FOWLER: Sexuality should never be used as excuse for sexual assault


Opinions Column: Sex and the City


Earlier this week, the actor Anthony Rapp came forward with an accusation of sexual assault regarding an incident that took place between him and Kevin Spacey. Rapp was 14 at the time of the alleged assault, Spacey was 24. After the news broke, Spacey released a statement on Twitter that read, “I have a lot of respect ... for Anthony Rapp as an actor. I’m beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago ... I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him through all these years … This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life … I choose now to live as a gay man.”

Immediately, the LGBTQ community responded to Spacey’s statement. After being ambiguous about his sexuality for many years, Spacey chose this moment — one wherein he had been accused of assaulting a teenage boy — to come out publicly. Billy Eichner tweeted in response, saying, “Kevin Spacey has just invented something that has never existed before: a bad time to come out.” But what did Spacey hope to accomplish when he decided to come out at this moment of accusation? It seems as though he thought coming out would help the assault accusations — perhaps he would garner support from the LGBTQ community, or perhaps the struggle of being in the closet for so many years would provide some sort of twisted “rationale” as to why the assault may have occurred.

These ideas are highly problematic. In conflating coming out as a gay man and “coming out” as a sexual predator, Spacey puts himself in direct dialogue with the history of gay men being seen as pedophiles and sexual deviants. It is likely that Spacey thought that although it was unlikely people would excuse his behavior altogether, his closeted gayness would either provide some justification or some degree of sympathy for him. While we can say that yes, it must have been difficult for Spacey to remain closeted and in the public eye for many years, this obviously does not excuse his assault on Rapp. While heteronormative societal standards make coming out and being closeted incredibly difficult, this sort of difficulty or suffering does not excuse assault by any means. By putting assault and gayness in dialogue, Spacey has done significant harm to the stereotypes gay men have been fighting against for a long time.

One of the multiple reasons gay men have, in the past, been associated with pedophilia and just general sexual deviance is because they are continuously hyper-sexualized. Even quite prominently today, people associate homosexuality in both sexes (all genders) as primarily sexually motivated. The gay community’s use of the phrase “love is love” and struggle for marriage equality are in direct dialogue with the long-held ideas that gay people are gay because they enjoy some specific sexual act. Queer people and perhaps especially gay men have had to put special emphasis on the fact that while not all sexual encounters are romantic, there is an element of romantic love and passion that is behind gay people's gayness.

But to speak about gay men specifically, there is lots of thought online and within the culture that gay men will have sex with any willing (or not) partner — as if gay men are almost animalistic and motivated by a desire for sex. This is not casual sex or promiscuity which can be seen across orientations. Rather, the perception of gay male sexuality is far less moral and seen as even more deviant and “dirty” than the average promiscuous straight male. Not only does this “other” gay male sexuality, but it lumps them all as immoral predators. There are many reasons as to why this perception is harmful — this causes internalized homophobia, a repression of actual desire, a negative and repressive response to actually experiencing desire.

The LGBTQ community must work extensively to erase these perceptions, and to have Kevin Spacey add fuel to the fire is simply wrong. Since the assault coming out, many popular anti-gay news sites have used Spacey’s statement to prove the supposed “link” between homosexuality and pedophilia. An article on Lifesitenews had a source that said, “Don’t delude yourselves. Kevin Spacey is hardly the first or an anomaly in the Gay Male Community. This faux outrage (referring to the outrage in the LGBTQ community) is disingenuous...and we all know it.”

This sort of response from the media is disheartening but could have been predicted. Not only did Spacey do harm in literally committing an assault to a young boy, but further, he damaged the gay community as a whole, allowing these sorts of accusations to bear some sort of deeply flawed credence.

Ashley Fowler is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in English. Her column “Sex and the City,” runs on alternate Mondays.


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Ashley Fowler

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