Like statements released by other sex offenders, the statement was self-serving, and Spacey was desperately hoping to mitigate the severity of Rapp’s claims. He framed his apology as an “if… then” conditional statement: suggesting he didn’t remember if the incident played out as Rapp claimed, but that if it did, he regretted his actions.
And his decision to come out in the same breath? An attempt to thrust the accusation into a new light. A light in which he was once a closeted gay man who may have made a mistake — not a pervert or rapist taking advantage of young men.
To be gay in the 80s, the time of the crime, was only recently a crime in and of itself, and coming out as gay in the 80s after an accusation of sexual assault would have been a nail in the coffin for his career. But these gross associations and stigmas have largely been erased, and we have the work of many resilient gay men to thank for it.
This history of the persecution of gay men only adds a bitter irony to his coming out story. He took the work of gay men before him to help himself apologize for the same act for which these gay men were wrongly persecuted.
In 2017, people stepped back to re-analyze this scenario given Spacey’s sexuality — especially given the juxtaposition of his apology and his coming out.
His sexuality was most likely repressed; he didn’t know how to control his feelings or emotions; he was a victim of his time.
These are the hesitations Spacey likely hoped to conjure. In 2017, his sexuality grants him entrance to a club of oppression — not a club of predators.
Any and all of these statements may be true, but they don’t lessen the offense. They don’t undo the damage to Rapp, or the number of other men who have come forward in identifying Spacey as an abuser. They don’t revoke Spacey’s ability to make choices, to make conscious decisions.
At UNC, we love to analyze the “who” with the “what.” We emphasize the identity of the actor just as much as their actions. For example, many would react much differently to a woman catcalling a man than a man catcalling a woman. The act of catcalling is condemnable. Yet when we toy with the identity of the actor, a gray area appears.
So will our moral standing on sexual assault waver as assailants come out as gay or lesbian? For many, they did not. For all, they should not. Calling a gay man a sexual predator may feel uncomfortable; this statement may feel reminiscent of a homophobic past. But these feelings of discomfort should not shift our moral compass; these feelings must be secondary to what is objectively right and wrong.
In conversation and thought, do not be afraid to separate the “what” from the “who.” The identity of an actor may offer insight and context, but does not justify an act of harm.
Gay men are condemning Spacey for his actions, and you should too.