In the days since Anthony Rapp’s accusations against Kevin Spacey, the tide has turned swiftly against the once-celebrated actor.
As if the claims of attempted assault against a minor weren’t enough, Spacey’s attempt to overshadow his alleged crimes by finally coming out — after years spent as Hollywood’s most notorious closet case — were especially repulsive to many queer people. Here was a man who lied by omission for years, refusing to be part of or speak up for a marginalized community until he felt he could benefit from doing so. Worse still, coming out in response to an accusation of attempting to molest a minor helped further conflate homosexuality with pedophilia, a notion bigots have clutched in their proverbial talons.
The queer abandonment of Spacey was swift. Tweets and think pieces disavowed the actor, making it clear Spacey did not get to suddenly be part of a community he avoided like the plague for most of his career in an attempt to escape allegations that would only damage that community. But not all queers are in agreement about Spacey, and there is a particular divide among gay men that seems to be generational.
In a Facebook post, beloved queer performance artist Taylor Mac shared his empathy for “sexually inappropriate older gay men,” writing: “I find them charming, sometimes annoying, sometimes a little sad, ever-so-often creepy, from time to time infuriating, obviously victims of homophobia, frequently brave and often fun.”
This stance is not limited to Mac. While many younger gays seem to want nothing to do with Spacey, many older gay men are more forgiving of his behavior. Maybe this is because they remember a time before same-sex marriage and Will & Grace, where gay male sexuality was as closeted as Spacey was before Sunday evening, that this kind of behavior was understandable, acceptable, forgivable. “Sexually inappropriate gay men” are, to the older generation, a product of a culture that sought to vilify gay sex.
Even 10 years ago, gay men were conditioned to keep their sex lives secret. Growing up identifying as a gay male, I made decisions when it came to sex that I look back on now and am completely baffled by. That kind of secrecy does breed an attitude that if everything is under wraps, if everything happens in the dark, then anything goes.
Vulture published an interview Thursday with an anonymous man who describes having a sexual relationship with Spacey when he was 14 and Spacey was 24. “I felt like I’d won the lottery,” he said about what it meant to have an older man interested in him. “A little drunk with it and very delighted with the attention.”
To many gay men who at least keep their sex lives divorced from their everyday lives if they’re not closeted entirely, that kind of sexual fervor justifies being “sexually inappropriate.”
We can have empathy for Spacey for not coming out because he felt it would ruin his career. That was a legitimate fear 10, 20, 30 years ago. We cannot, however, have empathy for a man who used that secrecy and lack of scrutiny as a way to prey on children.