Anthony Rapp, the actor now appearing on “Star Trek: Discovery,” says Kevin Spacey sexually assaulted him when he was 14. Kevin Spacey apologized by saying he was gay. This is wrong on so many levels.
Rapp was a child actor appearing on Broadway in 1986. As he told BuzzFeed News, he remembers going to Spacey’s apartment for a party when he was 14, and how Spacey “climbed on top of him, making a sexual advance” after everyone else had left. Since then, as Spacey has become an acclaimed actor, Rapp has watched his rise with anger and frustration.
Molesting a 14-year-old is a serious charge. Spacey responded with this apology on Twitter:
I have a lot of respect and admiration for Anthony Rapp as an actor. I’m beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.
This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my privacy. As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.
– Kevin Spacey
Compared to my other critiques of apologies — from Equifax to Harvey Weinstein — this would seem to be a model of correctness. Spacey apologizes directly to the person he harmed, his apology seems sincere, and he does not justify his own actions. So what’s the problem?
Why this apology is so terrible
Here’s what’s wrong with this apology:
- It admits nothing. Spacey says he doesn’t remember — he says “If I did behave then as he describes.” This is neither a denial nor an apology.
- It trivializes the problem. If you’re getting drunk and assaulting 14-year-olds — and don’t even remember — you’re a serious menace. But Spacey basically says “I must have been really drunk.” The implication is that he may have gotten drunk and done this other times, which would have been reprehensible. But hey, he doesn’t remember so it couldn’t have been that bad.
- It conflates being gay with being a child molester. As recently as 1999, 19% of straight men in the U.S. believed that gay people are more likely to be child molesters, even though there is no evidence to support this belief. Spacey’s desire for privacy may be connected to his sexual orientation, but that has nothing to do with his “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior” in 1986. As The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr points out, most of the headlines about Spacey focus on his “coming out” rather than what he did to Anthony Rapp.
Put simply, “I was drunk and I’m gay” is about the worst possible way to sort-of admit you messed up someone’s psyche by assaulting them — maybe — when they were 14 years old. The gender and sexual orientation of the people involved are irrelevant, as is the acting skill of the person accused.
Kevin Spacey’s apology admits nothing, trivializes the offense, reinforce prejudices against gay men, and turns the spotlight back on himself. Denying, trivializing, inflaming prejudice, and hogging the spotlight comes right from the Donald Trump playbook. Apparently, after playing a weaselly president on “House of Cards,” Kevin Spacey thinks it will work for him, too.