Apparently Advocate, a gay interest magazine, knew of Kevin Spacey’s attempted sexual assault of a minor sixteen years before it hit the press, but they held back on revealing it because of their “no outing” policy, i.e. they would not publicly expose a person’s homosexuality without that person’s consent. Which is a perfectly appropriate and defensible custom—but one wonders what the hell it has to do with Kevin Spacey at all. This was not a matter of “outing” Kevin Spacey as a gay man, after all; it was a matter of “outing” him as someone who tries to have sex with fourteen-year-olds. Unless Advocate wants to make the claim that those two categories are synonymous, then their defense doesn’t really make any sense at all. You can out a man as a pederast without outing him as a gay man, after all; he may have some explaining to do afterwards, but that’s not your problem.
The politics of sexual assault are bizarre. Everyone knew about Harvey Weinstein for decades, but—as was the case with Ashley Judd—most people seemed too concerned about their careers to do much about it, even after the point where it would have been largely a no-risk venture to open up about it. James Toback harassed or assaulted allegedly hundreds of women, but the same principle seemed to hold: nobody wanted to risk the fame and the millions of bucks that fame brings with it. Kevin Spacey was safe by dint of being gay. All of these seem like perfectly reasonable reasons for keeping one’s mouth shut, I guess—if you consider rape and sexual abuse to be simply one factor among many that might inform one’s decision-making process, rather than a deciding factor sui generis. But still it’s worth wondering: if a movie career is worth looking the other way while countless women are victimized by a corpulent pervert, then what is it actually worth? Put another way: if the rule you followed brought you to this—admitting that you knew about the rape and the exposure and the disgusting behavior for decades but did nothing at all about it—of what use was the rule?
In the wake of Spacey’s being revealed as an attempted child rapist, the reaction has been swift and ruthless: Netflix cancelled his long-running television series, the Emmys decided not to give him its Founders Award, a bunch of theaters have turned their backs on him. All of which is a fine response, of course…but also, so what? Spacey is worth nearly $100 million, and he amassed that fortune even as influential people knew about his perverted behavior yet looked the other way; Seth MacFarlane even openly cracked jokes about it on Family Guy, as if pederasty were just one more cultural mocking point rather than a serious and disgusting crime. Amassing a staggering fortune while everyone turns a blind eye to your attempted anal sex with a fourteen-year-old boy: it’s mostly irrelevant how many Emmys they take away from you, you’ve already sort of won at that point.
The point isn’t to try and get Spacey kicked out of polite Hollywood society; that’s going to happen, of course, but it hardly matters in practical terms, so long as he can retreat to a palatial mansion with more money than fifty of us will ever make in our lifetimes. What is more important is ensuring that the next guy doesn’t get a three-decade-long break and a chance to accrue tens of millions of dollars in the process, and that the people who are in a position to say something about these incidents, say something. It might mean risking a career—or even a “no outing” policy! But if your professional ambitions or your polite politics are holding you back from something like this, it’s worth it to consider abandoning them altogether.