The problems with Spacey’s “apology”

November 15, 2017

Actor Kevin Spacey benefited from the shame of the closet in keeping his victims silent, while all Hollywood protected him, write Nikki Williams and Camille White-Avian.

A NUMBER of men have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Kevin Spacey in the weeks since actor Anthony Rapp first added his voice to the #MeToo campaign and disclosed that Spacey had assaulted him in 1986 when he was just 14 years old.

Spacey has been fired from the Netflix show House of Cards and dropped by his agent and publicist, and his scenes in the upcoming film All the Money in the World will be reshot with actor Christopher Plummer replacing him in the role.

Spacey has now checked himself into the same 45-day sex-addiction rehab program as Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer whose decades of sexual assault complaints became the lightning rod for #MeToo.

Before more accusers revealed that Rapp's account was part of a pattern of predatory behavior, Spacey attempted to control the damage with a Twitter apology. In his "apology," Spacey claimed that he didn't remember the incident that has haunted Rapp for 30 years. He ended his Tweet by coming out of the closet, saying that he chooses "now to live as a gay man."

Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey

When Spacey linked his treatment of Rapp to his sexuality, he tapped into a dangerous stereotype that conflates queerness with sexual deviance, inappropriateness and abuse--specifically abuse of children.

It's important to sharply separate Spacey's behavior from the queer community--and to expose the fact that he has been able to use his position of power, and to exploit the oppression of LGBTQ people, in order to assault young men with impunity.

SPACEY'S BEHAVIOR has nothing to do with his sexuality and everything to do with his choice to live as a sexual predator, acting as though he is entitled to the bodies of boys and young men.

Filmmaker Tony Montana recalled Spacey's brazenness when he sexually assaulted the director, saying that Spacey grabbed his crotch and told him, "This designates ownership."

"There are many of us who have a 'Kevin Spacey story,'" said actor Roberto Cavazos. "It seems the only requirement was to be a male under the age of 30 for Mr. Spacey to feel free to touch us."

Spacey wasn't interested in the sexuality of his victims or their consent. He was only interested in demonstrating his power over these men and boys.

Blurring line between queerness and predators is a tactic that has been repeatedly used by anti-LGBT forces in attempts to strip queer people of their rights. For example, singer Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign in the 1970s targeted LGBTQ rights. Bryant justified her crusade by saying that "homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children."

This campaign helped gain national support for the 1978 Briggs Initiative--also known as the "Protect Our Children" proposition--in California, which targeted teachers and other school staff members with termination if they even spoke in favor of homosexuality.

The initiative was expected to win, but lost by nearly a million votes, thanks in large part to the activism of union members and others who banded together against it.

More recently, North Carolina enacted a law which forces transgender people to use public bathrooms according to the gender listed on their birth certificate. The lawmakers claimed this law was written to protect women and children from sexual assault.

The attempt to link being LGBT and being "a danger" also emboldens bigots to perpetrate violence, and is a direct threat on the physical safety of queer people. "Gay and trans panic" is still a defense that is used in courtrooms to blame a victim's sexual orientation or identity for the violent behavior of the defendant.

The same industry in which Spacey has risen to a position of power has historically supported the narrative of the predatory homosexual. Hollywood's images of LGBT people has mainly been characters to be pitied, laughed at or feared.

As the documentary film The Celluloid Closet points out, "Hollywood taught straight people what to think about gay people, and gay people what to think about themselves. No one escaped its influence."

THE MOVIE business plays an important role in helping reinforce strict gender roles and ideas about the nuclear family, and shaming workers who fall outside the so-called "norm." Spacey benefited from this shame--it's why so many of his victims stayed silent for so long.

His assaults were an open secret in Hollywood. Like Weinstein--who had much more explicit power to promote or ruin the careers of the dozens of women he preyed upon--but also Louis C.K., Brett Ratner, Roman Polanski and others accused of sexual harassment, Spacey's class position took priority over the safety of the people around him.

The protection of those who commit sexual assault is so pervasive that when former child actor Corey Feldman appeared on The View in 2013 and spoke about the sexual abuse he and other children had suffered at the hands of powerful people in Hollywood, Barbara Walters scolded him by saying, "You're damaging an entire industry."

It's important to recognize how homophobia and expected gender norms helped to keep Spacey's victims silenced. Rapp was unable to tell his mother about the assault at 14 because he wasn't ready to have a larger conversation about his sexuality.

When Rapp started to tell his story, he found that Spacey was shielded because people were hesitant to "out" an actor and expose them to homophobia, which could possibly end their career.

In 2001, Rapp told his story to the LGBT magazine The Advocate. The magazine redacted Spacey's name because of a strict policy about not outing people--talking about the abuse would lead to conversations about Spacey's sexuality.

While many in the LGBTQ community are imprisoned in the closet, Spacey was able to use it to hide his abuse of men and boys.

Harvey Weinstein also used homophobia to threaten actors. Cara Delevingne recently said that Weinstein told her that she would never have a career if she came out of the closet.

On another occasion, he invited her to his hotel room. When she arrived, she said found Weinstein with another woman. He attempted to coerce the women into a threesome.

Ellen Page had a similar encounter with director Brett Ratner, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by six women. Page said that when she was 18 years old, Ratner publicly outed her by telling an older woman on the set of X-Men: The Last Stand that she "should fuck her to make her realize she's gay."

THUS, WEALTHY, famous men like Spacey are able to use the shade of the closet to hide their abuse of more vulnerable people, like children and young adults such as Rapp--while people who start out in more vulnerable populations have the closet used against them by people with power over their lives.

Page aptly pointed out in her post detailing the humiliating experience with Ratner that transgender women of color living in the U.S. have a low life expectancy of 35 years in part due to high rates of suicide.

Dynamics like those described by Rapp, Page and Feldman play out repeatedly throughout our society. The class position of the perpetrator and the victim matters. Page also wrote:

Let's remember the epidemic of violence against women in our society disproportionately affects low-income women, particularly women of color, trans and queer women and Indigenous women, who are silenced by their economic circumstances and profound mistrust of a justice system that acquits the guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence and continues to oppress people of color. I have the means to hire security if I feel threatened. I have the wealth and insurance to receive mental health care. I have the privilege of having a platform that enables me to write this and have it published, while the most marginalized do not have access to such resources.

Sexual violence is an epidemic in LGBTQ populations, affecting bisexual and transgender women disproportionately. The Human Rights Campaign reports, "Within the LGBTQ community, transgender people and bisexual women face the most alarming rates of sexual violence. Among both of these populations, sexual violence begins early, often during childhood."

This is the counter to the lie that non-straight people are the predators. Like many illusions under capitalism, the image of the gay predator obscures the reality that LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people face dramatically higher rates of sexualized violence due to the economic and social vulnerability of the overlapping groups.

Capitalism is an abusive system based on exploitation and theft. Abusive people model themselves after this system and similarly use shame and isolation to maintain their powerful positions.

The LGBTQ community has historically found power in coming out of the closet and rejecting the shame that is pushed on them. The #MeToo campaign--which began 10 years ago to highlight the voices of survivors, especially women of color--has provided a place for survivors to reject shame and demonstrate the power of solidarity.

Rumors that have been circulating in Hollywood for years are being finally being believed, and it appears that abusive men are facing consequences for the first time.

As giants like Weinstein and Spacey fall, it's important to recognize that it was the power of collective action that brought them down. We must continue to use that power to obliterate the closet and every other dark corner of capitalism, which allows predatory actions to flourish.

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