Haha oh god it's the first newsletter
We're talking about how Silicon Valley fails to serve the LGBTQ community. Happy Pride! Happy first newsletter!
|maya kosoff||Jun 4, 2019|| 11|
Welcome to Pithy Outcomes. If you’re here reading this, odds are good you signed up for this on your own volition so you already know my whole deal, but just so everyone is up to speed, here is a very brief history of me:
I quit my job at Vanity Fair in December and a few weeks later I started to help relaunch Gawker dot com (it had been a good website). That, um, didn’t work out, in a very publicly scrutinized way, so my coworker Anna and I decided to leave, and in doing so turned down a not-insignificant amount of severance. Since then I’ve been copywriting and doing editorial consulting and ghostwriting and occasionally writing pieces for websites and having anxiety attacks about the instability of my life, whether I’d irreversibly fucked up my entire career and humiliated myself in front of all my peers in the process, and what comes next. Winter is always hard, but it was especially hard for me this year, and I’m so glad it’s over. (I’m fine now! I promise.) Eventually I’ll have a job thing to announce (more on that much later), but now that it’s summer I’m happy to just be figuring things out and writing again.
Let’s talk about the newsletter.
The format of this thing will likely evolve, but for now, here’s how I envision it most weeks: a 600-800 word essay or reported piece at the front, some recommendations of things to read/watch/eat/wear/etc, and an explanation of an internet beef at the end. If you think my ideas are complete garbage and have constructive suggestions for how to improve this endeavor, or if you would simply like to say hi, you can shout at me on Twitter at @mekosoff, or email me.
With formalities out of the way, let’s dive in.
Tech tries to serve the LGBTQ community and comes up short
Late on Friday night I was standing on a sidewalk in Greenpoint, the part near the BQE where it’s some quiet old residential buildings and a handful of soulless industrial buildings. It’s a sleepy area, and I was really only there because I wanted to call a car, and I was leaving a show at Brooklyn Steel, and standing within a five-block blast radius of that venue after a concert means you’re paying surge pricing for an Uber. So I walked. And then I called the car and it was in the Uber app that the first sign of corporate Silicon Valley Pride month insignia reared its head: a little rainbow trajectory instead of the normal black one, tracing the roads between my driver on his route and where I stood.
It’s not the first time Uber has done the Pride rainbow car trajectory thing for Pride month, and it’s hardly offensive, really, it’s just a rainbow, but that’s kind of the point. What is the in-app pride rainbow thing supposed to mean? Just like, to remind people that it’s June? A vague statement that Uber stands in solidarity with queer people? An attempt to normalize rainbows? It got me thinking about how sometimes Silicon Valley thinks it’s doing something helpful that on its surface appears to be positive or good for a community, in this instance the LGBTQ community, but ultimately just kind of misses the mark.
One example of this lives within Facebook, in which you can denote different “life events”—births, engagements, marriages, graduations, new jobs—on your timeline. You can even set a life event for things like “broke a bone” or “new hobby.” The “life event” signifier exists to mark a day or moment in time, but in October, Facebook added a “life event” for National Coming Out Day, so you could tell your friends when you came out. Unfortunately, that’s not really how coming out works, a concept which Facebook seems to have woefully and fundamentally misunderstood. If you ask a queer person (hi!) how they came out, odds are they won’t be able to just say a date, like “May 23, 2012,” but instead will tell you about a general time in their life, or maybe a milestone like coming out to their parents, or how they’re constantly coming out to different people. (I feel like I’m constantly coming out to people as a bisexual woman, so perhaps this very newsletter is rapidly clarifying things for some of you. Also, I think this is the first time I’ve ever put anything in writing about being queer. Maybe I should add it as a life event on Facebook.)
Even more confusingly, Facebook classifies “coming out” as a life event under the umbrella category of “relationships” in its life events—another way the company, or at least whoever was responsible for this feature, misunderstands what it means to come out. But the coming out “life event” feature wasn’t the first time Facebook tried to appeal to the queer community and came up just short. In addition to thumbs-up and “WOW” faces, during June 2017, Facebook launched a limited-run rainbow flag react emoji, available only in some places and not others where queer folks face lawful discrimination. Some people in the US were asked to like Facebook’s LGBTQ@Facebook page to get access to the emoji, a way for the company make users offer up data indicating that they’re queer or allies of queer people to get access to one of its ostensibly LGBTQ-friendly features. Facebook is free to use because we pay for it with our personal data; the more Facebook knows about you, the better it can tailor ads to your interests. Adding a life event to denote when you came out and liking a page supporting the LGBTQ community on Facebook might appear to be about pride and allyship with queer folks, but both really have so much more to do with handing over even more of your personal information to a company that relies on it.
Late last month Lyft announced it would add gender-neutral pronouns to its app, letting riders select how they'd like drivers to view their preferred pronouns. Again, on its face, this seems like a good, or even progressive thing to do; instead of being misgendered, riders will hopefully be correctly identified by their drivers (tellingly, I think, Lyft is not offering a similar service for drivers’ pronouns). Plus, offering your pronouns helps normalize the practice generally. But the reality of getting into a rideshare car with a stranger, as many of us know from personal experience, is sort of a gamble with personal safety. The vast majority of trips I’ve taken with Uber and Lyft have been fine, but once, I was running late to the bar and hopped into a Lyft and made polite conversation with the driver, who was too interested in my sex life, as we drove from Astoria to Gowanus. When we arrived, he put the car in park and first asked (and then when I hesitated, demanded) I give him my number so he could ask me out. Still, it could be so much worse. Letting a stranger know you're queer or trans or gender non-conforming or nonbinary would be an easy and obvious thing to do if we lived in an ideal world, a safer world, but instead we live in a world where disclosing that information to a stranger on an app whose car you find yourself sitting in could result in harassment or, worse, facing violence. (“Oh, well, would you prefer companies do NOTHING to acknowledge Pride?” I can already see someone on Twitter snarking at me. Well, if what you as a company are doing is harvesting personal data from marginalized communities or just trying to get these folks to buy your services without thinking of the real-life implications of these pandering features, maybe the alternative of “doing nothing” IS better.)
These are companies, and even if these companies think good intentions and making the world a better place are written into the DNA of the app or service they’re building, they’re still capitalist enterprises. And in recent years, companies appear to have learned that by acknowledging Pride, they can achieve two things at once: signal their ostensible wokeness and sell more to marginalized communities. As Indya Moore said on Twitter last week: “Capitalism celebrates pride month by taking Queer people's money.”
At the end of the day, Uber’s little in-app, June-only rainbow routes really only mean one thing: the $69 billion company will happily take your money for a ride from Greenpoint to Red Hook, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Happy Pride!
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
We use an internal messaging service at work that allows people to make and recall emojis by writing anything into parentheses. For example, if I designed an emoji of my face, uploaded it and called it “Tina,” anyone in the company could type “Tina” and that emoji would come up. It’s generally great and fun and collaborative.
One issue is there’s a dancing frog which shares its likeness with Pepe the alt right frog. Pepe is, obviously, a totem that is synonymous with hate speech. Unfortunately my HR rep in the office has taken to using this dancing frog in her office correspondence. All the f’ing time. I am confident she doesn’t know what Pepe is or represents, as she is not particularly culturally up to date. She thinks it’s just a celebratory dancing frog. Our company, however, is a very internet savvy digital media agency so EVERYONE ELSE knows exactly what it is.
I really am uncomfortable when she uses the Pepe, as it seriously dampers conversations. I want to let her know but I don’t want her to think I’m being condescending or pretentious. I also don’t want her to think it is a political thing as I am outspokenly against the current administration and I’m not confident that she feels the same. It’s a hate symbol thing. I would go to HR with it, but she is HR.
I’m seriously baffled by what to do, though it may seem trivial.
Yes, you’re the asshole: “AITA for being upset my MIL won't make a "family quilt" for me and my husband because we have no kids?”
I learned a lot—too much, perhaps?—about contact lenses from this piece, especially this:
And also in terms of contact lens cases, do not wash them in tap water, because there is a terrible amoeba called Acanthamoeba that’s in the tap water that can burrow into your eye. It loves contact lenses and tap water.
The best thing I ate last month: the chicken sandwich at The Fly, in Bed Stuy/Clinton Hill. It’s piled high on a soft bun with dark-meat rotisserie chicken, some kind of magical aioli sauce, and slivered fennel and celery and radish. Sport peppers on the side, as God herself intended. Wash it all down with a $15 glass of funky Austrian orange wine, sitting at the bar alone while finishing a Sally Rooney novel because we can’t help who we are, even if we’re caricatures of ourselves.
The best thing to bring to a picnic: I asked Twitter on Sunday for recommendations for sides for a rooftop picnic and received dozens of helpful replies. I have an entire summer of side dishes ahead of me.
The best place to try on clothes: Universal Standard in SoHo. I went with my friend Emma two weeks ago and not only do they carry sizes 00-40, they also have wildly good customer service and treat you like royalty even if all you walk out with is a new tank top (hi, yes, me).
The best music to listen to: Lana Del Rey’s discography was made for the weather this month, and as such, I will continue my Ultraviolence boosterism campaign. Plus she just released a cover of Doin’ Time, and if I’ve learned anything from The Ringer, it’s that Sublime is cool again now.
Here’s a picture of Blu looking full of terror:
No internet beef this time because the newsletter accidentally went on for too long due to housekeeping. In lieu of that, please enjoy the responses to this thread in which a priest has a meltdown over women’s bare shoulders (he sounds like my 10th grade English teacher who would stand outside her classroom in the hallway and very humiliatingly send you to the office if your skirt wasn’t arbitrary-fingertip-length). It has generally been a big week online for priests. I DO promise to outline the fights for you every week moving forward.