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The lessons gay men can learn from ‘handsy’ Kevin Spacey

The lessons gay men can learn from ‘handsy’ Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey at San Diego Comic Con 2008

Last October, when actor Anthony Rapp accused Kevin Spacey of sexual misconduct, I was less surprised by his claim than by how some men  –  particularly gay men  –  reacted to it.

‘But he’s such a great actor,’ a gay Hungarian in Budapest told me in December. ‘Does he deserve to have his career ruined?’

He then argued that perhaps #MeToo was already going too far.

‘What if a man lightly taps a female colleague’s butt to compliment her on doing a good job, like sports players do?’ he argued. ‘He shouldn’t be fired for that.’

According to Rapp (Rent, Six Degrees of Separation), 46, Spacey, 58, went further than a light tap. He said the future two-time Oscar winner made sexual advances toward him in 1986, when they were both starring in Broadway plays.

The allegations against Spacey

In an interview with BuzzFeed that ran on October 30 of last year, Rapp said the events unfolded when Spacey invited him to a party at his Manhattan apartment. After all the other guests had left, Spacey allegedly picked him up, carried him to a bed, and got on top of him. At the time, Rapp, who said he managed to ‘squirm’ away, was 14 years old.

Spacey used Rapp’s revelation as an opportunity to tweet-reveal what so many of us already knew: He’s gay. Oh, and he tacked on a sort-of apology to Rapp for his possible sexual misconduct.

I have a lot of respect and admiration for Anthony Rapp as an actor. I’m beyond horrified to hear this story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.

This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my privacy. As those closest to me know, I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.

The fallout

As much as I appreciate Spacey’s talent, I’m glad the powers that be haven’t been as lenient as some men have been (including — shocker! — Morrissey, who stood up for him in November and cautioned against confusing ‘sexual harassment’ with ‘a pathetic attempt at courtship’).

His House of Cards bosses fired him from the show, and director Ridley Scott quickly excised his completed scenes from All the Money in the World and re-shot them with Christopher Plummer, who was Oscar-nominated for his 11th-hour efforts.

A number of people have since come forward with accusations against Spacey, and London’s Metropolitan Police are investigating sexual assault claims three men have made against him.

Guy Pearce on working with ‘handsy’ Spacey

Last week, his L.A. Confidential co-star Guy Pearce entered the discussion, offering vague but telling details about what it was like to work with Spacey on the Oscar-winning 1997 film.

‘Tough one to talk about at the moment. Amazing actor. Incredible actor. Slightly difficult time with Kevin, yeah,’ he told Australian presenter Andrew Denton on last week’s episode of Interview.

‘He’s a handsy guy,’ Pearce continued, adding, ‘Thankfully I was 29, and not 14.’

The Australian actor (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Memento) later said he regretted bringing it up publicly because he, ‘addressed and handled the situation when it took place,’ but I’m so glad he did. The only one who should have any regrets is Spacey.

Even if he has none, gay men need to take The Fall of Kevin Spacey as a cautionary tale. #MeToo isn’t just about women and powerful straight men. It’s about men fighting off ‘handsy’ men, too.

Terry Crews’ recent lawsuit against Adam Venit, the talent agent who the linebacker-turned-actor says grabbed his genitals at a party in 2016, presents a scenario that’s not uncommon in gay bars, in gay clubs, and even on gay dates.

Whether the alleged encounter was a sexual move by Venit, a bro moment taken too far, or a tacky power play, it’s a perfect example of what not to do to the guy standing, or sitting, beside you. We all need to start holding ourselves and each other to the same standards women are now demanding of straight men.

Too many gay men think nothing of being ‘handsy’

I’ve encountered many gay men who had no standards at all, men who got too handsy in public and in private. I have my own bonafide #MeToo story, one that involved a straight white doctor who left a lifelong mark on my psyche, much like Rapp says Spacey did to him.

Aside from a grope-y encounter with a drunken man in a Buenos Aires nightclub a decade ago, my experiences with gay men have been less extreme, for the most part.

Still, the cumulative effect of all the handsy ones who have littered my path and the ones who just walk up to me and stroke me, grab me, or kiss me, has been just as defeating. I often wonder what they’d think if men treated their sisters the way they themselves treat other men, like mere pieces of meat to be carelessly handled and devoured.

Being horny is not an excuse. And even if I kiss a man, that’s not an invitation for him to immediately grab my crotch or try to pull down my pants.

Slow down, boys. If you’re not a teenager, there are no excuses for so-called (by Morrissey) pathetic attempts at courtship. Pay attention to signals. Ask, if they’re unclear. Don’t make the same mistakes that Kevin Spacey allegedly made, the ones so many men, gay and straight, have made.

And for God’s sake, keep you hands off your colleagues’ butts!

We can do better. We must do better.

This column first appeared on Medium – reprinted with permission. Jeremy Helligar’s book, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World, is available via Amazon.

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