On Sunday night, the actor Anthony Rapp accused Kevin Spacey of making sexual advances toward him when he was just 14 years old. BuzzFeed first reported that Rapp, who plays Paul Stamets on Star Trek: Discovery and was the first to play Mark Cohen in RENT, claims Spacey placed him in his bed and climbed on top of him shortly after a party had concluded in the Oscar winner's New York apartment in 1986. Spacey was 26 at the time of the alleged incident.
In a tweeted statement, Spacey claimed he did not remember the encounter. "But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior," he wrote. Then, for reasons only Spacey and his PR team know, the actor decided that was the right time to come out of the closet. "The story has encouraged me to address other things about my life," he wrote, before declaring that he's had romantic relationships with both men and women, and that he's now choosing "to live as a gay man."
To many, Spacey's coming out in response to allegations of sexual impropriety with a minor was a craven, cynical attempt at deflection. Spacey has long maintained that his sexuality is off-limits; in an especially memorable 2010 Daily Beast interview, the middle-aged Oscar winner compared being asked point-blank about whether he's gay with the epidemic of bullying against gay teens. It's the same approach he's long taken, but last night, Spacey chose to finally give up his secret at the exact moment the news would serve to obscure his own alleged misconduct.
In response, Spacey has been summarily—and rightfully—disowned by prominent voices within the LGBTQ community. "Kevin Spacey has just invented something that has never existed before: a bad time to come out," tweeted comedian Billy Eichner. Others pointed out that Spacey's statement would only strengthen the myth that homosexuality and pedophilia are somehow linked. "How dare you implicate us all in this," tweeted Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson.
Spacey's coming out did serve to obscure the allegations against him, at least initially. Reuters tweeted the headline, "Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey declares he lives life as a gay man." Outlets like The Daily Beast, People, ABC News, and others first fired off headlines with news of Spacey's sexuality before moving on to those pesky charges against him.
In other words, Spacey's media bait was perfectly calibrated, because it was, after all, a rare admission of homosexuality from a member of Hollywood royalty. Even as more celebrities come out than ever before, few A-list movie stars have done the same.
In his response to the allegations made against him, Spacey betrayed his contempt for what could have been an act of courage. Few moments in a queer person's life are as terrifying and affirming as coming out; it is a decision that can instantaneously redefine the world's perception of you, inviting the judgement and prejudice of strangers into your life. Under different circumstances, Spacey's own declaration could have carried a massive amount of weight. He could have used his platform to advocate for giving bigger film roles to LGBTQ people or to uplift his queer fans. He could have made the moment about gay rights in Chechnya or Trump's attacks on the trans community, issues he's remained silent on.
But that's not how things happened.
To be sure, coming out is tough, but coming out as a celebrity is tougher. Spacey's queerness had been rumored to the point of being borderline public knowledge for years, but he was also part of an old-school Hollywood marketing machine that kept stars closeted to sell movies and increase their middle-American appeal. "I think that [John Travolta] and the Kevin Spaceys of the world are living under this kind of 80s assumption of what acting is and they've got to be able to play straight to get the straight roles," mused comedian John Early in a VICE interview about the persistence of Hollywood's closet earlier this year. "But I think that we're actually living in a far more personal, confessional time in entertainment," he continued—one where keeping up that façade is a less-savvy business move than it once was. "I actually do think it would be a brilliant PR move for them to come out this late in the game. I just really think it would shake shit up a little bit for their careers. I don't think anyone needs John Travolta to still be this, like, beacon of masculinity."
Nobody needed Kevin Spacey to be one, either. But instead of using his coming out to break down those walls, Spacey seems to have chosen to use the moment in service of a more selfish aim: self-preservation.
In the midst of the far-right's newfound obsession with gay sexual predators in Hollywood and a roiling national conversation about sexual harassment and assault on the part of powerful men, gay or straight, Spacey apparently thought it would be a good time to link his queerness to allegations that he attempted to seduce a 14-year-old. In effect, he chose to use it to reinforce old, disproven stereotypes of gay men as pedophiles and drain it of any possible positive impact. Instead of treating Spacey's big reveal as a triumphant act of personal bravery, let's call it what it is: the worst coming out in history.