Oxford English Dictionary definition "A raised floor or platform,typically in a theatre, on which actors, entertainers or speakers perform"
This was an absolutely relevant example of one man’s struggle
The moral outrage about Kevin Spacey coming out as gay as he’s accused of sexually abusing actor Anthony Rapp when he was a 14-year-old boy rings hollow. ‘How dare you?’ asked the Guardian’s Owen Jones arguing that he was ‘fuelling a vicious lie’ which links gay men with child sex abuse.
How many human beings, I wanted to ask Owen Jones, are utterly straightforward in their sexuality? How many completely understand their own sexuality? How many have never behaved sexually ambiguously, against their own or another’s better judgement?
Sexuality is both an expression of our vibrancy and a barometer of our emotional wellbeing. Each plays into the other as we seek to make sense of ourselves in the world, reaching out and trying to create what we want in life, while trying not to get burnt; the path we tread between risk and safety.
Sexuality often seems to have a life of its own, independent of rational decision making. It’s a reflection of a part of ourselves that psychological theory makes great attempts to understand and unpick, though I suspect has a long way to go.
For those who have both enjoyed a fulfilling sex life, and always behaved sexually impeccably throughout their lives, well done. I suspect you are in a minority. I’m not attempting to defend Kevin Spacey’s inappropriate advances on a 14-year-old boy, which clearly left their scars. I’m simply saying don’t pretend that there’s not and shouldn’t be a link between that behaviour and confusion about sexual identity.
To my mind the Kevin Spacey revelation demonstrates just how hard it still is for people to come to terms with being gay - or, in fact, any representation that is outside the sexual norm - and this act, more than 30 years ago, was an absolutely relevant example of one man’s personal struggle with this. Drunkenness, as it doesn’t take great insight to see, often brings out sides to people they’ve been trying to suppress.
The outrage suggests that we understand all there is to know about sexuality, and there are guardians out there - Owen Jones chief among them - who can simply tell us how to behave, what’s expected of us as human beings, the limits and extremities of our permitted behaviour. It’s a view just as bigoted as those of the gay oppressors. And as the LGBT community becomes increasingly vocal, will they too start to sound more and more authoritarian about right and wrong, good and bad?
To claim there is no link between gay men and abuse is like saying there’s no link between freedom fighters and terrorism. It’s precisely because there was a closet that this link emerged. Try to keep something as natural as human sexuality in and down, fail to give it oxygen, and it will emerge in all kinds of uncontrolled and possibly dangerous ways.
Similarly, sexuality and power are often presented as distinct. Yet to believe that power is and should be no part of our sexuality is an impossible dream. We are attracted to people’s strength as well as their vulnerability, and recognising for ourselves when any of us is abusing our power, as we struggle to make the best of ourselves and our lives, is the holy grail - certainly something to aim for, probably impossible to achieve. I say this as I emerge from a broken marriage, with two teenage children. We’re all doing pretty well and each of us, in our way, has fought to keep our eyes in the moral compass as we’ve veered between anger and love, humiliation and compassion, grief and remorse... while also rebuilding our lives and changed sense of family.
So when I read Owen Jones’s outright condemnation of another human being’s behaviour, I want to caution. I want to say, can’t we just listen to Kevin Spacey, hear his whole story? And, of course, Anthony Rapp’s? Could debate and discussion not simply be about who can shout the loudest? Then maybe we could learn something. Something worthwhile about what it is to be human. Five hundred years after Martin Luther began the Protestant revolution, it behoves us all to remember that bigotry comes in all guises - and that it’s our condemnation of the sinners that that says most about us and our humanity.
Thanks @Kate Edgley . I appreciate the opening up of our discussion and thinking about sex, sexuality, relationships, power that you're assisting here. I've been pleased also to listen to the recent feature on R4's Women's hour about sex and relationship. I hadn't read Owen Jones' article until I read yours. Owen's main reaction seems to be fear and accompanying outrage. I don't think that the quote he uses from Kevin Spacey particularly illustrates his point about, that Spacey is simply hiding behind coming out. I do, however, have a growing understanding of why Owen might be so terrified. I really agree that it will be for the better when all of us have space to look at the complexity of who we are and how we have behaved. In broader terms, I think our confusions and struggles have all occurred within an extremely problematic social matrix. So I grew up in a world of sexism, bizarre confusing and contradictory role models, punishment and reward, mass media domination, religion, conformity...and all the other distortions that we're some how supposed to navigate. When all this is taken into account, of course sex, intimacy and relationships are full of hazard. `It's amazing that any of us makes it through at all. We're going to need to build social structures and cultures, rules that support and change as we are now. I would contend that we've all hurt someone somehow, we've all been unaware we've all been bystanders or chosen to ignore something. I agree with you, that we've all got some complicated navigating to do, which will require understanding, wisdom, rigour, compassion. Sound bites and indignant condemnation simply don't work . The good news is that I think there's a good chance we can move forward on this, and that messy discussions could be part of a hopeful future ...
Thanks Ralph. I really appreciate your thoughtful and considered response. It’s exactly the kind of intelligent, open debate I see Campfire standing for
Interesting article @Kate Edgley (Kate) and a very complex area of human emotions, behaviour, cultural and societal norms that merits debate.
The aspect I struggle with is how to respect the voice of the victim in all of this - given that I’m starting from the premise that the 14 year old was a victim of predatory behaviour, even if that behaviour was driven by a degree of confusion on behalf of the adult in this case. Transferring your sexual attentions to children is not ok. Using your confusion and ongoing struggle to acknowledge your own sexuality as an excuse for attempting to have sex with a child is not ok.
The dialogue around paedophilia and what motivates and drives that behaviour needs to be held at a distance from the dialogue about identifying and coming to terms with ones sexuality as an adult. I don’t see it as helpful to conflate the two, although exploring the reasons why an adult (like Spacey) would choose to do this may give an insight into his world view.
One of the things that had struck me as this whole #metoo narrative has unfolded ( and continues to do so), is how adults with a predatory nature seem to have no problem identifying and accessing those they see as vulnerable and easy to compromise.
It’s abuse of power. Simultaneously complex and simple. Is it ok? Not in my world.
Thanks Nadia. Your response is a very clarifying read on the distinction and relationship between sexuality and power. Not losing sight of the victim’s voice is, I agree, imperative and would, ideally, go alongside hearing from the perpetrator so that we/they might deepen our/their understanding of the extremely subtle ways in which power corrupts. A kind of restorative justice I suppose
Approaching a 14-year-old boy has NOTHING to do with being gay in my opinion. And it doesn't help to conflate gayness with paedophilia AT ALL. "Sexuality often seems to have a life of its own, independent of rational decision making" Well I can think of many rapists, sexual abusers - Donald Trump included - who would be happy with that assertion. I'm not. I totally agree our sexuality is a minefield of all sorts of contradictions - or a beautiful spectrum -
but if you've ever had someone close to you having to deal with sexual abuse at a young age - the trite remark that it has "left its scars" totally misunderstands how this wrecks lives. If you're a cognisant adult you would understand this - otherwise what age is OK? It is NO excuse. Society does have norms for good reason and we all need to call out for the taboos that are rightfully in place and dispute the ones that are mere bigotry.
Dear Sylvia, I may have hit a raw spot for you and others on Campfire Facebook (where Pete flagged my article where it met similar responses to yours). I would like you to know that this was not my intention and I’m sorry for any lack of sensitivity on my part. There is of course no intrinsic link between sexuality and the abuse of a child. It’s the way sexuality, as a powerful force, can lead people to abuse that power and, of course, conflate it - as we have been seeing with #metoo - with other powers they hold that I think needs looking at very carefully. It’s such a prevalent phenomenon in the human race and my concern is that shouting it down (as I believe Owen Jones did) doesn’t move our understanding - and therefore our ability to effect change - further on. With all good wishes, Kate
I already guessed it wasn't your intention. However, I still think you miss the point rather than hits 'a raw spot' (which sounds like it's MY problem), this is not about the 'powerful force of sexuality' but very simply about Power. I think Spacey wanted to blur all those issues which is why he went with the 'coming out' thing. Let's be clear when you want to dominate someone to get whatever you want you will use whatever tools are to hand. To think that the desire to have power and control has anything to do with sexuality is wide of the mark. But thank you for explaining.
Thanks for responding Sylvia. I agree entirely that this is about power and it’s misuse - and that that is what occurred with Kevin Spacey. And I am curious about how and why that happens in human beings, as it does in all of us, I believe, only many don’t recognise that that is what they are doing (either because of self denial or ignorance) or understand the impact until it is exposed by others. I think this is what is emerging in a big way with #metoo. It was Owen Jones’s ‘abuse of power’ if you like - the use of his position as a respected left wing national newspaper commentator - when he reacted with a kind of tabloid rage (‘How dare you Kevin Spacey...’) - that I was calling out. It’s easy cheap journalism to stoke rage in that way, and he could have done something so much more intelligent and thought-provoking. My comment that I may have hit a ‘raw spot’ was in response to your saying ‘if you’ve ever had someone close to you having to deal with sexual abuse at a young age...’ which made me think that perhaps there was a young person in your life who had been sexually abused. It’s a very tricky area and, as Nadia Chambers pointed out, it’s crucial not to lose the voice of the victim. Personally I’ve been shocked by the heated response on Facebook to my article (and am no longer looking at responses there) and I realise that my interest lies with the perpetrators of sin, simply because I believe we are all that at some point in our lives. When a famous person’s sin is exposed in this way, it’s the moral superiority and self righteous indignation of others (particularly from another person in power, like Owen Jones) that interests me most. I’m grateful to Campfire for the opportunity for more reasoned debate and the responses I’ve had here, including our discussion, have helped me develop my thoughts and understanding on this issue.