The Unfathomable Mistake of Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey likely believed, as all men in power do, that it would all work out. He could not recall the details of a drunken episode from twenty years before in which he was alleged to have sexually assaulted Anthony Rapp at the age of fourteen. This was very much on the level of the ongoing abuse committed against minors by Catholic priests, where men in power had invited young boys into safe space and violated their trust. In Rapp’s story, Spacey allegedly invited Rapp and his boyfriend over to watch the Tony Awards in Toronto, a ritual among actors as holy and as protracted as a Catholic wedding. He picked Rapp up like some sack doll, deposited him like a lithe concubine onto his bed, and believed that this kid was his for the taking.

Aside from failing to consider the full impact that such unfathomable behavior would have inflicted upon a kid, Spacey had willfully misread the climate that had flickered into being after Harvey Weinstein had been rightly exposed as a predatory animal. Sexual abuse and unsavory quids pro quo had been hidden from the public for far too long. Victims have seen their lives damaged or severely set back, if not permanently derailed, because the victimizers have long controlled the narrative. But now the victims are taking the narrative back, even as Twitter attempts to stifle their voices with flip twelve hour suspensions. Men in power had told these victims for too many years that being an objectified plaything or watching a man masturbate or allowing a man to suffocate you with his intimidating physical presence were the only ways to get ahead. There were decades of pain, years of depression, quiet cash settlements, countless days where victims were fighting the battle to rebuild their self-worth after media forces and Hollywood mechanisms tried to invalidate their stories and vitiate their pain. The time was well overdue for a reckoning.

And so Kevin Spacey issued a statement. Because his efforts to understand what he may or may not have done were directed inward, he did not have the power to look outward. This is the common trap of anyone coming to terms with bad behavior. Kevin Spacey could not see that Anthony Rapp was due more than “respect and admiration” and that his alleged actions were not merely “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior,” but a deep scar that Rapp had carried for more than thirty years and that we may never know the full story about. And Kevin Spacey refused to step down as the cynosure of the narrative.

Instead, Spacey did something even more despicable in his attempt to atone. He aligned his sexual abuse with his sexuality, using the opportunity to come out as a gay man. As bad timings go, this was just as repulsive as David Leavitt tweeting “The last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too” just as a terrorist had killed 22 people, including children, at an Ariana Grande concert. But it was far more insidious. Because Spacey’s statement equated sexual abuse with sexual orientation, which is akin to any number of racist stereotypes perceiving the black body as hypersexualized. Spacey’s statement was, to say the least, wrongheaded and deeply offensive to both the struggles of sexual abuse survivors and those who are afraid of coming out. That it follows so close on the heels of Robert Scoble’s deplorable outing of an abuse victim and his slackjaw-inspiring suggestion that his sexual harassment did not qualify because he did not possess power (a lie) suggests that men in power who have committed deep wrongs are incapable of putting their egos aside when coming to terms with the trauma and unpleasantness that they have inflicted upon other lives.

I believe that Kevin Spacey should be allowed to come to terms with what he did and continue his fine work as an actor, but he’s not helping himself by surrendering his sensitivity. The victim must always be prioritized over the victimizer in cases of atonement.

An Apology

“The modern loss of respect, or rather the conviction that respect is due only where we admire or esteem, constitutes a clear symptom of the increasing depersonalization of public and social life.” – Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

First off, I’m sorry that this extremely necessary post was a long time in coming.

On the evening of September 25, 2014, I tweeted a number of inappropriate and over-the-line tweets to the novelist Porochista Khakpour, who I had been sparring with all day. I had been heavily drinking, but this does not excuse my behavior. In reviewing what I tweeted after the fact, I don’t even recognize the man who was tweeting that night. I am utterly appalled by my actions.

Thus, I offer my most heartfelt and earnest apologies to Porochista Khakpour. I am legitimately contrite, very aware of my wrongdoing, and have spent many hours rethinking what respect really means and what my relationship with words is.

I am not yet prepared to write about the more severe events that occurred the next morning (and after), but I was forced to remove myself from the Internet for a very long time. When I returned, I had no idea that so much ink and vitriol had been spread about me on social media. I have not read all the articles, but I have been apprised of their defamatory and outright inaccurate contents by other parties. Nevertheless, I earned the backlash. The punishment wasn’t just confined to the responses. There was the brutal and heartbreaking end of an eight and a half year relationship, excommunication from a sizable part of the literary community, and a sudden derelict status that I am now trying to claw my way out of. Despite all this, I have remained positive and have learned much that I hope to impart at length someday. And I will still be writing.

I would also like to thank one person.

One of the few people to rise above the toxic sludge of conjecture and innuendo was New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul. I’ve criticized Paul a number of times, but I respect the fact that Paul, who worked under the Sam Tanenhaus era and was undoubtedly familiar with the office shorthand, took the time out to debunk one of the promulgated stories. She didn’t have to do this. I doubt the Review‘s credibility would have been especially damaged by the rumor. But in an age where collecting unconfirmed gossip now constitutes “journalism,” I appreciate Paul’s commitment to professionalism over pitchforks. It’s an invaluable reminder for a writer with a loud voice that there’s another way to do things.