“Netflix dumps Kevin Spacey from ‘House of Cards,’” the Entertainment Weekly headline announced. The article, by Derek Lawrence, went on to summarize the nasty but delicious story, which broke on BuzzFeed. (Oh, come on! Don’t tell me your outrage isn’t tempered by even a teensy-weensy bit of pure delight. It’s a sex scandal!) “It’s been less than a week since ‘Star Trek’ actor Anthony Rapp came forward with allegations that a then-26-year-old Kevin Spacey made sexual advances towards Rapp when he was 14 years old. The ‘House of Cards’ star issued a public apology, though he said he didn’t remember the incident. He also used the statement to come out as gay.”
A link at the end of the last sentence led to an article, also on EW.com, by Lynette Rice, in which Rice reported what Spacey’s public statement actually said: Rapp’s story “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 relationships 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.”
A mob quickly formed. Haul out the guillotine! Rice’s article included a number of outraged people who lashed out at Spacey for, well, let’s let them speak for themselves: “GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said, ‘coming out stories should not be used to deflect from allegations of sexual assault.’” The out lesbian comedienne Wanda Sykes tweeted, “No no no no no! You do not get to ‘choose’ to hide under the rainbow!” Another out comedian, Billy Eichner, tweeted, “That Kevin Spacey statement. Nope. Absolutely not. Nope.” He also wrote that Spacey had “invented something that has never existed before: a bad time to come out.” In a third tweet, reported by TMZ, Eichner added, “But honestly I hesitate to make jokes because the Spacey statement is truly disgusting, irresponsible and dangerous.” “This is changing the subject,” Frank Rich tweeted bluntly, “Rapp’s charge is pedophilia.”
PERSPECTIVE: Media Circus
The most valid point is Rich’s. The other commentators seem to me to be kind of defensive, as though they want to make absolutely sure that nobody comes away from this scandal associating being gay with committing crimes. Anyone with even half a brain knows that being gay has no connection whatsoever with harboring a taste for sexual assault. And if you don’t know it already, you’re hardly likely to learn it from a tweet.
Dennis Hensley takes a more nuanced view. In the interest of full disclosure, Hensley and I have been friends for a long time; we both wrote for the UK edition of Premiere in the 1990s, and in fact we saw Anthony Rapp in “Rent” together. “My first thought when I read his statement was, “And the GLAAD Award goes to…’ I mean that sarcastically, of course,” Hensley told me via email. “He really seems to have contempt for the gay community. At least that’s how it feels to me as a gay person. That statement was even more tone deaf than when he hosted the Tony Awards back in June and did shtick about not coming out. That really pissed me off. I remember saying to the friends I was watching it with, ‘He’s doing tacky closet jokes! Meanwhile, how many chorus boys go you think he’s accosted backstage?’”
Of course the urtext of all of this is Harvey Weinstein, the priapic and decidedly former film executive who stands accused of everything from displaying his penis to women to raping them. Weinstein didn’t face the problem Spacey did. Everybody knew that Weinstein is a straight cad. Everybody also knew Spacey is gay, the only problem being that Spacey had never acknowledged the fact in public. By not coming out much earlier in his career, Spacey really had no choice but to do it at the very beginning of this sordid story — in other words, in the same statement in which he apologized to Rapp. Had he not come out at the very start of the mess, he could never have done it later without looking like a fool. Damned when he doesn’t, damned when he does.
We now turn to an unlikely source for more information. Breitbart — yes, Breitbart! — picked up on a story in the Advocate that revealed that the magazine knew about Rapp’s ugly encounter with Spacey but decided not to publish the story. “In 2001,” Breitbart writer Charlie Nash reports, quoting the Advocate’s October 31 revelation, “‘Rent’ actor Anthony Rapp and Dennis Hensley — a former freelance writer for the Advocate — were both promoting CD releases at the time. Hensley believed he asked the LGBT magazine’s then-editor in chief, Bruce C. Steele, for ‘a little online space’ to help promote these projects. But at one point during the brief back-and-forth, Rapp broached the topic of closeted actors. And a bombshell dropped. ‘That makes me think of [a certain leading man] in [a certain award-winning film],’ said Hensley at the time — the name and film were redacted in the final published article.”
Nash continues: “In response, Rapp reportedly declared, ‘It’s hard for me to evaluate his acting because I’m so angry at him. I met him when I was 14 because we were both in plays and he invited me to a party at his house. I was bored, so I was in his bedroom watching TV and didn’t know everybody had left, and he came to the bedroom and he picked me up and lay down on top of me.’
“‘Oh, my God! What did you do?’ replied Hensley in 2001.
“‘I squirmed away and went into the bathroom,’ Rapp claimed. ‘I came out and I excused myself, and he’s like “You sure you want to go?” I always wonder if he remembers it, because he was pretty drunk. And he’s had so many.’”
As it turns out, Spacey claims not to remember it.
As Breitbart’s Nash puts it, “The Advocate then attempted to justify the reason why they didn’t release Spacey’s identity. Hensley’s memory is fuzzy about the conversation with Steele, regarding how Spacey’s name was redacted. He said he may have been ‘seasoned enough’ at the time to not even type Spacey’s name in his first draft, because he knew ‘it would never run’ if he did.”
Last week’s Advocate piece quoted Hensley saying, “It just felt like a lot more of a legal mess than we’d want to get into. We weren’t doing a big exposé. We were just having a conversation about music and stuff.”
“I never thought for a second that it would get published with Spacey’s name,” Hensley told me. “The Advocate had a policy of not outing people, and speaking for myself, I wouldn’t have wanted to risk whatever the legal ramifications might have been at that time. I supported the blind item treatment because I felt like it was a way to say to the reader, ‘This kind of stuff goes on and yeah, it’s probably the person you think it is’ without getting into legal trouble.”
The Advocate’s “no outing” policy had a key exception: it would out a celebrity if it was a “criminal case,” which the magazine’s editor, Steele, decided Spacey’s wasn’t. Steele made the right call, even though he might have been technically wrong. After all, Spacey didn’t fuck a 14-year-old. He simply climbed on top of him for the few seconds it took Rapp to escape from under him. It may have been sexual assault, but without any supporting evidence — other kids with similar tales, for instance — the Advocate might have found itself with a wide expanse of legal exposure.
What’s different about the decision faced by BuzzFeed in recent weeks? Times have changed in the media, for one thing; what was unacceptable in 2001 is perfectly fine in 2017. Also, Spacey has had ample time since 2001 to generate rumors about his taste for cock. I guarantee that nobody at BuzzFeed was surprised about Rapp’s claim.
Hensley recalls that his story attracted next to no attention at the time. “Back then, I don’t think that very many people even read the article. I don’t recall one person saying to me, ‘Hey, I read the piece with you and Anthony Rapp on Advocate.com. Who was the famous actor he was talking about?’ No one asked about it. I forgot that it was even part of the article. I remember Anthony telling me the story, and I would think of it whenever I’d see Spacey on screen, but I thought he might have told me at a party or something. It wasn’t until I saw the Buzzfeed piece that I remembered it was part of the article we did together.”
Since BuzzFeed broke the story, however, many other men have accused Spacey of sexual harassment, with eight staff members of “House of Cards” alleging he acted in a predatory fashion toward young men working on the show, and Richard Dreyfuss’ then-18-year-old-son Harry saying that Spacey groped him in the same room in which his father was sitting reading a script, but that Richard Dreyfuss was so engrossed in the script that he didn’t notice that Spacey was grabbing his son’s dick through his pants. Gee, it appears that Kevin Spacey is even more skeevy than Frank Underwood, his (former) character on “House of Cards.” I didn’t think it was possible.