If there’s anything I’ve learned navigating my own sexuality, it’s that there’s no perfect time to come out of the closet. But Kevin Spacey definitely got his timing wrong, because there’s an enormous difference between coming out as gay, and coming out as a gay to mask the time you allegedly preyed on a teenage boy.
On Sunday night, following allegations from Star Trek: Discovery’s Anthony Rapp that Kevin Spacey sexually assaulted him in 1986 when he was just 14, Spacey—who was 26 at the time of the alleged assault—issued an “apology” on Twitter. Spacey, now 58, said he doesn’t remember the incident, but if it happened, he must have been drunk.
Then, in a problematic segue, the Oscar-winning actor went on to say that, after decades of rumours about his sexuality, he “chooses now to live as a gay man.”
Beyond his questionable use of the word “choose” in the context of sexuality, Spacey’s coming out/apology brings up another issue. For much of the LGBTQ+ community, coming out is a monument—an intimate and liberating landmark—where one rids themselves of a secret they’ve been keeping.
But not for Spacey. There was nothing heartfelt about his statement.
In his admission of gayness, Spacey has helped support the contemporary anti-gay movement. He’s given credence to dangerous and false tropes about gay men—which advocates have worked tirelessly to dismantle over the past 40 years—and about the LGBTQ+ community at large.
For decades, the hardline religious right has levelled a series of seditious claims about what they’ve called the “homosexual agenda.” Propaganda masked as “social guidance” films have depicted gay men as depraved sexual predators who lure young men into intimate relationships and many Americans still link homosexuality with child molestation.
And it’s precisely these sorts of thoroughly discredited claims that have shaped how people reduce homosexuality to a social evil that must be suppressed or eradicated: a sentiment responsible for the vicious hate crimes directed at the LGBTQ+ community, which is already a targeted group in the United States.
Coming out as a gay man is not the same thing as coming out as someone who preyed on a 14-year-old. Conflating those things is disgusting
— Richard Lawson (@rilaws) October 30, 2017
The last thing we need, when there are gay concentration camps in Chechnya, Americans voting against a resolution condemning the death penalty for LGBTQ+ people and U.S. President Donald Trump emboldening homophobes and bigots, is a new gay face supporting an anti-gay movement.
I understand the dangers of politicizing celebrities all too well. In our appreciation for them, often we forget their humanity and expect them to never make mistakes. I’m guilty of this, too. But that’s why it really hurts to see Spacey weaponize his queerness to derail a conversation about sexual assault during a time of unprecedented focus on sexual violence in the entertainment industry.
I expected more. We need more.
As a kid, my school curriculum ignored LGBTQ+ issues and I felt like I had no one to look up to. That made understanding my sexuality all the more difficult. Film was the place where I could see stories like mine. But even there, I had a hard time finding the people I was looking for. Many actors were only gay for the camera.
Spacey had the potential to bolster queer visibility in an industry where, too often, it’s ignored. Instead, he hid until it was convenient enough to benefit from the decades of work performed by devoted allies and activists. He refused to claim the LGBTQ+ community until it became worth his while.
But in all honesty, it’s too little too late.
Kevin Spacey “Apologizes” to Anthony Rapp for Alleged Sexual Assault in the Worst Way
Call It What It Is, Harry Styles Was Sexually Assaulted at His Recent Performance
Can You Rehabilitate a Sexual Predator?