I’ve stolen this GiF from my friend, Nicholas Di Sabatino’s Facebook timeline. In his inimitable style, he summed up in meme form what I’ve been thinking all day. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Kevin Spacey today.
As you will no doubt know, news broke today of an accusation made against Spacey by Antony Rapp, another actor who has trodden the boards of Broadway as well as gracing the sound stages of Hollywood. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Rapp stated that when he was 14, Spacey, twelve years his senior, made sexual advances towards him at a party the latter had hosted in NYC, in 1986. Spacey, apparently drunk, picked Rapp up and put him on his bed before laying on top of him and wrapping his arms around the child actor. Rapp managed to escape and nothing further happened. However, in the context of a recent rise in public discourse regarding innapropriate sexual advances, sexual coercion and rape, Rapp decided to speak out about this historic incident.
When I first heard this news on the radio while eating my Wheatabix, what struck me most was Spacey’s response. Refusing to refute or otherwise deny Rapp’s claim, Spacey appeared to speak honestly – and humbly. He began by stating that he respected Rapp as an actor and that he didn’t remember the encounter. However – and this is where I actually admired Spacey – he refused to denounce the claim because he couldn’t remember. Instead, he apologised unequivocally for any ‘innapropriate’ behaviour and acknowledged how hard it must have been for Rapp to carry this incident around with him for so long.
Well done Kevin. This might have been a PR-finessed response, but at least it wasn’t an outright denial and it included an apology.
You. Should. Have. Just. Stopped. There.
But of course you didn’t.
Spacey decided to use this event to come out as a gay man – one of the worst kept secrets in the industry.
And with that ‘confession’ he undid all the good that came before it.
Why? Well because just as he (allegedly) put his own desires ahead of the interests or feelings of his 14-year old party guest, 31 years ago, today, Spacey decided to focus on his own personal journey while failing to ignore the immense damage that the context of his coming out might do to other gay people.
We might speculate on why Spacey decided to come out at the same time that he was apologising for making unwanted sexual advances towards a minor. Historically, such ‘confessions’ have been squeezed out by the media – a case of the press threatening to publish the story if the public figure doesn’t speak on their own behalf (often via an interview that they are forced to give to the same news outlet that was effectively blackmailing them). Perhaps Spacey was being pressured – or perceived that he was being pressured – into coming out. I wonder whether Spacey thought he would take some of the ‘heat’ out of the story if he got everything out in the open in one go – and, in doing so, manage the ‘narrative’.
But here’s the problem with that narrative. It wasn’t Spacey’s to own or manage. It never has been. As such, he couldn’t manage it. This is because gay men have been portrayed as sexual predators who prey on innocent young men, for decades. They have been the object, but never the subject of representation.
The media have, of course, been central to the perpetuation of this predatory myth. One might also point the finger at gay male culture’s fetishising of youthfulness and the ‘twink’ aesthetic as providing an easy target for such claims. While public attitudes are slowly changing, my recent interviews with gay men provide plenty of evidence that the perception of the predatory homosexual persists today – often hidden underneath a veneer of ‘political correctness’, whereby people still hold the same views, but now know better than to air them (too) publicly.
So when Spacey decided to come out today amidst allegations of his innapropriate sexual behaviour, he once more collapsed the boundaries between homosexuality and paedophillia – and helped to validate the (incorrect) attitudes that many people have towards gay men. Spacey was dealing with a public relations nightmare. He confronted it head on, but in doing so he not only shifted the focus of the attention away from Rapp – the victim – and on to himself, but also effectively threw gay men under the bus in a bid to ‘come clean’ and ‘be open’. His actions were thoughtless and self-centred. He has had numerous opportunities to come out. Indeed, when he was robbed whilst (it is alleged) out cruising in a London park, many people expected him to finally drop the act and answer questions about his sexual identity. I’m not saying that Spacey *had* to come out. The politics of Outrage! and their forced outings are decidedly ambivalent. But the fact that he *chose* to come out today suggests a callous lack of interest for anyone other than himself.
And this, Kevin, is why you can’t sit with us.