Queering Kevin Spacey

Too young for Wiseguy, I recognized Kevin Spacey as a formidable actor after watching him play an office manager with more cunning than his colorlessness would suggest in the film version of Glengarry Glenn Ross. I wasn’t sure he coded queer onscreen until he and Judy Davis spent ninety minutes bitching in 1994’s forgotten The Ref. Three films in 1995 cemented Spacey’s eminence as Weird Villain Du Jour: Swimming with Sharks, Se7en, and, most known, The Usual Suspects, for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Spacey specialized in a silken, literate menace familiar to Robert Vaughan fans. Two performances fed, lamprey-like, on the signals he sent to gay audiences. As the corrupt cop in L.A. Confidential, Spacey has a spasm of conscience after setting up a wannabe James Dean clone with a closeted assistant district attorney; although director Curtis Hanson shows Spacey dancing with a woman in his first scene, it’s too perfect, and the way Spacey plays it he puts distance between himself and her even if they would’ve sleeping together; it’s as if he’s watching himself while filing his nails. And in 1999’s American Beauty the actor allows himself to figure in a couple of sight gags that are the equivalent of the wink-wink references to secrets concealed he likes to make at award shows: neighbor Chris Cooper, playing yet another closeted man in a Spacey film, looks in horror from his window as his son Wes Bentley seems about to go down on the older man.

A leading man at last, Spacey thereafter stumbled. Like Susan Sarandon, an essential spring snapped in his acting brain the moment he won Best Actor; what came easily to him looked pantomimed. Again, gay audiences could understand the intentional nullity of a character and a performance such as the one played and given, respectively, in K-Pax; Spacey wasn’t good enough an actor to hide human feeling while at the same time quashing the queer notes, as the epistemology of the closet teaches us. Or perhaps he was good enough of an actor but not fearless enough. He didn’t get Kevin Spacey Roles again until House of Cards‘ Frank Underwood but too late: the memory of an instinctive malevolence clung to every gesture, neutering him. Better is the ring leader in Baby Driver, where Spacey figures out that, at this stage in his career, he can best show lust for another man onscreen by being as curt as possible.

By now the world knows what likely happened between Spacey and actor Anthony Rapp in 1986 when Rapp was fourteen. Spacey’s statement doesn’t deny it happened; he says he doesn’t remember it happening, which newspaper veterans will note is a non-denial denial. Michelangelo Signorile makes a couple of well-intentioned mistakes in his column denouncing Spacey. When Spacey wrote, “I choose down to live as a gay man,” Signorile scoffed, “This is the language of the enemies of LGBTQ equality, who claim homosexuality is a choice.” Choosing to live publicly as gay is a choice; indeed, choosing to come out is a choice. Nathaniel Rogers makes a point I’ve seen often:

Soon we’ll see the tired old hateful tropes come to play wherein LGBT enemies and ignorant media will equate homosexuality (which is neither good nor evil but just is… like heterosexuality) with predatory behavior and illegal activities like sex with minors.

After two weeks of revelations that have likely proved career-ending for Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, and James Toback, I doubt the straight public will associate predatory behavior in which minors are targets as exclusively homosexual behavior. The Roy Moores thought we were evil before 2017. Let them think so and die.

A separate but related point: comporting oneself around the young remains a fraught topic in gay circles. The paranoia we feel is both one of the last vestiges of the closet and, I admit with regret, a necessary one. For terrified parents, how easy is it to think the predations of older men contaminated their sons. When I was eight, one of my grandmother’s closet friends, a married man who I learned years later led a double life with the wife’s consent, stopped visiting her home. We remain forever on guard around the young lest we provoke suspicions.

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