On Queerness, Sexual Violence, Anthony Rapp And Me

Men are using sexuality as a shield to protect their abusive behavior.
Actor and singer Anthony Rapp
Actor and singer Anthony Rapp

Aside from the first two in what are likely to be a series of indictments against Trump campaign officials, the other top news story I woke up to was Kevin Spacey, an actor whose work I have always respected, both admitting to “drunkenly” making sexual advances towards “Rent” star Anthony Rapp and to being gay.

Almost immediately, I felt a visceral kind of rage ― the kind where everything else around you loses any sort of significance and your vision narrows around one particular issue. At first I assumed this was because of my admiration for both men ― I just rewatched “American Beauty” a few days ago and was jamming out to the “Rent” soundtrack last night on the way home from a concert ― but soon realized it was something deeper. It was more affecting than just the mental shift I had to make in thinking about them and their work. It was the fact that Anthony Rapp was me.

Almost immediately, I felt a visceral kind of rage... Anthony Rapp was me.

Obviously we are not literally the same person, but the parallels between our stories were disturbing. Rapp was 14; I was 15. He was preyed upon by a much older man who says he was under the influence of alcohol; I was preyed upon by a man a few years older than me who admitted in a trembling voice that he knew what he did was wrong, that there was a power dynamic which he had exploited in order to violate me. We also look somewhat alike ― I’ve always imagined that I’d be a perfect casting choice were any of the theater groups I participated in ever to put on a production of “Rent.”

But perhaps the most chilling similarity was that both of the men who preyed upon us used their sexuality as a defense mechanism, deflecting blame and eschewing responsibility from themselves. While it’s not clear whether Spacey’s overall argument was that he was confused or simply trying to steer the conversation away from his misdeeds, for my perpetrator that was exactly his defense.

I have not written about this before, and I will not again. This is, to the best of my recollection, the defense mechanisms and tactics of distraction used by the man who attacked me. I want to stress that this is in no way definitive, but an attempt by me to highlight the ways in which men use sexuality as a shield to protect their abusive behavior.

* * *

I first met him in the winter of 2010/2011. I can’t remember exactly when it was, or under what circumstances, but we connected instantly. He was two years older than me, carried himself with the kind of poise I associated with someone secure in themselves and had a wide circle of friends. He was an athlete, a swimmer, and had the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen. He was kind to his friends, charming and funny. He had a big laugh, the kind that was contagious. There was a kind of magnetism he possessed that I have yet to find in anyone else.

As we became friends, there were warning signs that his intentions were not entirely pure. For starters, he began aggressively asking me for explicit photographs of myself, which I refused to take or send. Even when I said no, he insisted on asking. Sometimes I would deflect in an attempt to get him to leave it alone and ask him to send me some, which he never would. The difference was that I left it alone when he said no; and if I’m being honest, I didn’t want to receive any such photos in the first place.

I had also heard stories from mutual friends that he had made seemingly random attempts to engage them in sexual acts. As far as I and most others knew, he was gay. However, I remember a female friend at the time telling me that while they were at his house watching movies, he asked her to perform a sexual act. She refused, asking something to the effect of “I thought you were gay?” He deployed some answer about how he was confused, or maybe bisexual, but did not to my knowledge pursue the issue further.

In retrospect, the repeated requests for sexual acts on his part represented a pattern of aggressive sexual behavior that he explained away as being part of his sexual experimentation. This kind of experimentation is not in itself a bad thing; however, his decision to couch this behavior, which was abnormally aggressive, as being natural was dishonest and dangerous. Plenty of people experiment sexually and do so consensually, respectfully and honestly. He did not. 

Plenty of people experiment sexually and do so consensually, respectfully and honestly.

The day he assaulted me ― two days before Christmas in 2011 ― we spent lunch at a local Panera talking about our plans for the break. He boasted about how one of his close friends had given him glow in the dark underwear and a copy of “Brokeback Mountain,” and how he planned to watch the film in nothing but his new boxers. In retrospect, this comment was completely inappropriate, even for a 17-year-old. But at the time, it represented to me a kind of powerful acknowledgment of sexuality, one that I was still struggling to attain. And he used that aggressively a half hour or so later when he assaulted me in the front seat of his car.

* * *

This brings me back to Kevin Spacey’s defense or at least contextualization of his conduct in terms of his sexuality. The vast majority of gay men do not assault or harass anyone. Those that do consciously use their power in a way that violates the boundaries and autonomy of their victims. But for Spacey to imply that sexual confusion ― or at least sexual attraction ― was somehow related to his conduct sets a dangerous precedent.

For Spacey to imply that sexual confusion was somehow related to his conduct sets a dangerous precedent.

It allows men like the one who assaulted me to believe that their queerness recuses them from accountability for predatory behavior. It sends the message that conservatives and evangelicals are right to believe all gay men are pedophiles and child rapists. And it reinforces the idea that there are special circumstances in which certain men get a “get of jail free” card because of who they are.

Today’s news confirms a powerful truth that I and too many others have known for a long time: Gay men are rapists and sexual predators too. The LGBTQ community has a serious issue with how it deals with sexual violence. I can only hope that today’s disturbing news encourages some much-needed self reflection on how we are going to eradicate this scourge from without and from within.