons (see, end of DOMA, 53% acceptance of same-sex marriage) we’re also losing something that we won’t notice until it’s gone. We’re losing our codes and language.
In that time Before Ellen (B.E.), and still today I’m sure but less so, when discrimination against queers was not only much more overt but often codified into law the LGBT community developed its own language. Some of the gentler examples remain: someone can be said to be “Family” or “a friend of Dorothy” and it’s likely the meaning will be clear. What we’re losing is the subtler things. Sure the hanky code still exists but it’s less common in less gay areas. B.E. in the United States, at least, a pinkie ring on a woman as a covert indicator she was a lesbian. Less common, but highly visible every night at 9pm Eastern on MSNBC, is the ring on the middle finger with right indicating that while she may be cute there’s a girlfriend/significant other/spouse lurking somewhere in the background.
It was knowing what the ring meant, and knowing what it meant in particular in the cultural context in which Charlie’s Angels was created that left me sitting on my couch, well, frankly gobsmacked. This particular TV show, widely considered the start of jiggle-TV, was fairly revolutionary: though problematic that the leads were led and directed by the unseen male puppet master and even though they, Farrah Fawcett in particular, presented virtually impossible standards of beauty as the ideal to which every woman “should” aspire to it presented women with even a modicum of agency in lead roles. It was also the mid-1970s’ gift to lesbians everywhere for those same reasons which is why sitting there on my couch 36 years later having successfully, or so I thought, processed that childhood-rooted attraction to Sabrina Duncan, was I was so astonished to see that small, coded symbol, that bit of language that subtly acknowledged that audience that no one wanted to talk about. The irony, of course, is this particular episode aired just two weeks after what was for me the most disappointing and now confusing episode of the show’s run: it’s the one where we have Sabrina fall in love with a man.
Greater acceptance is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but with less need to hide and be coy about who we are we have less need for our own language which makes us in some ways less interesting and with so much of our culture now remixed, homogenized, and regurgitated into something that the model tells the money men will earn is less interesting something we really want to cultivate? Pardon me while I go totally mess up my search results profile by trying to find out if someone has already written a dictionary of Lesbian and Gay language and symbols.