Headlines for the last few weeks have been dominated by numerous allegations emerging about sexual abuse in the film and entertainment industry. Incited by the now infamous report on Harvey Weinstein and the long list of women he sexually harassed, abused and allegedly raped, and continued in momentum by the #MeToo movement, more and more victims of sexual abuse from other top industry professionals are coming forward to tell their stories. One that particularly concerns the LGBT community, however, is the recent allegation made against Kevin Spacey.
Actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of sexually assaulting him in 1986, when Spacey was 26 and Rapp was 14, making the alleged incident a clear case of paedophilia. Spacey’s response has generated much controversy and criticism; he apologised, in a manner of speaking, saying “I honestly do not remember the encounter” and “if I did behave then as he describes”, it was “deeply inappropriate drunken behaviour”. This apology is then followed up with what is the focal point of the controversy surrounding this story: Spacey then comes out as a gay man, saying “I choose now to live as a gay man.”
Many people have questioned the outrage regarding this joint statement, asking whether it is such a big deal if Spacey comes out at this time. The answer to this question harks back to a time where the LGBT community was forced underground, where the lack of communication between the LGBT community and society at large allowed for poisonous stereotypes to flourish. The myth about gay men and paedophilia is particularly toxic; it has been a fear-mongering tactic used, for example, in a campaign in Florida in 1977, to repeal an ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination. Anita Bryant, leader of this campaign, ran the slogan ‘Save Our Children’ and this contributed to its success.
A great deal of this stereotype comes from fear of the unknown, enforced by the idea of gayness being sexual deviance. Spacey coming out as the second part of an apology that deals with a case of child abuse and paedophilia is therefore, having taken the context into account, incredibly damaging in a number of ways. It conflates two issues in a deeply toxic way: the suggestion is that it is through an act of child abuse one can realise their sexuality. Fear of the unknown has produced dangerous stereotypes founded on little truth, and has often transformed into aggression towards the LGBT community.
This incident has repercussions that reach beyond the community as well. The last few weeks have been a turning point in how Hollywood and society as a whole deals with predatory men in positions of power. For anyone who has dealt with the entertainment industry, none of this is news. What is significant is that the way the media and industry professionals have reacted has crucially changed. People are no longer turning a blind eye. Yet as a result of the Spacey case, the attention is moved away from holding systematically privileged individuals responsible for their predatory behaviour. The issue of sexual abuse is deeply widespread and ingrained in the systems that shape our world; but it is far easier to fall back on well-trodden homophobic stereotypes than to address and dismantle the complicated and uncomfortable reality of systemic sexual abuse.