Kevin Spacey’s sexuality has long been “an open secret” in Hollywood — a phrase that took on elevated meaning in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Now, the reverberations of that news story have led to another one with Spacey at its center. With the allegations that Spacey sexually assaulted “Star Trek” actor Anthony Rapp in the ’80s while he was underage, Spacey made the jarring decision to simultaneously apologize for his actions and come out. Needless to say, that decision came as quite a shock to many in the LGBTQ community, paired with a feeling of betrayal by a man who wasn’t doing much good for them in the first place.
While everyone has a right to come out in their own time, Spacey somehow found the worst possible time to do it, besmirching an entire community and threatening to drag the progress for LGBTQ identity in the entertainment industry back several decades.
Spacey came out following accusations by Rapp that Spacey made sexual advances towards him when Rapp was just 14 years old; Spacey was 26. The alleged encounter occurred in 1986 at a party at Spacey’s New York apartment, when Rapp says a drunken Spacey picked him up and pinned him down on the bed. “I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually,” Rapp told Buzzfeed News.
In response, Spacey issued a statement saying he did not “remember the encounter,” while still apologizing (just in case it did happen) for what he called “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
In the second paragraph of the short statement, he continued: “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….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.”
Read between the lines: Spacey is attempting to equate his closeted homosexuality with making sexual advances on a minor. In doing so, he trots out the ugliest stereotypes of gay men as pedophiles — an idea that conservatives have used to attack the LGBTQ community for decades, most notoriously in Anita Bryant’s 1977 Save Our Children campaign.
As he hid in his closet for so many years, Spacey now hides behind one of the most beautiful parts of being gay: Coming out. The gay community has long suspected the actor liked men, though not that he allegedly liked children. His hammy hosting of the 2017 Tony Awards induced as many groans, as did his winking jokes about closets, prompting many to wonder when he might officially come out. While the show was generally regarded as a bust, Spacey himself was criticized for making the night all about him, disappointing fans whose loyalty had already been flagging.
It’s hard to watch Spacey’s bizarre miscalculation without considering Frank Underwood, his onscreen persona in “House of Cards,” particularly the character’s scheming and manipulation of the much younger Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) in the first season. Other unfortunate parallels come up when considering Spacey’s recent filmography: In one of his latest film roles, “Baby Driver,” he plays a criminal mastermind and mentor to a much younger protagonist, whose name is…Baby (Ansel Elgort). But the film most at risk of being tainted by these latest headlines is “American Beauty,” in which Spacey’s character fantasizes about sleeping with his teenage daughter’s best friend, played by Mena Suvari. Spacey won an Oscar for the role of Lester Burnham, which found another character mistakenly believing that Lester was secretly having a gay love affair with a much younger man.
Should these movies and TV shows suffer from the actor’s personal sins? That’s the risk that all popular entertainers take. Fame leaves a mark on everything it touches. Time will tell if Spacey’s entire filmography will take on a whole new context, but for the time being, it’s damaged goods.
Fortunately, there are counterexamples of gay men and women in the business who have used the opportunity to come out in a public forum to do some good. When Sir Ian McKellen came out in 1988, it was in order to lobby for gay rights in the UK, which overrode any concerns he had about how it might affect his career. Had Spacey followed suit, he might have found himself still considered the same caliber of actor as McKellen. With these allegations, that reputation is decidedly tarnished.
Spacey directly benefited from assumed heterosexual privilege for his entire career, all the while using the position of power it afforded him to solicit sex from younger men. It is only now, in his hour of need, that he turns to the community he shunned for so many years, begging forgiveness for a crime he maybe did or didn’t do, he doesn’t remember. If this is how it had to happen, he should have kept his coming out to himself. Your shame can’t sit with our pride.