First, I must apologize for doing something that can be confusing on E2: writing an essay about the implications of something, while that thing is still not fully described on here. I am sure the reader is familiar with the basic idea of #metoo, but I wish it had its own description here, before I talk about what I think one of its major complications will be.
Let me briefly describe "#metoo". #metoo is the latest incarnation of a public disgust for sexual harassment and assault, especially in the workplace. It started when Harvey Weinstein, a film producer who had a vague reputation of "womanizing" or being a "bad boy" was accused of outright rape. It caused many people, men as well as women, to stand up and tell stories of sexual harassment they had suffered. And it worked suddenly and effectively, and unlike in past years, there was very little waffling. People from senators to corporate presidents to actors were summarily dealt with. Things that would have once been swept under the rug or excused away were now treated with immediate speed and seriousness.
Which brings us to John Barrowman, British actor of stage and screen. Or it should bring us to John Barrowman, but so far, it hasn't. John Barrowman is known for a few things: he is a very handsome man. He is considered a serious stage actor in the London theater scene, but also has been in television and movies, sometimes just to pay the bills (including for the infamously bad Shark Attack 3: Megalodon), but also in more series roles, including on Doctor Who. Barrowman is also openly gay, in a way that used to be called flamboyant. His role on Doctor Who and Torchwood, as Captain Jack Harkness, broke barriers by showing a very openly bisexual character played by a very openly gay actor on a science-fiction program. And finally, and most importantly for our discussion, Barrowman's openness about his sexuality often manifests itself as being overtly sexual with fellow cast members, and sometimes with fans seeking autographs. And this is not a matter of accusation from others: in a song sung by David Tennant, Catherine Tate and himself, they laughingly reference his habit of exposing himself to his co-workers. This has been, apparently, his calling card for a long time.
The problem here is that with all the storm of accusations and the career ending repercussions it has caused, Barrowman's habits have not seemed to cause a stir in the entertainment industry. I think for many people, the fact that he is gay has a lot to do with it. And not only because as a gay man, we can think of his interactions with female colleagues as being without overt intentions. I think it also is because, for gay men who had to grow up in a homophobic world, the theater, and the community around it, was a way to escape destructive norms and prejudice. Someone can look at Barrowman's behavior as being part of a culture that has had to affirm and accept open sexuality after years of hiding.
Also, much of #metoo hasn't been just about sexuality: it has been about power, and abuse. Much of the protest against sexual harassment is about the power structures that enable and excuse it, as much as the actual behavior. And those power structures are often looked at in terms of the power of heterosexual masculinity. Gay men's sexuality, it seems, is not part of that power structure, so it is not as innately abusive. (Except, of course, for Kevin Spacey). I mean, it is kind of hard for me to look at a video of John Barrowman giggling gleefully as Carol Burnett has a wardrobe malfunction in the middle of a musical number, and see it as the attitude of an abuser.
But, the problem is, not just in the case of John Barrowman, but in the case of many people (including, more than once, myself): not everyone is in on the joke. If we want to have rules about how we conduct ourselves, they have to be real rules. We can't say "sexual harassment is wrong, unless you are handsome, unless you are gay, unless you are a character". Many other people, such as Al Franken, could make a case that the claims of sexual harassment against them were taken out of context, that at least some of the behavior took place in a world where it was understood normal norms weren't in effect. Because if we don't have rules that everyone has to follow, what we have aren't rules, but merely a system of privilege: sexual harassment is only wrong if you are unattractive, socially unskilled, or of low status.
But on the other hand: as a society, we generally accept that being open to sexuality is an okay thing. We accept that people expressing themselves sexually, expressing that they are a sexual being and that their desires are not shameful, is a healthy and good thing. Especially in artistic pursuits, the ability to be open about what we are, and what we feel, the ability to broadcast thoughts and feelings that normally would be "non-public", is a thing that cultures have to embrace, one way or another. When they don't, it generally leads to repression of normal feeling and expression, that then comes out in very unhealthy ways.
So this question really isn't about John Barrowman, whose degree of personal offense I can't really guess on based on what stories I have read. The question is: how do we apply the rules to everyone? And how do we apply those rules in a way that people are respected, but that at the same time, people are allowed to express their feelings without shame? What is the correct amount of openness we should have in our conduct?