It took a celebrity for me to realize that I’m gay.
Throughout most of high school, I avidly watched a bunch of YouTubers across the sexuality spectrum: Tyler Oakley, Ricky Dillon, Troye Sivan, Trevor Moran, Hannah Hart, Jack and Finn Harries … the list goes on. My favorite, though, was Connor Franta. He was dreamy as ever, but I didn’t think he was gay – I didn’t think I was, either.
In December 2014, Franta came out as gay. By January 2015, after a while of thinking I was bisexual, I was also ready to accept my sexuality – watching someone else go through that process prompted me to do the same.
That’s the power of celebrity and media representation. Figuring out your sexuality is scary and overwhelming, and when you know few to no queer people in real life, you turn to media.
Kevin Spacey, an actor who was alleged to have made sexual advances toward actor Anthony Rapp when Rapp was a minor, came out on Sunday night. (This is not the first assault allegation against Spacey, but it’s the first with the victim on record.) It was a shock to no one – Hollywood has long regarded his queerness as an “open secret,” to the point where he joked about coming out during his stint hosting the Tonys not once, but twice. But it took allegations of sexual assault from another star for Spacey to publicly come out.
In a BuzzFeed News report, Rapp alleged that Spacey lifted him onto a bed and climbed on top of him after a party. Rapp was just 14, while Spacey was 26 at the time. Shortly after the allegations came down, Spacey seemed to absolve himself by noting the situation “would have been over 30 years ago,” and, if true, was merely “inappropriate drunken behavior.”
That’s a problem deserving its own article – sexual assault is not OK, regardless of if it’s a man assaulting a man or if the assaulter was drunk or if it was decades ago. But there’s another problem here: Not only did Spacey deny and belittle Rapp’s bravery in alleging this assault, he turned Rapp’s story into his own so he could “choose now to live as a gay man.” (And if you want to talk about a third problem, we could dive into Spacey’s use of the word “choose” regarding his sexuality.)
This is, quite possibly, the worst way for a queer person to come out. Spacey had years of opportunity to come out before this – why didn’t he?
When someone like Spacey lives a public life in the closet, it sends a message to people working through their own sexualities, much like me during high school: Being openly gay in the public sphere is a bad idea. It would be one thing if Spacey had refrained from talking about his sexuality and left it at that – celebrities deserve a degree of privacy too, after all. His sexuality came into question from an infamous 1997 Esquire cover story, and Spacey didn’t outright deny that he was gay then. In the years after though, in two separate interviews with Playboy and 60 Minutes, he maintained his interest in women. Andy Cohen would later write in his own memoir, regarding Spacey’s 60 Minutes interview: “I still get enraged … Come out, sir.” Even Rapp, who came out as gay in 1992, said in his BuzzFeed interview, “I wanted to scream to the rooftops, ‘This guy is a fraud!’”
Writing about Spacey’s statement, Ira Madison III (an out gay man himself) notes, “Many headlines will likely lead with the fact that Spacey has come out as a gay man. This is a calculated move from Spacey and a PR team that has handled rumors surrounding his sexuality for years.” (Madison’s Daily Beast essay, “How Kevin Spacey’s ‘Coming Out’ Grossly Conflates Pedophilia and Homosexuality,” is required reading on yet another problem in this situation.) That’s what’s so especially wrong with the situation – Spacey is baiting the media with his sexuality yet again, this time to divert attention away from a victim’s allegations of assault. Years of questions from magazines, years of lies about women, years of jokes about men, and Spacey finally decides it’s worth it to come out when he wants to cover up another secret.
Questioning queer kids deserve out queer role models, like what I found in Connor Franta. No queer kid ought to have Kevin Spacey, an alleged sexual assault perpetrator, as a role model now. No queer kid should ever have to face that sort of reverse role model, someone in the public eye showing them that it’s best to stay in the closet.
Most importantly, neither Kevin Spacey nor anyone else should be able to give coming out – what should be a freeing, empowering experience – such negative and dirty connotations, especially for those still figuring out their sexuality. As former Entertainment Weekly editor Mark Harris, writer of a July 2012 cover story on celebrities coming out, put it on Twitter: “Coming out is a beautiful part of being gay. Attaching it to this vileness is so wrong.”
UPDATE: Since the publishing of this op-ed, more men have come forward with sexual harassment allegations against Kevin Spacey. Read about it here.