Many people in the LGBT community will agree that coming out is an intensely personal and individual process. As a community whose members have faced so many years of judgment and pushback, most LGBT people can get on board with the idea that no one should be pushed to come out until he or she is ready — or judged for the process that gets him or her to that point.
A big “but” must be included, after recent events.
Kevin Spacey’s “coming-out announcement” this week should serve as a “How Not To” guide for LGBT people stepping out of the closet.
Spacey made the long-suspected reveal in direct response to actor Anthony Rapp’s public allegations of sexual assault. Rapp made the remarks in response to the widening movement of women and men coming forward with stories of surviving sexual violence.
According to Rapp’s account, he was 14 when Spacey, then 26, attempted to force himself on him at a Hollywood party.
Shortly after the claims were made, Spacey issued a statement saying he had no recollection of the incident, that he must have been intoxicated and that he apologized for any pain Rapp experienced. Oh, and that he’s gay.
It’s glaringly clear that Spacey attempted to deflect from the allegations with what he had to have known would be a newsmaking coming-out pronouncement. That he went ahead with that course of action anyway is a slap in the face to sexual-assault victims and to the LGBT community.
Using his sexuality to distract from the allegations steals any authenticity from his apology. It says to victims everywhere that their pain can be overshadowed by an aggressor’s own struggles. It says to LGBT people that coming out is a salacious occasion sure to have tongues wagging, rather than a deeply personal moment of self-reflection. And it gives a shot in the arm to those who have tried for years to conflate LGBT identity with pedophilia and other homophobia-fueled myths about sexual proclivities.
Using a coming-out process to manipulate public opinion about oneself — especially in light of alleged wrongdoing — cheapens the deeply personal and life-changing process that so many LGBT people have struggled with over the years.