tech support and the feminine boy project

I work in tech support at a company that checks websites for security problems. Sometimes I do phone calls where I present the findings for a site to the client. Clients are free to ask questions, including awkward questions.

This morning I found myself on an extra-long call where I presented the findings for one site, and a coworker presented the findings for two others.

Bear with me.

It’s important that every finding has a rating associated with it, something like “how bad is this on a scale of 1 to 10?” Those kinds of ratings are subjective, but they can be useful for prioritizing work. “This is a 7” doesn’t mean anything, ultimately. The meaning is negotiated with each client. It’s a social construction.

Often, clients don’t like the sound of calling something “High”. They might have rules in place for how much time they have to fix issues, based on the ratings. That is, the ratings take on practical implications not entirely under my employer’s control. So the question “Is this a 7?” becomes “Is this show-stoppingly bad and my job is going to be stressful now?”

Clients disputed ratings so frequently that we added the ability to override them, although it wasn’t enabled for this client. They wanted to defer to our expertise on security matters, but some things labeled “High” weren’t realistically all that big of a threat. So I was happy to validate their common sense and adjust the rating, showing them we don’t want to waste their time over bullshit. The ratings have defaults. Sometimes they won’t match the situation, and we do a final adjustment after talking things over with the client and getting more context. The only reason we’re even talking about it is that someone hadn’t checked a checkbox on their account to let them modify things on their own.

So here’s where I’ve been going with this: after the call, the coworker, who’s not my supervisor but once worked in my role and has opinions, started a long argument with me second-guessing how awesome I handled the call, even getting the action items done before they’re even off the phone.

He feels I should’ve defended the original ratings, which would’ve meant creating a hassle over a theoretical problem that probably would’ve already happened by now if it were going to. Technically possible doesn’t mean probable. I should’ve played up the hypothetical disaster scenario (of someone sending someone a link like “ is a giant string of text that shows up on their screen with instructions to call a phone number or email somebody/”). We lost face by acting doubtful of our own product, and the client seemed uneasy (to him) when confronted with the malleability of ratings.

What’s interesting to me is that he used the phrase “bent over” to describe agreeing with the client when they say “Come on, seriously?” He believes that we’re in conflict with the client, where we win through stubbornness and lose by yielding. The client’s convenience isn’t a concern for him.

The ship has sailed in terms of lost credibility, as soon as the customer is bringing up the ratings. Admit reality right away, stay with the program, and demonstrate that we’re reasonable people.

He’s prioritized a toxic masculine ego thing over the basic task of keeping clients in a state of wanting to give us money. It’s uncomfortable being exposed directly to the fact that the client holds power over us, through the threat of not renewing. It feminizes him, so when I don’t have those neuroses and just act friendly, he’s faced with the Spectre of the Fag.

He doesn’t understand that nobody wants to get on a work call with their security vendor and argue about whether some bullshit is a “2” or a “4” with a tech bro and then have to explain to their boss why our numbers shouldn’t mean freak out.

He was evidently unfamiliar with social constructionism, seriously impairing his ability to function in the situation. Struggling with the idea that words mean different thing in different companies.

It’s interesting that I’m able to function in my role because I can do both masculine and feminine things, and the gender police come and try to write me a ticket.

From Melanie Yergeau’s Authoring Autism:

A decade after the Life article hit newsstands, Lovaas again found himself profiled in a major trade publication–a spread in Rolling Stone alongside George A. Rekers, holding a newly minted doctorate from UCLA. This time, however, the focus had shifted from autistic children to gender-variant children. Titled “The Gender Enforcers,” the Rolling Stone piece chronicled Lovaas and Rekers’s work with boys who were claimed to be effeminate in gesture, manner, and speech. Operating concurrently with UCLA’s Young Autism Project, the UCLA Feminine Boys Project (FBP) intervened in the lives of so-called effeminate boys perceived to be at risk for homosexuality, transsexualism, and transvestism. Importantly, both projects were ABA projects, their primary differences being differences of categorization (feminine-perceived boys versus autistic children) rather than substantive difference (both cohorts were, as Lovaas characterized across the studies, grievously and socially impaired). The ultimate goal, then, of the FBP was to reinforce young boys’ masculine-perceived behaviors by means of praise and reward while extinguishing young boys’ feminine-perceived behaviors by means of aversive consequences (variously, by spanking, beating, or removal of love and affection). These behavioral moves were employed in service of rhetorically shaping effeminate boy to be indistinguishable from their more masculinized peers, much like the autistic children were being shaped in service of indistinguishability from their allistic peers.

Lovaas served as principle investigator for the FBP and coauthored numerous publications on child sex-role deviance with George Rekers, who would later use his FBP contributions for his 1972 dissertation as well as the basis of his life’s work. By 1982, Rekers had published two books–Growing up Straight and Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Identity–which marked a distinct shift in his approach toward straightening and normalizing the behaviors of gender-variant children. Although Rekers had alluded to his devout Christian views on homosexuality in prior scholarship, in these books and subsequent works religious morality increasingly functioned as a centerpiece. Not only were behavioral therapies appropriae interventions because of the supposed “social stigma” and “psychological adjustment problems” that accompanied queer life; these interventions were likewise necessary because “sin is ravaging their [queer people’s] lives.”

Even Playboy was behind it!

As I elaborated in chapter 2, UCLA’s Feminine Boy Project (FBP) conducted ABA-based studies on gender-variant children in the early 1970s, representing the largest-funded NIMH project on preventing homosexuality in US history. In his acknowledgments page for The “Sissy Boy Syndrome,” Richard Green noted that even the Playboy Foundation served as a grantor for the FBP, both when the NIMH “briefly disrupted the flow of this fifteen-year study” and at another juncture when the project required travel funds to follow up with participating families.

In short, the FBP sought to minimize risk for homosexuality, transvestism, and transsexuality (often conflating all of the aforementioned), and theorized that feminine traits served as (gender)queer predictors in child subjects. (And, apparently, Playboy decided it was to their benefit to ensure male heterosexuality by any method, lest they lose potential customers.) Eradicating feminine behavior, then, was a means of preventing queer and trans futures, therapeutic moves that were ultimately portrayed as a broader social good that spared both the child and society the pain and stigma of queerness. As such, abusive behaviorist methods were legitimized and moralized. Better to beat the shit out of a child than to risk the possibility of a genderqueer adult.

So why did I have a problem at work due to my understanding of social situations? I actually got flak for being MORE effective, in violation of gender taboos. Is this really about me missing something in the client’s tone of voice about his confidence about our ratings?

Surely my coworker will gripe to someone, since I didn’t budge at all when it was him complaining at me instead of the client. I refused to concede anything, so his attempt at dominating me didn’t go as planned, frustrating him.

All that was more draining than my actual job. And it happened with leaf blowers in the background. This culture isn’t safe for autistic people.