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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Opinion circumspection

The news is always filled with things about which people express opinions. Whether those opinions are well-founded or idiotic is irrelevant: People will hold opinions and express them. The first decision for us is whether we’ll respond to any such opinions. When this is about a “hot button”, controversial issue, it makes sense that we might be a bit cautious about whether we want to comment at all. And if one’s opinions are contrary to the popularly accepted positions, one may feel it’s best to remain silent. Sometimes silence is the best solution.

A friend asked me if Kevin Spacey coming out in the context of allegations about inappropriate behaviour making sexual advances on an underage guy was a setback for gay rights. It’s a straightforward question, but difficult to answer without talking about the allegations that led to it in the first place, and that’s something I simply don’t want to do. Deviating from Groupthink, however slightly, is often attacked, and that usually means that others who question the Herd Wisdom but haven’t said anything, end up being bullied into silence.

I realise that I’ve already veered into heresy by referring to “allegations” when “revelations” is the approved word, and “sexual advances” rather than the approved word, “assault”. So, halfway to the gallows, why not keep going, right? No. I’m sticking only to that narrow question.

First heresies first: Because there’s not yet any evidence to the contrary, we have to accept that Spacey’s lack of recollection could be true, and his apology may be totally sincere. If evidence to the contrary for either comes out, we can revise our conclusions.

The second part of his apology, however, is problematic for entirely different reasons.

Spacey used his apology to publicly come out, and many people have been quick to denounce him for doing so. I read Spacey’s apology before the groupthink had appeared, and when I did I assumed he was dealing with the “rumours” about his sexuality rather than denying the truth as so many other famous people have done. I didn’t take it as an “excuse” or as conflating coming out with his behaviour.

Then, I read the wisdom of the herd telling people like me how wrong we were to take his words at face value, or, worse still, to give him the benefit of any doubt.

Nevertheless, there was something that bothered me a lot about his apology from the very beginning, and it was the very last sentence: “I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behaviour.” I thought at the time—and still do—“What the hell does that mean?!” Attempted sexual seduction (Rapp’s own word) and/or assault of underage people has nothing to do with anyone’s sexuality, but Spacey’s wording implies a link for gay men. THAT is what I found objectionable, not the fact he was coming out rather than denying reality.

Even so, I don’t think this specifically harms gay people overall nor endangers our progress because the threat to us is always there no matter who is or isn’t in the news for doing or not doing whatever. The hard, cold, fact is that most heterosexuals almost never think about us at all, and when they do it’s often in negative contexts about sex, and that’s because our enemies on the Right are always eager to exploit that whenever they can. The rightwing keeps talking in graphic detail about men having sex with each other, more graphically than most explicit sex manuals, and they keep spreading the lie that all gay men molest children.

They do all that because it advances their agenda. The fact Spacey came out doesn’t affect or fuel this, but the fact Rapp was underage at the time does. Quite frankly, though, Rapp’s irrelevant: It could be anyone at any time, and it will be someone else some other time. It’s what they always do. Spacey’s usefulness to the Radical Right as a symbol of Those Evil Gays™ will pass—but their campaign of hatred against us will not. They don’t need any help with that.

I have no sympathy for Spacey, and not just because what he did to Rapp was wrong. Had he come out years ago, he could have been an example to young people struggling with their identity, yet he chose to remain closeted. Contrast that with Rapp, who came out early in adulthood, at a time when that was still incredibly risky for an actor to do, and a threat to his career. By living his life openly and with integrity, Rapp’s been the example of hope that Spacey could have been but never was. Rapp is the only hero here.

To sum up, what Spacey did was unquestionably wrong. Rapp was right to bring the allegations to light, and he is not to blame for what happened to him. This discussion should be about how inappropriate behavior happens everywhere so we can focus on how to stop it. But this will have no lasting impact on LGBT people, the community, or its progress, because our enemies don’t need anyone to help them spread their bigotry.

This post is an abbreviated version of one that was much more comprehensive in discussing the larger story. But this is all I feel comfortable saying publicly about this subject. Sometimes circumspection is the best solution.

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