High-profile abusers have a long history of using marginalization to deflect from their White male violence.
Following the election of an open sexual predator to the White House, there has been a powerful pushback against high-profile sexual abusers, including Hollywood kingpin Harvey Weinstein, NBC political reporter Mark Halperin, directors Brett Ratner and James Toback, and actors Dustin Hoffman and Ben Affleck.
Which brings me to Kevin Spacey.
Actor Anthony Rapp came forward about previously being sexually assaulted by Spacey at the age of 14 (Spacey was 26 at the time). I personally didn’t expect Spacey to make a statement the very night that Buzzfeed broke the story, but he did…in true “the American people are gullible so let’s throw something really shiny in their face” fashion. Like Frank Underwood might.
And here’s how that went:
I have to hand it to the asshole. His plan kind of worked. The story should be that Spacey is an alleged predator who used his fame, accolades, and power to target young boys coming up in Hollywood. Instead, willfully obtuse news outlets are still running with the coming-out story angle, since this is the scoop they’ve been chasing for years.
It’d be easy to chalk this up to media asininity, but there are broader and more insidious forces at play here. Starting with this:
The conflation of queerness (i.e. homosexuality) with pedophilia has a long and ugly history.
The false myth that queer folx are more inclined to be pedophiles and child rapists is one that the queer community has been fighting against for decades.
Queer folx faced particularly strong opposition to their very existence in the 1970s, as the sexual perversion myth began tangibly influencing policy. In 1977, Christian songstress Anita Bryant orchestrated the successful repeal of an anti-gay discrimination law in Miami. Bryant argued that homosexuality was an “abomination,” and that if given equal rights, gay people would molest children or brainwash them into becoming gay. This anti-gay propaganda, which the modern religious right would soon adopt, didn’t stop there. In addition to religion being used against queer folx, many bigoted scientists opted to use science as well.The false myth that queer folx are more inclined to be pedophiles and child rapists is one that the queer community has been fighting against for decades. Click To Tweet
Despite being a disgraced and discredited “psychologist,” Paul Cameron’s work malevolently linking homosexuality to pedophilia starting in the 1980s has been taken seriously enough to make an impact; just 10 years ago, he was used as an “expert” in a case in Colorado concerning same-sex adoption.
Still more recently, politically powerful institutions like The Family Research Council (FRC) have leaned on the child-molestation myth to push for the rejection of gay rights; as recently as 2010, FRC was peddling the patently false claim that science links homosexuality to pedophilia. Years later, high-profile figures continue to make this assertion — like NFL player Josh Robinson, who compared gay marriage to pedophilia and incest in 2015.
And then, of course, there’s our current political administration. Trump selected open homophobe Mike Pence — who thinks the existence of queer and trans folx will lead to “societal collapse” — to be his VP. Moreover, he appointed Sam Clovis — who once asked, “If we protect LGBT behavior, what other behaviors are we going to protect? Are we going to protect pedophilia?” — to be a Department of Agriculture Under Secretary, and has openly lauded Pastor Robert Jeffress, who has directly equated gay people to pedophiles.
Even if you wanted to give Spacey the benefit of the doubt here (which I do not), you would have to assume that he is not aware of how historically charged it is to mention both assault and his sexuality in his statement, or how such claims have political power still today. Anyone with an iota of understanding about history or politics should get this, though — which suggests Spacey is fully aware of the harm his statement could cause, and just doesn’t give a fuck.
I know what you’re thinking — surely someone who, like Spacey, is “choosing to live as a gay man,” would care that he is doing irreversible damage to the work that queer and trans folx have done to normalize our very existence. Right?
But while optimistic, this is painfully naive. Because if you believe that, then you know absolutely nothing about how Whiteness operates. Which is to say, this:
Cishet White men have long weaponized marginalization to carry out their abuses of power.
I had many discussions in college with other Black femmes who had peeped that White Americans, in particular, are always seeking some sort of victim status to avoid owning up to the influence and power they take up in modern society. Those conversations took on new meanings whenever I stepped into predominantly White, queer spaces filled with people determined to be more marginalized than I am — a tactic designed to create the illusion that they couldn’t possibly have power over me. And wouldn’t you know, this was most often deployed by cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) White men.
This is the strategy currently being deployed by Spacey. The actor has been a powerful and influential figure in both film and theater for decades, and during these decades, he’s explicitly used his power to prey on folx he suspected wouldn’t say a goddamn thing since they weren’t as powerful. In these situations, his marginalization didn’t benefit him; it’s only now that he’s been exposed as an alleged predator that he’s chosen to use his homosexuality to avoid facing consequences for his abusive behavior.
That is sick. But, it’s totally a “White man” thing to do.
I say this because Spacey is not the first person to do this…nor will he be the last. In fact, he is in great company with Milo Yiannopoulos, who for the longest time used his sexuality to excuse the gross misogyny that he has carried out against women (particularly during #GamerGate). One could argue that Milo has also used his sexuality and preoccupation with Black men to evade claims of racism, and he proudly employed this “trap card” when he started a misogynoiristic campaign to harass Leslie Jones.
Harvey Weinstein has also used marginalization to deflect from his White male violence. Except, in his case, that marginalization is also false. After being disgraced by countless women alleging he assaulted or raped them, Weinstein announced that he hoped he would be given “a second chance” and that he was checking himself into rehab for sex addiction. Experts were swift to denounce this self-diagnosis, which served to throw a legitimately marginalized and vulnerable demographic under the bus: addicts.
Which brings us to what is truly the most vile part of all this. Being marginalized is some way, shape, fashion, or form does not mean you cannot somehow hold power over others. This is a crude misunderstanding of the complex nature of privilege, and it becomes especially spurious when Whiteness is factored in. Spacey, Weinstein, and Milo have enjoyed the privilege of their Whiteness, and the wealth and industry power this has helped afford them, for years. It is only when they must own up to their predatory behavior that they rely on marginalization as a weapon of deflection — and ironically, this deflection hurts those who are actuallymarginalized within the power structures they operate in.
There are so many queer folx, and trans folx, and queer and trans folx of color especially, who are abused because of their identity and lack of societal power. Spacey, Weinstein, and Milo don’t represent these people; they represent the people who harm these people. And that distinction is everything.
In the end, the only way to stop this vicious cycle from continuing is by cutting men like Spacey off from the power they feed upon. And seeing as how Spacey is currently on the outs with Netflix and every other committee in Hollywood is taking turns stripping Weinstein of prestigious honors, I’d say that we’re off to a promising start.
But, it’s only that: a start.