Straight man experiments with being gay

I meant to write about this earlier in the week, but I simply forgot until earlier this morning.

Apparently, Timothy Kurek, a straight Christian evangelical, thought it would be just awesome to appropriate the life of a gay man just to get an understanding of what it’s like to have one’s sexual preference maligned day in and day out.

Kurek embarked on his year-long journey after he learned a lesbian friend was “excommunicated” from her family after she came out of the closet. All this evangelical could do was try to convert her to his form of Christianity, but added he was disgusted by his own thoughts. So, he decided to do something drastic: pretend to be gay for a year, starting on Jan. 1, 2009.

He apparently came out to his family, got a job at a coffee shop and even recruited a friend to pose as his boyfriend during the experiment.

The experience – which stopped short of Kurek getting physically intimate with other men – is documented in Kurek’s recent book “The Cross in the Closet,” which has received international attention, landed him on ABC’s “The View” and elicited some biting criticism.

The book is the latest entry on a growing list of experiential tomes revolving around religion. They include Rachel Held Evans’ recent “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” in which the author follows the Bible’s instructions on women’s behavior and Ed Dobson’s “The Year of Living Like Jesus,” which had the author “eat as Jesus ate. Pray as Jesus prayed. Observe the Sabbath as Jesus observed.”

For Kurek, his year as a gay man radically changed his view of faith and religion, while also teaching him “what it meant to be a second class citizen in this country.”

Oh, how edgy for a straight white man to shock us all by pretending to be one of the others! How proud we all should be for his strength, dedication and bravery to pose as gay!

If you still haven’t thrown up in your mouth yet, here’s more from the story:

For years, Kurek says, the only life he had was “his church life.” Being an evangelical Christian was his identity.

He was home-schooled until seventh grade, almost all of his friends were from church and his social life was a nightly string of faith-based events, from church sports to a Christian Cub Scout troop. “It was the only thing I was used to doing,” said Kurek, who attended Liberty University, the largest evangelical university in the world, before dropping out after freshman year.

Kurek grew up in an “independent Baptist church.” “We were evangelical,” he said, “but we were more conservative than evangelical, too.”

His churchy lifestyle led to some deeply held views about homosexuality. Most evangelical churches condemn homosexuality as sinful. Many rail against certain gay rights, like gay marriage.

I had been taught to be wary of gays,” Kurek writes of his beliefs pre-experiment. “They were all HIV positive, perverts and liberal pedophiles.”

Those views began to be challenged in 2004, when he first encountered Soulforce, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group, on Liberty’s campus. The group made the school an important stop on its cross-country tour targeting colleges that they alleged treated LGBT people unfairly.

Kurek was struck by what he had in common with the protesters at Liberty. “It really impressed me that people who were coming to push their agenda were able to do it and be so nice about it,” he said.

His doubt about Christianity’s condemnation of homosexuality, Kurek writes, was “perfected” in 2008, when a close friend recounted the story of coming out to her family and being disowned.

“I betrayed her, then,” writes Kurek. “It was a subtle betrayal, but a cruel one: I was silent.”

His recognition of that betrayal, he writes, led him to believe that “I needed to come out of the closet as a gay man.”

“I believe in total immersion,” Kurek says in an interview. “If you are going to walk in other people’s shoes, then you are going to need to walk in your shoes.”

To ensure the purity of his project, Kurek says, he had to lie to his deeply religious family about being gay, something that troubled him throughout the year.

“I felt like they loved me but they didn’t know how to deal with me,” he says. “They didn’t understand how to handle having a gay brother or sibling.”

In the book, Kurek recounts learning that his mother wrote in her journal that she would rather have been diagnosed with cancer than have a gay son. That experience and others left Kurek feeling outcast by people he loved, confused about his new life and conflicted about past religious beliefs.

Kurek was living a lie. And even though he was conflicted by his family’s reaction to his new lifestyle, he was longing to be honest with them.

I’m sure his mother is all better now that her precious son is in fact not some “HIV positive, perverted and liberal pedophile” hell-bent on recruiting and retaining new members of the GLBTQ society.

Of course, the experiment couldn’t have been deemed positive if he didn’t walk away with some cynical opinion of religion. The article notes he attends church less often, is “worried” about religious institutions and that he’s “conquered” his prejudices of GLBTQ folks.

“If anybody had told me back then who I would be or what I would believe now,” Kurek said, “I would have thought they were completely insane.”

For example, Kurek now thinks homosexuality is completely acceptable.

His family is happy to know that he is not gay, says Kurek. He has a new set of friends. And he lives in Portland, Oregon, where he moved shortly after finishing his experimental year.

The author plans to donate part of the proceeds from his book to help LGBT homeless youth who have been rejected by their families.

He is now at work on a book proposal for a follow-up to “The Cross in the Closet.” The book will be about the years after his experiment, transitioning back to honest living while continuing to engage the LGBT community.

I want to tell more stories,” he says “and humanize the people who Christians always want to look at as labels.”

See? All better–no one got hurt and everything is back to normal now…

There’s one fundamental problem with Kurek’s epiphany: his appropriation of what it would be like to be gay clearly demonstrates he continues to view the GLBTQ community and their struggles as something he should have access to and is something he, as a straight white man, has default authority to present to the world.

As a straight man, Kurek has never and will never understand the struggles members of the GLBTQ community goes through. The idea that he feels like he can seamlessly portray himself a gay man for one year demonstrates he continues to view the GLBTQ community as the exotic; just another venue in which straight people can deviate from mainstream society for a few days and later shrug off when the going gets too tough.

Kurek has no respect for the GLBTQ community as he felt it was a-okay to use his straight privilege to pretend to be gay. He has no respect for the blood, sweat and tears GLBTQ members of society have shed in order just come out of the closet without being stigmatized. He has no respect for the decades of struggles GLBTQ activists have endured just to have their families and peers even consider them worthy of respect and love. He has no respect of the political, social and economic struggles GLBTQ folks have had to deal with just to be seen as equal in the eyes of mainstream heterosexist, cis American society.

Instead of picking up a goddamn book or making new friends, Kurek chose to reduce the lives of gay, straight, bisexual, intersex and transgender to mere social experiments as a mechanism to change his hateful ways.

Now that Kurek is free to live life as a straight white man, he will no longer have to worry about employment discrimination, the possibility of being attacked and killed because of his sexuality, have his long-term relationship shunned in the eyes of society as it doesn’t fit the oppressive criteria of marriage and he won’t have to worry about whether or not he’ll be denied housing just because he’s gay.

His mother will no longer have to muse on whether having a gay son would be worse than being diagnosed with cancer. He will not have to negotiate how to deal with friends and family members who’ve deemed him an outcast just because he has come out as gay.

While Kurek will be able to shed the responsibility of living as a gay man, those in the GLBTQ community don’t have that luxury.

They will still have to deal with family and friends treating them like a pariah; they will still have to contend with living on the streets or bouncing from couch to couch due to their families kicking them out; they will still have to deal with the depression and suicidal thoughts that accompany the realization that their sexuality alone marks them as The Other; they will still have to deal with the possibility that they can be attacked or killed because they don’t confirm to heterosexist, cis norms; they will have to deal with the possibility of being fired from their jobs when they come out of the closet; they still have to deal with the possibility of being denied housing just because they love someone of the same gender or are transgender themselves.

So, while Kurek markets his book and his offensive appropriation of gay men to a Christian, heteorsexist, cis society, the lives of those in the GLBTQ community he decided to mimic will remain shrouded behind a wall of stereotypes and societal shame.

2 comments on “Straight man experiments with being gay

  1. I reckon you are a tad too fire-y on this one. No doubt, he was able
    to do this ‘experiment’ as a result of his numerous privileges BUT,
    many queer allies don’t become ridiculously awesome until they’ve made
    incalculable missteps publicly and privately. Perhaps he shouldn’t have
    written a book, and perhaps we should not praise him for opening his
    eyes. However, we cannot allow the benefits of his actions to be
    completely outweighed by (what is at best) his ignorance. People have a
    hard enough time being HUMAN allies, experimenting with being good to
    each other, and promoting existence. How perfect could we really expect
    this ‘traditional’ man of God to be on his initial foray into…”the other?”

    With love
    Zhy

    1. Interesting response. You can become a “ridiculously awesome” ally without disrespecting marginalized folks and their struggle by co-opting/appropriating their lives. For any straight man to believe he should have a right to do so is not an ally.

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