It’s hard to imagine a worse context for coming out than in response to allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor.
But after decades of dodging questions about his sexuality, Kevin Spacey finally came out as gay in the same tweet he used to address disturbing allegations from Anthony Rapp. Spacey’s statement is problematic and infuriating for many reasons — for using coming out as a distraction, for positioning it almost as an excuse for inappropriate behavior, for framing “living as a gay man” to be a choice. But leveraging his coming out to lend credibility to a denial of wrongdoing dangerously undermines the integrity of the entire LGBT community.
Rapp alleges that Spacey made an unwanted sexual advance when both were appearing on Broadway shows in 1986, when Spacey was 26 and Rapp was 14. At the end of a party at Spacey’s Manhattan apartment, where Rapp was the only teenager, the Star Trek: Discovery actor alleges Spacey entered the room drunk, picked him up, placed him on the bed, and climbed on top of him.
In response, Spacey claimed, “I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago." He added that if the incident happened as Rapp described, "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.”
Then, in a since-we’re-being-honest moment, Spacey revealed what many assumed for years: “I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man.”
Obviously Spacey found himself backed into a corner: If he didn’t address his sexuality, he'd have no credibility to deny his memory of the events Rapp alleges. A life in the closet is one of practiced deception. For most people—including Hollywood stars afraid of losing their careers—that deception stems from the impulse to protect oneself from the consequences of living openly.
None of us in the LGBT community, Spacey included, are immune to the systemic social pressures and very real ramifications of coming out.
But Kevin Spacey has won Oscar, Tony, and Emmy awards: When a celebrity of that caliber comes out, people of all kinds—including our enemies—pay attention. A highly publicized moment like this, in which deception born of self-preservation gets jumbled up with alleged misconduct, casts doubt on the integrity of the whole community.
Revealing his homosexuality while addressing accusations of predatory behavior is terrible enough. As is his framing to suggest that “to live as gay man” is a choice. But using his admission to add plausibility to the rest of his statement has broad and extremely damaging implications.
Spacey is not even doing himself any favors: No one who read that statement thought better of him for it. Silence may have even been preferable—especially if more allegations emerge. But he's also done us a disservice, offering fuel to homophobic lies spread by the malicious or just uninformed: If a closeted man can assault a minor, does it have something to do with his being gay? What else might he be hiding? How much can LGBT people be trusted? Are we really deserving of equal treatment—or are we the deviants our opponents have been claiming for generations?
These age-old lies have been disproven again and again. But whether directly or indirectly, these questions will surely resurface as allegations of sexual misconduct by gay men in Hollywood continue. Maddening as it may be, we’ll need to have our answers ready.