Kevin Spacey Gets Into Gay Privacy DebateS

When an interviewer pushed him on the subject of public sexuality, the notoriously cagey Spacey got defiant, exposing a larger divide on questions of privacy.

When I was a Freshman in college the school hosted a screening of "American Beauty", followed by a panel discussion. Kevin Spacey and Thora Birch and the creepy videocamera kid were all there, and Spacey was relaxed and forthcoming and nice. But then one really earnest kid asked,

"How do you feel this film addresses the issue of homosexuality in the suburbs?"

"I didn't realize 'homosexuality in the suburbs' was an issue," said Spacey. "Next, kid in the dragon shirt."

Apropos of not very much, but ever since "homosexuality in the suburbs" has been my shorthand for a panel-derailing Q&A.

Anyway...although this Daily Beast interview was ostensibly about Spacey's new film, "Casino Jack", interviewer Kevin Sessums broached the subject of Spacey's long-rumored homosexuality. And when Spacey made the "it's nobody's business" argument, Sessums — who is openly gay — disagreed.

Sessums: But that's where we differ. I don't think being gay is a private matter. Heterosexuals don't consider their heterosexuality itself a private matter. I'm not asking you what goes on behind a locked door anymore than I would ask a heterosexual. I'm not asking if you're a top or bottom. That's none of my business.

Spacey: Let's enlarge the subject even more. I think what we have seen in terms of gay teenagers committing suicide because of bullying is anguishing. I think young people, if they are feeling like they are confused, need to know that there are people to talk to and that there are places they can go and not feel alone. But I feel that they have just as many rights as I do to not be bullied. And I don't understand people who say, "Well, this is a terrible thing that is happening to this young person whose life is being exposed," and then turn around and do it to another person. People have different reasons for the way they live their lives. You cannot put everyone's reasons in the same box. It's just a line I've never crossed and never will.

Those looking for some definitive statement might be heartened — or not — by Spacey's concluding comment: "Look, at the end of the day people have to respect people's differences. I am different than some people would like me to be." But the issue here is not even one actor's sexuality. It's about whether a public figure in this day and age owes it to the gay community to self-identify, an ongoing battle. Sessums alludes to "It Gets Better" videos as an example of the positive impact public ownership can have. Spacey, for his part, likens the pressure to come out to the same bullying that these videos deplore. But what of the argument that to deny something contributes indirectly to discrimination? Could Spacey, as an outspoken advocate of gay rights and same-sex marriage strengthen his argument by coming out (one way or another)? And the larger question becomes, can we separate the belief from the believer — something prominently at play in the public eye right now as the Wikileaks scandal swirls. It can't be denied that, deliberately or not, Spacey is somehow giving into the culture of homophobia. It's not like anyone feels the need to attach this level of privacy to a wife and children, and that in itself is telling.

But is that his responsibility? In Spacey's case, like Anderson Cooper's, it's not as though he's marching around with a beard or (lately) publicly denying his sexuality one way or the other. Rather, as an actor — and a chameleon of an actor, at that — he's chosen not to color audience perception by making his personal life an inextricable part of the package. (Fair enough: see any Angelina Jolie film for the pitfalls inherent therein.) Indeed, he's as close to a blank slate as we have — and if that's required moving to England and making his private life taboo, so be it.

Kevin Spacey On Casino Jack [Daily Beast]