31/10/2017 14:55 SAST | Updated 31/10/2017 14:55 SAST

Dear Queer People: You Are Not Paedophiles

Shame on you, Kevin Spacey.

Mike Marsland via Getty Images

Kevin Spacey's recent coming out has been a dark moment for the queer community.

Despite the heroic front-end of the story -- which lauds the Hollywood actor for his bravery in coming out -- the incident is marked by a complex ulterior motive, one which threatens to upend years of destigmatisation work done by queer communities around the world.

On Sunday Spacey responded to allegations that he sexually harassed actor Anthony Rapp in 1986, saying, "I honestly do not remember the encounter. It would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behaviour, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years."

Then, crucially, Spacey chose the moment of his apology for molesting a child to also come out about his secret life as a gay man -- which has long been rumoured in Hollywood.

"As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly, and that starts with examining my own behaviour."

The paltry apology for the trauma he allegedly inflicted on a 14-year-old Rapp aside, it's as though Spacey comes out only because he had already been 'outed' as a child molester and used the positive spin of coming out as a shield to protect himself from the inevitable backlash.

To make matters worse, the actor's public statement equates homosexuality with paedophilia, perpetuating one of the most painful and persistent stigmas that continues to affect queer communities, in South Africa and around the world: that gay men are all paedophiles.

The completely unfounded generalisation haunts both young and older gay men, who live under the scrutiny of an inherently anti-queer system that justifies its own homophobia by clinging onto these mythologies.

His coming out can also be seen as insinuating that gay men remain in the closet because they are actually just paedophiles.

As someone who came out at a young age, and who has faced this sort of fear in society, even among conservative family members concerned with my 'safety' among 'perverted' queer people, I blame people like him.

His selfish, painful actions make life so much more difficult.

It also wholly undermines Rapp's bravery in speaking up about what happened to him. Like one Twitter user so perfectly put it, "Kevin Spacey has just invented something that has never existed before: a bad time to come out."

Because of his actions, it will take years to convince people who looked up to him, like myself, that what Spacey did to Rapp all those years ago is not what all queer people do.

Yes, there will always be people who molest children, and some of them will be queer. But for every queer child molester, there are countless others out there for whom Spacey's actions are as alien as they are to everyone else who finds what he did unthinkable.

But that is not the point.

The point is that his actions might make queer people themselves believe that deep down they are all paedophiles, and force them to live in fear of a society that also believes that about them, and in fear of their own decisions.