October has been a month of dragging monsters out of the shadows and exposing them for the world to see. We’ve yet to see if any of these accusations will lead to these powerful men suffering any consequences for their actions, but for the moment, I’m glad to see that at least the world is finally listening to the victims. That said, I’ve been wondering when the other shoe was going to drop. You can’t put that many powerful people into a moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability without pushback.
On Sunday, actor Anthony Rapp came forward with his story about how Kevin Spacey assaulted him when he was 14. Reading this made my stomach turn. There are many similar ties between this narrative and my own particular trauma. I was 19, and my rapist was 38. Like Rapp, I was alone. I had no one to turn to, and no one would have believed me anyway.
No one did believe me. All of my friends at the time were his friends. He was the established one, the former drag queen popular in all the right social circles, and I was just his trophy twink of the year.
This is where it gets dangerous. In an effort to shield himself and preserve his reputation, Spacey has chosen to implicate the entire LGBT community in his actions. Now, that’s not the intention. The obvious goal is to bank on the secrecy he has kept to keep the press talking about him finally coming out. Spacey knows what many queer people already do: queerness is considered more shocking and horrific to the American people than sexual assault.
And for a moment, it worked. While headlines have been updated upon immediate criticism, the entire focus was originally on Kevin Spacey “finally” coming out of the closet. It seemed, for a brief period, like the entire allegations would be swept under the rug amid all the gossip of a celebrity turning out to be gay.
Now something worse is happening with these headlines, as Anthony Oliveira points out:
LGBT people have long had to make difficult strides in pushing back against the narrative that we’re all pedophiles. It’s the longest-running and hardest-sticking smear against our people and often used to justify bigoted legislation against us.
My coming out story is literally my mother screaming at me through tears, “You’re driving the pedophile bus to hell!” She’s since backed down on that stance, and has since made great strides in learning more and becoming more understanding. She was merely projecting all the bullshit she’d ever been fed over her life about gay people onto me. All that she knew about her eldest child was flipped upside down, and as her world came unglued, I was subjected to all those fears and lies. I caught a glimpse of the world I would soon be facing.
The media narrative laying the groundwork to smear gay men as pedophiles is part of the pushback against the accusations against the powerful abusers within their circles. It’s an attempt to regain control by finding an easy target: the queer community. This has happened before. Whenever the powerful are revealed, they find a scapegoat ― someone society is already conditioned to hate.
The narrative already exists. The New York Times, the Daily Mail and the Guardian have each published pieces suggesting trans people are abnormal, forcing kids to transition and are preying on children. It’s the same justification that was used to pass the transphobic legislation that barred trans women from public restrooms.
By framing his misconduct as a coming out story, Kevin Spacey has given the permission to media outlets to go back to smearing queer people as abusers and pedophiles, and allow the abusers within their own ranks to hide safely in the shadows again. This is going to cause an upswing in anti-gay violence, and may even cause the violently homophobic Trump administration to step up their rollback on queer rights and protections. There is another more immediate effect this has.
This is going to further enable abusers to target vulnerable victims and exploit them, then shame them into silence.
Predators like Kevin Spacey are not stupid. They are well-practiced, charismatic, and above all, know the right people to victimize. Sexual assault isn’t about sexuality. Many straight men abuse young boys not because they are attracted to them, but because they can get away with it.
As mentioned in my tweets, this puts young queer kids either closeted or freshly out of the closet as being particularly vulnerable to abuse. We are isolated, lacking a solid support network, and many of us can’t even rely on our own families for help. We’re cut off and made into easy targets.
Kevin Spacey threw his entire community under the bus so that we would be implicated in his wrongdoing. The media playing into this scapegoating is only going to continue to enable the further abuse of marginalized people. What happened to Anthony Rapp, what happened to me, and many others will continue to happen again so long as we provide havens for those who would prey on others and exploit the vulnerabilities of those who exist on society’s margins.