Kevin Spacey violated me. A rich, white, liberal, gay cisgender man looked at all of his identities when faced with the public airing of his alleged sexual assault of a minor, and chose the identity deemed least-desirable in society to serve as a scapegoat. In doing so, he furthered an ugly stereotype that those in the LGBT community have long-fought.
In response to accusations of sexually assaulting a then-fourteen-year-old, Kevin Spacey released a two-paragraph statement. The first paragraph provided an apology to actor Anthony Rapp, who made the claim; indicated that the incident would have occurred three decades ago while intoxicated; and simultaneously claimed a lack of recollection. In the second, longer paragraph, Spacey proceeded to take this opportunity to let the world’s tiniest cat out of the world’s largest bag by publicly acknowledging—for the first time—his sexual orientation as a gay man.
By linking these two paragraphs together, Spacey (through whatever publicist he may pay to maintain the image he has crafted) sought to distract from and minimize his violent action. Despite many decades of steadfast silence on the topic of his sexuality, he chose this moment—when shit hit the fan—to set aside his personal commitment to silence and throw the LGBT community under the bus by conflating homosexuality with pedophilia.
Conflating homosexuality with pedophilia has a long history. Not too long ago, people found it easy to label gayness as sexual deviance, thus tossing it in the same bucket as every act of socially and morally unacceptable sexual behavior. We see this tactic still as legislators fear monger about transgendered people seeking to harm children rather than simply use the bathroom they feel most comfortable and safe for them. Having this stereotype perpetuated by a man who identifies as gay feels like a personal violation. But equally problematic are the societal structures that cause others to help in the conflation of these two very separate identities by defending and excusing his privilege.
Labeling Rapp as a bitter, vindictive, struggling actor–as some have been prone to do on social media–plays into Spacey’s privilege as a rich, successful actor. Minimizing Spacey’s actions as drunken party behavior excuses his male privilege and sounds eerily similar to the type of “locker room talk” dismissal used by another well-known sexual abuser. We can’t accept this or be complicit.
Last week—along with the New York State Young Democrats and The City College of New York—the Manhattan Young Democrats hosted a panel discussion on race and privilege. An incredibly diverse panel walked into a packed room of immensely diverse attendees and engaged in a lively discussion about identity and bias and intersectionality and privilege. One of the many notable moments was when panelist Timothy DuWhite likened self-assessing one’s own privilege to a mathematical equation. I gain a point for being a man, but lose one for being Black. My two academic degrees multiply my access; but my LGBT-status divides me from many communities.
The conversations about who we are are necessary. And the self-assessment we must engage in is needed in order to make sure that those conversations are honest. But as fiercely committed as young Democrats must be to engaging in open dialogue and checking our individual privilege, we must be fiercely committed to calling out that of others.
We must expect better from our peers, our allies, our heroes, and ourselves.
Chief of Staff and Legal Director
Manhattan Young Democrats