Imagine a 14-year-old boy. Let’s name him Andy.
Andy, even as a freshman, is a star on his high school baseball team and major league scouts have already noticed him. Andy’s Mid-West mid-size hometown boasts a New York Yankee minor league team and that team invites Andy’s high school squad to meet the players, get a tour of the complex, and attend a game. One of the professional players, 26-year-old Calvin Batley, is a celebrated Yankee who, because of a serious injury, is rehabbing on this AAA team. Batley seems to make a connection with Andy and a teammate, Damon, while on the tour and invites the two teens to sit in the dug-out during a game. The boys are thrilled by the attention and apparent recognition of their skills.
A week later, Batley invites Andy, but not Damon, to a party in his home. Andy sees this as an opportunity to talk baseball with and learn from an experienced, successful player. It is, he thinks, his first step in networking.
When Andy arrives at the party, he discovers a number of familiar baseball players in their 20s and 30s, some with wives or girlfriends, some alone. He also is introduced to several local celebrities like Channel 7 sports reporter Wade Warren and city commissioner Earl Crumm, neither of whom has a female companion. There are, however, no other teenagers present. Andy also is aware that alcohol is flowing freely at this party and, because of his age and his high school team’s rules, he cannot partake in the drinking. Within minutes, he realizes the conversations around him are too adult for him; he has no understanding of what the other guests are discussing. He also senses he is being ignored. As he winds his way through the crowd, he overhears one of the baseball players say, “What’s the kid doing here?” Out of boredom, Andy meanders down the hall on an exploratory mission and into Batley’s bedroom where he discovers a big-screen TV and inviting rocker-swivel chair. He turns on the TV and plops down.
As the movie he is watching ends, Andy realizes all the guests have left and he notices Batley wobbling in the bedroom doorway, a beer bottle in his hand. Before he has a chance to excuse himself for the night and thank his host, Andy watches Batley stagger toward him, put down the beer, and then, without warning, lift him out of the chair and lay him on his back on the room’s king-size bed. His drunken host falls on top of him, their faces a kissing distance apart. Andy manages to squiggle away and jump to his feet. “I’d better go,” he says.
“Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” Batley asks with slurred eyes.
Obviously, I’ve transformed the World of Broadway Theater, Kevin Spacey, and Anthony Rapp into the World of Baseball. Did I need to? Probably not. The incident 30 years ago speaks for itself. But I wanted to give events Rapp recently reported a different spin to see if reactions to them would differ. Was your reaction stronger because your perception of the aggressor was of a larger, more powerful man? Did you cringe more? Or did you think the 14-year-old held some responsibility for what happened? After all, he went to the party alone. He should have assumed the other guests would be adults. And his motive for attending was networking and career-advancement.
This has not been an easy piece to write. The subject is a difficult one, a complicated one. It requires people, many who have not done it before, to look inside themselves, to analyze the predatory aspect of their sexual lives, behavior, and values. I know there will be people who disagree with what I say. I know some friendships will be put in jeopardy. But what I say must be said. I begin by asking some questions.
Why did Spacey, at 26, do what he allegedly did? Did he, when he first met young Anthony Rapp at an industry networking event, pick up a “gay” vibe from the kid? Did Spacey’s gaydar penetrate his thick mahogany closet door and did he therefore rationalize it was OK to hit on the child? Did he think, “Well, the kid’s gay and curious, so he wants it.” when he was in denial of his own sexuality? Did Spacey even consider that young Rapp may not have been attracted to him because to many 14-year-olds, 26 is ancient? And, did Spacey not realize that their levels of experience, if the youngster had any, were most likely quite different?
But did it even matter to Spacey if Anthony Rapp were gay or straight? Did he think, on the other hand, since the youth was an aspiring actor, he would cooperate with him to further his career? Did Spacey ever consider how traumatic being seduced by an older man would be to most adolescents…gay or straight, or an actor?
Spacey, in his awkward apology, attributes his inappropriate behavior to alcohol. But was he drunk when he invited the teenager to an adult party? Was he drunk when he omitted inviting other youth so the one young man would be isolated from a support system? I think not. He knew exactly what he was doing.
Prior to Rapp’s recent revelation regarding Spacey, rumors about the two-time Oscar winner swirled far beyond Broadway or Hollywood. To those of us in the hinterlands of America, they were, however, limited to his sexual orientation, not his inappropriate behavior which was, apparently, well-known in the show business community. Those of us who tried to be fair to Spacey, attributed his carefully worded denials regarding his sexual orientation to his assumed need to protect his career; we’d heard this excuse before with other entertainers. Now we realize his denials may have been more about dysfunction and criminal behavior than self-preservation and professional interests.
It appears Spacey had a pattern to his predatory behavior. It was aggressive and inappropriate. But more important, he would act without permission or cues that it was OK. Spacey, reports say, would grab crotches in public places. Sometimes he would grab them from the outside of the victim’s clothing; but sometimes he would reach into his conquest’s pants. These incidents have continued, according to the reports, to the present and have involved men considerably older than Rapp was. Some of these incidents may have occurred in gay bars or involved gay people, but the implications have been many did not. Nor have the reports described the victims as aspiring actors wanting to further their career through Spacey. But none of that is relevant. What Spacey did was inappropriate, unsolicited, and illegal.
I suppose it is possible, because he was so deeply closeted, Spacey simply did not understand proper conduct in gay or informal mixed-crowd situations. But he should have understood that grabbing crotches of strangers or casual acquaintances is unacceptable. That is just common sense.
What caused Spacey’s dysfunctions or his outré methods of social interaction and expressing his sexuality is an area that certainly needs more exploration in light of the continuing accusations against him. Recently we were given a bit of insight into this by Spacey’s brother who said they lived with an abusive father. That may have been a contributing factor, but that does not excuse Spacey’s acts as a sexual predator. He, not his father, is responsible for his behavior.
I know there are gay men defending Spacey, blaming the victims. I’ve heard them. They make assumptions the victims all wanted some action or were angling to promote their career and/or signaled Spacey in some way that they were interested. These gay men say the groped men now, years after the fact, are playing victim for notoriety and money. To them, I ask how would you have felt at 14 or 18 or 21 if any man for whom you had no, I repeat no, sexual attraction, forced himself on you? I’d have been grossed out. To those men, I also say if you blame the victim, perhaps it is because you, in order to legitimize your behavior or thoughts, too, are a predator of sorts.
Is it fair for me, some people might ask, to judge Kevin Spacey or question his actions? And that is a valid point. Admittedly, during my post-college coming out years, I had a number of friends or casual acquaintances, in their 20s or 30s, who sought out high school boys for sex. As “chicken hawks” as they were then called, they not only were attracted to teenagers, but, oftentimes, were unscrupulous and predatory in their luring and seduction. In hindsight, I clearly was too tolerant of this behavior, as were many in the gay community. Perhaps it was accepted because, as societal outsiders and “sexual outlaws” we felt obligated to band together and accept one another. Perhaps it was because the concept of pedophilia and the damage it can cause was not widely known, discussed, or understood then. Perhaps it was because Gay Liberation and Gay Pride were new concepts and gay men were processing this new freedom without guidelines. But, in retrospect, those of us uncomfortable with the aggressive nature of many chicken hawks should have spoken up more.
Admittedly, I also, have always been attracted to younger guys. But in my case, they were men in the 18-30 age group. People who know me know that. But I also always knew what was appropriate, moral, and respectful. I may have commented on, joked about, or ogled individuals who could have been my younger brother, then son, and now grandson. But I never pressed the issue without permission, whether stated or otherwise; I never put a young man in an awkward, inescapable situation or embarrassed myself. Obviously then, while I am not perfect and I certainly have made errors in judgment, I, unlike Mr. Spacey, have never exploited a 14-year-old’s, or any teenager’s, inexperience or youthful horniness. I never took advantage of a position of power, such as a coach, boss, professional idol, or teacher.
And that brings me to my career in high school Special Education during which I was “out” the entire time. Even though I developed many friendships, mentor-relationships, and even fatherly roles with students during those years, I never crossed the line of inappropriate behavior. Never. I may have done or said things differently than other teachers would have, occasionally raising suspicions, but my methods and actions always put the students’ best interests, well-being, safety, and futures first.
Therefore, having been a young gay man who reluctantly socialized with predatory chicken hawks and as an older gay man who, although surrounded by high school boys, never acted inappropriately, it is fair for me to judge Kevin Spacey. It is fair for me to ask, why couldn’t you, Kevin, have acted with more courage, honor, respect, and appropriateness throughout your life?