The closet is a toxic place, and anything toxic can be weaponized

I don’t want to spend a lot of time writing anything that isn’t NaNoWriMo right now, but sometimes there are stories in the news that I can’t let go by without some comment. The recent revelations of prominent men actually facing some consequences for their years of sexual harassment is (if these kinds of consequences stick around and we start believing women when they say they’ve been subjected to this treatment) a great thing. Some people are trying to make hay out of the fact that the most recent cases have been people in the entertainment industry, but please don’t be fooled. Every industry has this problem. This is a systemic societal manifestation of male privilege/rape culture.

A lot of other people have written about the general topic over the last few weeks, and there isn’t much point in me weighing in further, but one particular aspect does require some commentary: A Pattern Of Abuse: How Kevin Spacey Used The Closet To Silence His Victims. It’s not just straight men that behave abominably in this way. Gay Actors Open Up About Sexual Harassment In Hollywood: “I’m No Stranger To It”.

The first article I linked above looks at an aspect of this problem that doesn’t get talked about a lot: how the closet makes the problem especially bad for queer people: 1) a lot of straight people who either experience the harassment or witness is feel that they can’t say anything because doing so would out the people involved, and involuntarily outing another person is wrong; 2) if the victim of the harassment isn’t out, they feel that they can’t defend themselves because doing so would expose their secret. The article, unfortunately, focuses primarily on that first bit: how Spacey counted on people’s reluctance in order to continue his behavior with impunity. But I really wish the article had spent some more time on the second one, because I don’t think enough people understand just how bad it can be.

Particularly for young people, such as the second of Spacey’s accusers, who started a sexual relationship with Spacey when the victim was 14, and willingly went along with it for quite some time, until the incident when Spacey tried to force him to do a new sex act he wasn’t ready for (at the much more mature age of 15). This is another way that the closet plays into this kind of abuse, especially for queer teens. See, the kid has spent his whole life being scared to death that people will find out they are gay. They are convinced their families will reject them (and given how many do kick their gay kids out on the street, that isn’t an unreasonable fear), they fear all their friends will abandon them, and so on. At the same time, they are teen-agers, with hormones raging through their body, they have crushes on people that they can’t pursue, and so forth. There’s no socially acceptable way to explore those feelings, to take someone they like to the school dance, et cetera.

But then someone comes along and offers them part of what they crave: someone who desires them, someone who claims to have feelings for them, someone who will let them experience these things they’ve fantasized about. Never mind that the person is older (sometimes a lot older)–and what kid didn’t have at least one crush on an older person at some point–this is someone who is finally giving them something they thought they would never have. So they may go along with it. They may enjoy it, at least for a while. They may believe the other person actually cares about them. So, once they have gone that far, then they believe anything unpleasant that happens is their fault. They agreed, originally, right? They assume any of the bad feelings they have are because something is wrong with them, not recognizing that it’s the toxicity of the closet and the exploitive behavior of the other person that is at fault.

Whether they go along with it at all or not, they still can’t tell anyone. They can’t ask for help or advice, because doing so means admitting they’re queer, and then all of the things that they’ve feared will come true. So they suck it up and try to endure. Which continues the whole toxic cycle.

And let’s make something very clear. The reason they were targeted was because the older person suspected that they were gay. The abuser is looking for victims who may let them have their way, or who will give in to the harassment out of fear, or at the very least will stay silent because of that same fear.

This is the reason that Spacey’s attempt to use his coming out as an excuse when the first allegation came forward was so infuriating. By attributing the first assault to a “drunken mistake” and then saying he’s finally chooses to live as an openly gay man, he was trying to make himself the victims. While I’m sure that growing up a closeted queer kid was just as unpleasant for him as to any of the rest of us, he embraced the toxicity of the closet and used it to abuse other, generally younger guys. The truly sad thing is how many of the media initially let the tactic work, the headlines were about him coming out, not about the fact that he’d sexually assaulted a 14-year-old. Enough people called them on it (and more accusers came forward) that it shifted: Media Skewered For Focus On Kevin Spacey Coming Out Rather Than Harassment.

Spacey doesn’t get to hide behind the queer community. He doesn’t get to use booze and being closeted as an excuse to prey on teen-age boys again and again. He is not the victim in any of these cases. He’s a sexual predator.

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