Sumra: By focusing on Spacey’s sexuality, media diverted conversation on abuse

Eish Sumra, Columnist

As disgusting as the allegations against Kevin Spacey are, they are hardly surprising. Since the allegations against Harvey Weinstein were brought to light, Hollywood has been awash with sexual harassment and assault accusations. What is surprising is the reaction to Spacey’s ill-timed coming out. Though his coming out did not exactly shock the world — for some it confirmed suspicions that have been around for decades — Spacey’s choice to do so at the same time he responded to allegations of sexually assaulting a teenager was in no doubt a poor decision, one that is irrevocably harmful to the gay community.

The incessant focus on this coming out proves there is work to be done both inside and outside the LGBTQ community to deal with the widespread virus of sexual assault, which plagues every industry and every sector of society.

It is fair to criticize Spacey’s outing, as he linked sexual assault and predatory behavior to his sexuality, a connection that bigoted and homophobic people have been making for centuries. Many celebrities have denounced Spacey’s statement, including Northwestern’s very own Billy Eichner (Communication ’00), who tweeted “That Kevin Spacey statement. Nope. Absolutely not. Nope.” I agree the statement was misleading and disgraceful both in content and timing, but as responses to it dominated the national conversation, we forgot that the true disgrace was how Spacey batted away the accusations with the cowardly phrase “I honestly do not remember the encounter.” This deniability is a cause for concern, but we have allowed that to take a backseat to the uproar surrounding his sexuality.

Yet, the most important thing in this entire situation is dealing with Hollywood’s (and indeed, the world’s) problem with sexual assault by men. It must be the key aspect of any coverage, because that’s the real story here, not the manner in which he came out. The media and the public’s focus on his sexuality is a backward move. His coming out is a footnote, yet in the early hours after the news broke, it made the lede on many stories. It wasn’t until celebrities expressed their outrage at the way he came out that the narrative changed. The story must now focus on the plethora of accusations being brought forward.

Spacey’s comments could have led to an important dialogue that is much needed in the gay community, where many men in powerful positions have abused their situations and preyed on other men. While this is in no way synonymous with being gay, it is a consequence of the patriarchal values that purvey society. This is what must be talked about. Many actors have said male producers have harassed them. Within the British Parliament, which is also experiencing a spiral of accusations, there have been reports of male members of Parliament fondling young parliamentary aides. Instead of trying to distance gay people from a problem that is at times common within our community, perhaps a more constructive response could be to address it head on.

All communities have their respective issues. The gay community shouldn’t skirt around a problem that is so prevalent. This only serves to further divide and encourage stereotypes from the outside. Celebrities like Rufus Wainwright, Charlie Carver and many other gay men have come out with their stories of male abusers. Just like in straight environments, harassment is common in gay ones. The power dynamics associated with gay relationships can be complex, as masculinity is constantly being challenged and asserted in ways that can antagonize. This creates issues that people rarely talk about. I myself have been in environments where I felt intensely uncomfortable, but with the heteronormative world we live in, these problems go undiscussed — as if our masculinity protects us from feeling unsafe in these spaces. Now that we have an Academy Award-winning actor embroiled in such an issue, our community is provided with a rare chance to publicly deal with a subject that we have repressed for too long, out of fear of judgment and discrimination.

While I do not believe the gay community should be characterized by accusations of pedophilia, assault or the scores of other tags given to gay men by those who wish to demonize us, it is important to confront the relatively few (but still very present) instances of these issues. This is one of those opportunities.

Eish Sumra is a Medill senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.