Many gay men hesitate before coming out because they are worried about the affect it will have on their career. And the more famous they are, the more anxious some of them become.
So I have some sympathy for Kevin Spacey, who has hidden his sexuality for years.
When he was starting out in Hollywood in the mid-1980s, there was the added the hysteria around the Aids crisis, which fuelled an already rampant outpouring of homophobia. It was also a time when many people in the UK equated gay men with sexual predators who couldn’t be trusted around children. This prejudice formed the basis of Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which prohibited local authorities from doing anything to “promote” homosexuality, in particular to impressionable schoolchildren.
But to finally come out today – in answer to an allegation of sexual misconduct dating back to 1986, against a then 14-year-old actor – represents an appalling betrayal of the gay community.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the Supreme Court judges who voted to make same-sex marriage legal across the US in 2015, said the reason the top court in America reached its decision was because its members had got to know gay men and realised they were no different to anyone else.
That tells me that the best way to combat the myths that still exist around gay people is for gay men in all walks of life to stand up and be honest about their sexuality. But Spacey’s comment today gives the bigots the chance to once again brand homosexuals as perverts out to seduce minors.
Spacey has had plenty of opportunities to come out; not least in 2004, when he was robbed in a London park in the early hours of the morning and, in answer to the suspicion that he’d been cruising, insisted he’d merely been walking his dog.
Rumours about the Oscar-winning actor’s sexuality have circulated online ever since.
But he stayed silent. He stayed silent while Ian McKellen’s career flourished as an openly gay actor. He stayed silent when younger stars, such as Ezra Miller and Ben Whishaw, came out. He stayed silent when Sam Smith released one of the biggest-selling albums of the past decade, which was about his unrequited love for another man. And he stayed silent when Moonlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture earlier this year.
In short, he stayed silent as the world around him changed, as Western society began to value authenticity above all else, and as opposition to gay men began to fade.
Only now has he come out, in a bid to be excused of something he doesn’t deny but says he can’t remember if it happened or not. Either way, it is totally unrelated to his sexuality as a gay man.
Little wonder then that there’s been a backlash from the gay community.
But as a community we can be understanding; many of us have struggled with our sexuality and have made mistakes while revealing it to those around us. So, it’s possible 58-year-old Spacey might atone for his mistake and win back the respect of gay men. I’m interested to see what he does or says next.
But, in the meantime, his statement today represents one of the worst examples of coming out ever recorded.