When I was the same age actor Anthony Rapp was when Kevin Spacey made his now infamous drunken pass at him, I played a small role in an LA theater production of A Christmas Carol. The actor who played Scrooge was an old queen (as it was ok to say in those days) and he took an interest in me, a sheltered 14-year-old young man who had never before been in a professional show before. Soon, “Scrooge” was asking me to help him with his costume—and thanking me with long hugs in his dressing room.
It was in my nature to be helpful, to be kind to my elders. But, if I’m honest, I didn’t cut the hugs off sooner (I could have, I knew what they masked) because I enjoyed the attention, especially when that attention included an invitation to eat with the leads at a diner after the show.
Four years later (I’d just turned 18), I’m eating with my parents at Hamburger Hamlet (to celebrate my departure for Asia as a foreign exchange student) when, in the booth opposite us, a Famous Male Actor lasers at me a nakedly sexual, vulpine stare–which, half in fear and half in boldness, I return.
Three years after that—at film school–after a screening of a new Hollywood movie–I linger to talk to the film’s Director, who, in stark contrast to me, is neither young, nor handsome nor fit (he’s actually obese). But as he is quite interested in what I have to say about his movie (and I’m eager to learn about how it was made), the next day we’re zooming to Santa Barbara in his BMW for a mimosa-fueled brunch.
You aww, the calculation I applied that day to the director’s offer was the same one I’d applied, at 14, to “Scrooge’s” hugs. I knew full well the Director was (again, as we used to say) a “flamer.” And though I was comfortable with my basic heterosexuality, I’d long danced a tango with the flattering attentions of creative, gay men—men who often had “pull” in the fields–theater and film–that interested me most.
If the Stare had been a boost to my less-than-robust self-confidence, returning it had been training for the trickier dance with the Director later. In each of these incidents, I went along because I hoped that some of the knowledge and stature and renown of these men might rub off. And though I was aware that what I was doing was not without risk, I believed I could handle myself—i.e. keep things from going where I did not wish them to go.
“Young women have vast sexual power.” evolutionary biologist Heather E. Heyring wrote recently. “Everyone who is being honest with themselves knows this: Women in their sexual prime who are anywhere near the beauty-norms for their culture have a kind of power that nobody else has.”
That this also applies to young men vis a vis gay men goes without saying. I had that power at 14 when I allowed myself to be hugged by Scrooge. I had it at 18 at Hamburger Hamlet and I had it at 21 in Santa Barbara drinking OJ and Moet with the Director. I was aware of it and leveraged it. I wanted into the club that these men, by their accomplishments, had earned entry into. If the dues were a returned stare or a hug—I’d allowed the director to hug me, too–I would pay it.
In fact, had I possessed more foresight, I might have granted more than a hug. For streaks both fiercely independent and stubbornly idealistic have brought me little of the artistic success I dreamt of as a young man. Today, at 54–no longer able to leverage beauty or youth—and possessing the wrong sex and skin tone (male, Caucasian) to take advantage of today “diversity” hiring–I must rely entirely on my work to generate any pull I have in the business.
So, instead of adding my name to the legions of unknown–or like Spacey accuser Rapp–little known MeToo’ers, I thought I’d write this piece–to explain why I believe it would be unjust for me now to MeToo Scrooge (long dead), or MeToo the Famous Actor (openly gay and elderly) or MeToo the Director (ailing and forgotten).
I wanted to explain why, at 14, did I let a 70-year-old gay actor hug me at length. Why did I–only months into legal “adulthood”, choose to return the blatantly carnal gaze of a closeted MovieStar if I wasn’t gay myself? Why did I allow an obese, gay Director drive me up the coast to a fancy eatery when I knew that—in the Director’s mind—the excursion was really a date?
Why? Because I had power and agency. And I chose to exercise them. I was complicit.
The healthy libidos of these successful men not only reflected their considerable creativity but kindled it, too. And as with the apparently even more sexual –but also more gifted–Spacey, the artistic accomplishments of these men could no more be separated from their sexuality than my sheltered upbringing could be separated from my 14 or 18 or 21-year-old worldview.
I have—since grade school, when I first read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible–instinctively abhorred mob behavior. Unleashed in understandable response to long-tipped scales, MeToo has unfortunately ended up encouraging a posse of aggrieved online citizens to anoint themselves judge, jury and executioner. One is reminded of the townspeople in the Hank Fonda Western The Ox-Bow Incident, who hang two men without bothering to obtain–and weigh–conclusive evidence of their guilt.
Yet I, too, have succombted to this kind of behavior in the past. In between the Stare with the Famous Actor and Brunch with the Director, I attended acting school at a arts conservatory in the South. In my sophomore year, the Dean (who had a wife but was clearly gay) selected me to be a spear-carrier in the summer Shakespeare Festival he ran. This was a plum prize, coveted by my classmates. However, after I recited poorly a Shakespeare Sonnet in a surprise Voice class led by the Dean, I was informed that,
if I wanted to keep my spot in the Festival, I would have to meet the Dean for private sessions.
Not wanting to face the fact that my verse delivery was poor and that this accomplished man (attracted to me or not) could help me improve, I dropped out of school, blaming the Dean for my departure in a letter to faculty. As this was four decades ago, my letter went nowhere, and I moved home to LA, where I abandoned acting for good.
Was I indignant and self-righteous at how the Dean had treated me! The truth is, I’d feared the school would cut me after my 2nd year because my acting wasn’t good enough–and so I used the Dean’s attraction to me (and offer to tutor me privately) as an excuse to reject the school before it rejected me.
My father tried to get me to reconsider—but I would have none of it. Only now, four decades later, the Dean long dead, do I ask myself what might have occurred had I accepted the Dean’s offer? I was 6’1” and muscular—the Dean was an effete, middle-aged Englishman. There was absolutely no way he could have had his way with me had I not wished it. But had I worked with him I might have improved my verse skills and persisted at acting. Why couldn’t I have handled the situation—i.e. used my agency and assertiveness to see that things progressed in a direction I wished them to go?
Unfortunately, I will never know. What I do know is that these witch hunts—of greats like Spacey, Woody Allen, Louie C.K. and others—will do tremendous damage (present and future) to levels of excellence in the arts. Whether we like it or not (and I, for one, do not), victimhood culture–and the power of the mob in obeisance to it–is on the rise. Only this week, actor Liam Neeson was excoriated for having the gall to say that, forty years ago after the rape of a friend, he had very bad thoughts but didn’t act on them. Calls were immediately issued by the mob for his head.
O, lovers and patrons of great art (and those persistent strivers after it), how many superior artists must we lose for those in the posse to realize they’ve spawned a vast army of mediocrity, where the most virtuoso among us are no longer willing to mentor the next generation for fear of getting tripped up and then made to land on their own hot, funeral pyre?