Graphic by Jeanine Lee
You, dear reader, are probably well aware of the allegations against actor Kevin Spacey: in a Buzzfeed interview published last Sunday, actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of sexual assault. In that interview, Rapp describes being alone in a hotel room in the aftermath of a 1986 New York City party when a drunken Spacey climbed on top of a then-fourteen-year-old Rapp and made sexual advances toward him. Spacey was 26.
Rapp rejected Spacey’s overtures to stay and left the apartment that night, but the memory and Spacey’s later rise to international fame have haunted Rapp, until the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal inspired him to go on the record with his own story. In the aftermath of Rapp’s allegations, other accusations of inappropriate sexual advances against minors and young men by Spacey between 2003 and 2015 have surfaced, and one anonymous man has accused Spacey of attempting to rape him in 1983, when the man was 14.
These men allegedly knew that Kevin Spacey was attracted to men through their unwanted encounters with the actor, but Spacey himself has consistently and unequivocally denied to the public that he was anything but a heterosexual man – until now. Spacey posted this statement (in full) on his Twitter account on the same day as the Buzzfeed story broke addressing the allegations:
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for Anthony Rapp as an actor. I’m beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.
This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my privacy. As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
Spacey’s coming out perpetuates two myths that the queer community has strived tirelessly to erase. The phrasing that he will now “choose to live as a gay man” prolongs the myth popular in conservative circles that homosexuality is a choice. These words from the coming out of such a prominent figure have the potential to be used against the queer community and to prolong the use of such tactics as conversion therapy to force queer youth to make the choice to be straight, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The inherent and clear link between the sexual assault story and Spacey’s coming out also perpetuates the extremely problematic perception, held by homophobic groups, that gay men are inherently attracted to underage boys. Spacey’s statement implies that his sexual orientation, mixed with the lowered inhibitions caused by alcohol, is the reason that he (allegedly) assaulted a 14-year-old Rapp, and adds fuel to the false connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. According to retired UC Davis professor Gregory Herek, this supposed link has been used by anti-equal rights groups since at least 1977, when Anita Bryant formed the Save Our Children coalition in opposition to the fledgling LGBT rights movement. The coalition’s central premise was that gay men, in particular, posed a threat to the safety and morality of the nation’s children because of their supposed pedophilia, and the movement was successful in repealing anti-discrimination ordinances in Miami and other cities around the nation using this tactic. Other similarly-minded people, including the infamous Jerry Falwell and many Republican members of Congress, used this sentiment in their own crusades against the queer community.
As support for queer rights as risen in recent years, these myths have faded in popularity, according to Herek’s above study. Spacey’s decision to link his coming out with allegations of sexual assault against minors and the wording of his statement, however, will only serve to embolden those who still believe these falsehoods, and who seek to use them against the queer community to take away our rights and civil liberties. These stereotypes have led to such repression of our rights, and even murder, in the not-so-distant past. The pedophilia myth, in particular, is particularly salient: this myth has been used in 2017 against transgender people to deny them the right to use public restrooms that align with their gender identity and against same-sex couples looking to adopt children in Michigan and Mississippi. The Attorney General and Vice President of the United States are both historically anti-queer, and have praised groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom that use the pedophilia myth as a central pillar of their crusade against our community. These groups will surely use Kevin Spacey as an exemplar to support their anti-queer argument, despite repeated studies since the 1990s that show absolutely no link between homosexuality and pedophilia.
There is also a huge issue with Kevin Spacey apparently using his celebrity and sexuality to ensure silence from the young men he allegedly assaulted. Spacey has apparently relied on the journalistic understanding that anything a contributor publishes will not push a subject out of the closet unwillingly, out of respect for the subject’s privacy. All of the young men who have so far come forward with allegations against Spacey are from the media world, a world where this rule is well understood, and a world in which Spacey could be confident that his indiscretions would not be published, since writing about Kevin Spacey having sexual contact with men would unavoidably out him in the process. This also worked in the reverse: a victim could not come forward with these claims without either causing speculation about his own sexuality or simply outing himself, either. Since the alleged victims were all part of an industry in which being a gay man has historically destroyed careers instantly, this aspect of the situation would also have been a massive deterrent. Spacey has effectively, as one Buzzfeed journalist put it, “weaponized the closet” in order to protect his reputation and conceal his lecherous behaviors. This gross abuse of his star power and common journalistic standards allowed Spacey to continue his supposed lewd behavior with impunity, and simply cannot be ignored as part of this scandal.
From one problematic aspect to another: the initial Buzzfeed story was published last Sunday at 6:32pm. Spacey came out last Sunday at 9:00pm. The timing of his coming out and clear connection of this action to Rapp’s sexual assault allegations just two hours beforehand gives the appearance that Spacey is using his coming out as a distraction from the larger story. It clearly did not work out that way, given that virtually every major (and minor) news outlet continues to publish the mounting accusations against Spacey, and I am writing this story. Nonetheless, there has been public speculation and even subtle jibes from Spacey himself regarding his sexual orientation for twenty years, and he has chosen this moment, the moment in which he apparently viewed his sexuality as a good enough news story to supercede sexual assault allegations against a Hollywood celebrity, to finally publicly announce his sexuality.
This is not to say that Spacey, like any other closeted queer person, did not have the right to conceal his sexual orientation. He absolutely had that right, as he was clearly not ready to reveal this very personal fact to the world. What is highly disconcerting and problematic, however, is that Spacey apparently viewed his coming out as a sort of PR tactic, when it is not uncommon for queer people to experience severe anxiety and depression surrounding their own coming out experiences. People in this country and all around the world continue to be ostracized, abused, jailed, and even killed for being queer, and Kevin Spacey has used his platform as a celebrity not to be a champion of the queer community, but to reduce homosexuality and the coming out experience to a diversion from negative press, in the process essentially ignoring the suffering that queer people have endured for centuries.
Kevin Spacey has done the queer community a great disservice by coming out amid allegations of sexual assault against teenage boys. These allegations on their own are detestable enough, but to forever link these events to his sexuality in the public eye, and to reduce coming out to a convenient attempted distraction makes this entire scandal that much worse. I don’t speak for the entire queer community, but I am confident that we can all agree on this: Kevin Spacey may be a gay man, but he is not part of our community.
At the time this article was published, 14 people in total had made allegations against Spacey for sexual assault.