After Kevin Spacey, Gay Men Need a Whisper Network, Too

Because we are human beings, gay men talk to one another. Many of
us
have more or less known about Kevin
Spacey for years—not just that he’s gay but that he’s not the kind of
man you’d want your friend to go home with. Especially if he’s young.
Jia Tolentino elegantly
explained how women use the whisper network to warn one another about dangerous
men; for a gay equivalent, I’d love to have the nerve to call it a
lisping network, but I wonder if a better term might be the network that
dare not speak its name.

Names are now being spoken, though. On October 29th, the out gay actor
Anthony Rapp told
BuzzFeed
that Kevin Spacey sexually assaulted him when he was just fourteen. Rapp
had made intimations about the attack before, but this time he put the
name in lights. (Spacey
stated that he did not recall the incident, but said, “If I did behave then as
he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been
deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”) Others have also come forward,
including a gay artist who told
Vulture
that at age fourteen he began a sexual relationship with Spacey that
ended about a year later, when, he alleges, Spacey tried to rape him.
(Spacey, through his lawyer, denied the allegations to Vulture.) Harry
Dreyfuss, the straight son of the actor Richard Dreyfuss,
alleged that Spacey assaulted him when he was eighteen—while running lines with
Dreyfuss’s famous father. (Spacey, through his lawyer, also
denied
Dreyfuss’s allegations.) Rapp said that seeing women come forward to
talk about the predations of Harvey
Weinstein
helped inspire him to tell his own tale; in turn, the Vulture source and
Dreyfuss were emboldened by seeing Rapp take the first step in talking
about Spacey.

It’s a peculiar sign of progress that (cis, white) gay men are finally,
actually powerful enough to be dangerous. For most of recorded history,
any danger we may have posed was existential or illusory. On the other
hand, religious
institutions
and educational
institutions
and media and
Democrats and
Republicans and parents and grandparents have long called us wicked. They’ve told us
that we deserve to die of AIDS. That we are mentally deranged or
spiritually possessed. That we must stay invisible in order to work, to
rent a home, to buy a cake. Some
believe
that all gay men are rapists. Or that there’s no difference between a
homosexual and a
pedophile
.
Deliberately or not, Spacey himself conflated the two in his response to
Rapp’s story, stating, “I choose now to live as a gay man.”

If that’s bravery, we don’t need another hero. But we do need to talk
about predators in our midst.

Three things happen when a man is sexually threatened by another man:
the sexuality of both men is put into question; the masculinity of both
men is challenged; and the entire event fuels that old, hateful fantasy
of gay men as rapists. We see this play out in the courageous accounts
put forth by the men whom Spacey allegedly attacked. Rapp said that he
didn’t tell his mother about the assault at the time because he wasn’t
ready to come out to her; he later talked about the incident without
naming Spacey, because he—and the media—respected the Oscar winner’s
status in the closet. A journalist spoke anonymously to
BuzzFeed
about Spacey groping and then bullying him: “If I were to publish a
story about Kevin Spacey sexually harassing me on the job . . . there’s
no way without making it quite clear that he likes guys.” According to
the same BuzzFeed piece, in 1995—the era of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—one of
Spacey’s assistants allegedly approached a military adviser on the set
of the movie “Outbreak” to arrange an assignation. “You didn’t want
anybody knowing or even smelling the fact that you might be gay or that
there was any kind of interaction with him”—Spacey—“on any kind of
level,” the adviser said.

Attention can be dangerous. When a straight guy is harassed, he might
think, You’ve got the wrong guy, I’m not into this. He might feel
angered or ashamed, and those feelings might complicate his ability to
report the crime. But when a gay or bi man is sexually
threatened—particularly one who is trapped in the closet and justifiably
terrified of being found out—a part of him might think, How did you
know?

When men talk about being raped or assaulted, they essentially have to
talk about whether they like sex with men. The answer can cost a man his
family, his job, or worse. Women are maligned for asking for it, but
men are suspected of desiring it. It’s the difference between being a
tease and being depraved. For some gay men, this libel is especially
cruel because sexual violence often includes—and relies on—sexual
pleasure. In his fascinating interview with Vulture, the gay artist who
at fourteen and fifteen had sex with Spacey said, “What he left me with,
more than what he took from me, was a sense that I deserved this. And
that’s the knot I’m still untangling. Every time I’ve ever told the
story, I am compelled to tell people how seductive I was. . . . So if
you’re little and somebody touches your penis, it’s terrifying and
shameful. At the same time, neurologically, it’s pleasurable.” As a
queer man who was raped at thirteen, I know that knot. The world around
me said that it wasn’t my fault that I was raped, but also that my
desire for men was hazardous. If I had been eighteen, or twenty-five, or
thirty at the time, the following still would be true: if you feel any
pleasure at all from the hand of a man, you are sick and a sinner.
Consenting to it is even worse.

Men talking about sexual assault are also talking about manhood. A real
man should be able to fight off an attacker. “I am strong enough, thank
God, both somewhere in my brain and in my body, to get him off of me,”
the gay artist recalled. “I’m sturdy, thankfully.” It takes guts to
marshal one’s physical assets to stave off violence, and it should be
applauded. But not everyone can. The journalist whom Spacey allegedly
assaulted first wondered if, as he put it, “I should just, like, knock
his teeth out, or something. I was in a weird dynamic of I wanted to be
able to do my story.” Spacey resorted to the macho tactic of calling his
mark a chicken. Spacey was “screaming at me with fury because I didn’t
want to fuck him,” the journalist said. “He was actually saying that I
did want to and I was a coward.” In this scene, a closeted actor accuses
a man of lacking the courage to have sex with him. The mind reels.

It’s Rapp’s account that, perhaps unintentionally, strikes at the heart
of how difficult it is for gay men to talk about assault. He told
BuzzFeed that Spacey picked him up “like a groom picks up the bride over
the threshold,” then pinned him on a bed. Rapp deserves a lifetime of
flowers for coming forward so candidly. “He was trying to seduce me,” he
said. “I don’t know if I would have used that language.” It’s
disquieting to watch Rapp conceptualize Spacey’s attack on a
fourteen-year-old through the rhetoric of heterosexual ritual. But
underneath it is the idea that if two people have sex, one must be the
woman. We call the receptive partner passive, as if he should be
resisting. We call him the bottom, regardless of how limbs intertwine,
as if he can’t sink any lower. At the root of so much bigotry against
gay men is the presumptive pain of taking it like a woman. Of being like a woman. And what could be worse than that?

No victims are obligated to tell their story. Perhaps gay men shy away
from unmasking the predators and pedophiles around them because we, in
part, fear proving the homophobes right. And perhaps it might be even
tougher to out the rapists. Comics and politicians alike gleefully
threaten that rapists will, once in jail, be raped themselves. It’s
wildly perverse to expect gay men to snitch—however despicable their
fellow gay men are—when the punishment will be the crime. Both gay men
and women have thousands of reasons to distrust the police.

Gay men like women, because they are human beings. And gay men’s great
historical coping strategy has been looking to women.
Honoring and
modelling (and, yes, mocking and
belittling, perhaps as a
way of not identifying with them too much) the way women triumph over
pain. The way women triumph over men. And they’re doing it again,
coming forward with allegations about many different men in power who
aren’t Harvey Weinstein. We should follow their lead. We should build
our own network of whispers and lisps, of receipts and proof. It’s
happening
already
.
It’s a strategy that has kept gays alive for as long as we’ve been here.
We’re not going anywhere. So, can we talk?