What an amazing time we’re in right now when people who have been victimized in horrible ways finally, after years, feel liberated to speak.
What an appalling time we’re in when the people accused of victimizing them take cover in their own “liberation” — and the news media fall for it.
Here’s the story: According to the actor Anthony Rapp (“Rent,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Star Trek: Discovery”), Kevin Spacey tried to have sex with the younger actor. Spacey was in his 20s and was not yet a household name. Rapp was a young-looking 14.
An actor since the age of 9, Rapp was, in 1986, appearing on Broadway in “Precious Sons.” Spacey was having one of his early successes in a revival of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Both part of the larger New York theater community, the two had crossed paths a few times when Spacey invited Rapp to a party he was having at his apartment. A self-sufficient Manhattan teenager — who was nevertheless 14 and impressed by his older peers — Rapp went, got bored by a bunch of adults he didn’t know, and watched TV in a bedroom until he realized everyone had gone home and Spacey was swaying in the bedroom doorway.
“He picked me up like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold,” Rapp told Buzzfeed reporter Adam B. Vary. “He was trying to seduce me. I don’t know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.”
Rapp said he squirmed out from under the older actor and, after a frozen moment of awkwardness, fled the apartment, but his confusion and anger built over the ensuing years. He told close friends but never went public.
“The older I get, and the more I know,” he told Buzzfeed, “I feel very fortunate that something worse didn’t happen. And at the same time, the older I get, the more I can’t believe it. I could never imagine [that] anyone else I know would do something like that to a 14-year-old boy.”
The aftershocks of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, with dozens of women now accusing the producer of behavior ranging from harassment to rape, have at least temporarily changed the cultural landscape to the point that long-silent victims are speaking out. A widening field of alleged abusers are being identified, shamed, and seeing their careers totter. Journalist Mark Halperin, director James Toback, magazine editor Leon Wieseltier, and fashion photographer Terry Richardson are among the men who’ve recently been accused of past sexual misdeeds; whether the censure, the loss of work, and other forms of fallout stick remains to be seen.
Rapp’s account is a story of alleged molestation. What it’s not about, in any sense or fashion, is being gay. But that’s what Spacey, in his response, turned it into. Some hours after the Buzzfeed story went live, Spacey released an apology through Twitter that claimed no memory of the assault on Rapp; he also announced that “I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man.”
You know, when we project an actor’s roles and public persona onto his or her actuality as a person, we do so at our peril. But if this isn’t the most Frank Underwood thing Kevin Spacey has ever done — a masterful work of deflection and spin worthy of that “House of Cards” character — I’ll eat my hat. The disclosure, if you want to call it that, isn’t exactly breaking news: The actor’s sexuality has been a point of open speculation at least as far back as 1997, when an Esquire cover profile blared “Kevin Spacey Has a Secret” and coyly referenced his “coming out of the closet” to play a gay man in the film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
While Rapp came out as gay at 20 in 1992 — when the professional dangers of such an admission were much greater than they are 25 years later — Spacey has insisted on personal privacy in interviews. And people went along with that because he’s right — a celebrity’s sex life should be as private as he or she wants it to be — and because people just like Kevin Spacey. His public persona is the fox in the pop culture henhouse, the slippery devil you hate to love and love to hate — or it was. By the end of Monday, Netflix had announced it was shutting down production of “House of Cards” after the season that is currently filming.
To be absolutely clear on this, what Spacey is alleged to have done to Rapp is not about being gay, and to cloak one’s response in an act of self-serving “truth-telling” only widens the scope of damage. It ensures that the clickbait-hungry news media will switch the spotlight from “Kevin Spacey accused of trying to have sex with a kid” to “Kevin Spacey comes out of the closet at last,” with the Associated Press, Reuters, the networks, and this newspaper, among others, subsequently headlining just that. (The Globe did tweet a follow-up clarification highlighting Rapp’s accusations two hours later.)
It swings the water-cooler conversation back to Spacey rather than Rapp and to how much anyone “knew” all along. And, worst of all, the statement resurrects the hoary myths falsely equating homosexuality and pedophilia and gives ammunition to anyone who believes gay men are predators by nature. By coming out of the closet, the star actually managed to shove the cultural conversation further back in.
Memo to Kevin Spacey: It’s not about who you are, or who you “choose” to be. It’s about what you did, or chose to do, three decades ago to a 14-year-old kid who’s telling you he’s still freaked out about it in his mid-40s. Nothing else matters, and to pretend otherwise only makes you look worse. Right now, the only house of cards is the one you’re standing in.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.