Friday, December 14, 2012

Gay (Almost) Like Me: Tim Kurek's "The Cross in the Closet"

I want you to know Timothy Kurek.

When I was in high school, back in the mid-1970s, I read a book, originally published in 1961, called Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin.  For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Griffin, a Caucasian man, was assisted by a doctor to change the color of his skin, allowing him to pass as an African-American for a six week period in the late 1950s, as he traveled via Greyhound bus through some of the U.S.'s most racially segregated states.  Griffin kept a journal of his experiences, which became the basis for his book.

All these years later, about the only thing I recall from the book, other than the emotional impact it had on me, is how different Griffin's experience as an African-American man was from his experience as a Caucasian man, demonstrating how something as arbitrary as skin color could affect where one sat on a bus and even where one was permitted to go to the bathroom.    

Fast forward to October of this year, when I heard about Tim Kurek's book The Cross in the Closet.  The following, from, explains as well as anything what Kurek's book is about:

Timothy Kurek, raised within the confines of a strict, conservative Christian denomination in the Bible Belt, Nashville, Tennessee, was taught the gospel of separation from a young age. But it wasn't long before Timothy's path and the outside world converged when a friend came out as a lesbian, and revealed she had been excommunicated by her family. Distraught and overcome with questions and doubts about his religious upbringing, Timothy decided the only way to empathize and understand her pain was to walk in the shoes of the very people he had been taught to shun. He decided to come out as a gay man…, and to see for himself how the label of gay would impact his life. 

To get a sense of how difficult, not to mention courageous, this journey was for Kurek, you have to imagine the most conservative of Christians doing an about-face on something he adamantly opposes, and becoming that very thing himself.  Kurek writes poignantly about how his disclosure alienated him from many family members and friends, and how he had to effectively create a new life for himself, as an out gay man–finding accepting places to hang out, making new friends, changing the very nature of his daily routine.

One of the things I considered fascinating about Kurek's story is he found himself in exactly the same position we gay people do, only in the reverse.  Before we come out of the closet, everyone assumes we're straight, and our attraction to those of the same gender must be kept secret, lest someone find out the truth about what we are.  Well, in Kurek's case, as a supposedly gay man, he had to keep his real attraction for women a secret, to ensure everyone around him bought into him being gay.  

Needless to say, walking in another man's shoes was not only an eye-opening, but also a life-changing, experience for Kurek.

My intention with this post is not to judge any Christian who believes to his core that homosexuality is wrong; if I did, I would be no better than him or her.

Instead, what I thought I'd do is share with you a series of quotes from Kurek's book, which state more eloquently than I ever could what he learned from his year-long experience as a gay man (the challenge will be to restrict the number of quotes to just a few), and allow you to draw your own conclusions from his words.  

Kurek writes:

Why do I believe I'm any different, any better, than anyone else [because I'm a straight Christian]?  Why do my beliefs give me a sense of entitlement?  Everyone is human, fallible, and flawed, and it is not my job to determine who's better or worse.  It is my job to be myself and to learn as much as I can from anyone I meet [p. 62, ebook version].

If the God I claimed to serve was anything like the people I have encountered who had an adverse reaction to my being gay…then I did not want to know Him [p. 80].

"I just want people to know morality has nothing to do with [sexual] orientation.  The everyday relationship we have with God is all that matters.  The promiscuity you're asking about is a symptom, not the problem [p. 148]."

The implications of this perception, the unspeakable judgments [against gay people and others] that were my constant companions, have shown themselves to be more potently evil than anything I was taught to avoid growing up.  At least I have nothing to hide behind, anymore.  My faith has been stripped to the foundation, and I am not sure of anything I used to "know" to be true [p.198].

I wonder what would happen if…instead of preaching from soap-boxes and shouting through megaphones, or spending millions on political campaigns meant to hinder the rights of the gay and lesbian community…what would happen if we pointed the finger at ourselves?  What if we chose to live intentionally in community with everyone, regardless of our differences? What would happen if we shut our mouths and simply served the people in our neighborhoods and cities, without an agenda?  Would the message of Jesus survive? Would the gospel still be as powerful and applicable, in our modern context, if our methodology evolved?  I think so [p. 216].

I didn't know that loving your neighbor as yourself was contingent on the neighbor being a white Christian male, between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine–and straight [pp. 217-218].

But this year I have learned that a lack of diversity isn't good for anyone.  It is our differences that teach us the most about ourselves, about life, and in terms of faith, most important, about God [p. 224].

If only professed Christ-followers, myself especially, would align "Christianity" with Christ by removing the politics, pomp, and arrogance from our everyday expressions of faith[,] maybe then we could begin undoing the vast amounts of personal damage we have inflicted upon the very people Jesus has called us to love, people who are just as much the children of God as we believe ourselves to be [p. 228].

I've learned that gays and lesbians aren't anything like what we've always been taught. They are every bit our equals [p. 249].

And finally:

Most of all I am sure of my teacher empathy, who taught me that if we take a moment to step into another person's shoes before we open our mouths, we can learn more about this life and our God, than by any other means.  She is our greatest tool, operating hand in hand with love to create something dazzling, something that gives our breaths meaning [p. 284].

I admit when I first heard about Kurek's work, I thought, finally, not only someone who's straight, but also a conservative Christian male, is speaking up for us, telling those like him that gay people are no different from straight people, we all want the same things, and we all deserve the same rights.

But that troubled me.  Why, I asked myself, should a straight, conservative Christian male, pretending to be gay for one year, be a more relevant or credible source for all things gay, than a gay man himself, who's been gay his entire life, and who's said the very same things, in one form or another?  In other words, why listen to Kurek and not me?  Or, would Kurek be listened to more than me?  

As I read The Cross in the Closet, I reconciled any misgivings I had by reasoning that, if it takes a straight, conservative Christian man to open the eyes of those who use their interpretations of the Bible and their religious beliefs to judge gay and lesbian people, then so be it.  I happily accept the support from wherever it's offered.   In the end, I don't care how we get there, just that we get there.  

(If I had one quibble about Kurek's book, it would be that it needed several more rounds of deep editing before publication.  The prose is awkward in places, and the ebook version is full of typos.  But that's the age we live in.  Many people choose to self-publish now–it's a lot easier to do than ever before–and a degree of quality is often compromised. I don't believe that, in any way, should negatively impact the message of Kurek's story.)

My hope is, regardless of who or what you are–gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian, whatever the case may be–I've piqued your curiosity about what Kurek wrote for you to check it out.  I believe he raises some important and insightful points, and I also believe it would be worth your time and effort to discover that for yourself.

Let me know what you think.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I will have to find this book online and read it. I like your blog.

  2. Thank you for your interest in my blog, Topper, and for taking the time to leave a comment.

    Part of my intent for writing this post was to attract positive attention to Tim Kurek's book. I think it's an original and important piece of work, and the conclusions he reaches, certainly from the perspective of conservative Christianity, are groundbreaking. I hope I'm able to turn many people on to his story and enlighten a few minds as a result.

    I appreciate your kind words about my blog and hope I continue to offer posts that keep you coming back.

    1. There's an ego at play in this book and I do not believe that any person who is heterosexual can "pretend" to be homosexual and experience the real sense of struggle, pain, humiliation, and hopefully full freedom; and vice versa for that matter.

    2. Anonymous, I'm not sure it's fair to say Kurek was motivated by ego to live his experience as a gay man for a year and to write a book about it. Would you say the same about John Howard Griffin, who, at considerable risk to his health, ingested a drug to change his skin color, so he could learn what it was like to be a black man in the Southern United States? Regardless, I think it's important to read what Kurek wrote to get the full story and to put yourself on a surer footing to criticize him.

      And, yes, you may be right in saying a straight man who "plays" gay for a year doesn't have the same experience as a gay man. That said, again, the detail Kurek captures in his book tells me his gay experience was very real for him (plus, I related to much of it as a gay man myself), and he learned firsthand some of the bits and pieces of what it really means to be gay. I give him a lot of credit for that.

      Your last point is an interesting one. Until you came out of the closet (if you have), didn't you pretend to be heterosexual? I know I did, for twenty-six years of my life. And, although I was in a lot of pain inside, I think I did a pretty damn good job at being something I wasn't. So can we not take a bit of a leap here and say that Kurek could have done a pretty damn good job of being gay for a year, too? Again, I think it's important to read his book to fully appreciate his story.

      Many thanks for your comment.

  3. i am SO sick of straight privilege leading the way. Sorry, but this is crap!

    1. Existential Punk, I hear anger in your words. So let's take a deep breath and see if we can make sense out of this.

      In the same way you can't take responsibility for being gay, Kurek can't take responsibility for being straight. He just is. And our culture bestows privilege on heterosexuals. I'm not saying that's right, I'm saying that's reality. So let's not hold it against Kurek; he had nothing to do with it.

      As far as someone straight leading the way (I assume you mean setting the example), well, he's not the only one. I believe, for instance, I'm leading the way, to the extent I can, by what I write in this blog. And I'll bet you're leading the way too by being the best example of a gay person you can be. So we all have a role to play, don't we?

      Some time ago, I wrote a post here about our straight allies, and how we must appreciate them. Make no mistake, there are heterosexual people who see the daily injustices levelled against gay people, and they sometimes put themselves at risk to support us. I believe Tim Kurek is one of them. He didn't need to do what he did, so we have to give him credit for that. To the extent he's able to change minds with his words, we owe him our respect.

      Finally, it's easy to marginalize or dismiss what someone else does, particularly if we're angry at a group we're not a part of (heterosexuals), and who we may blame for the situation we're in. But it's important we inform ourselves, even about something we don't like or agree with, before we pass judgment. Otherwise, we risk looking as uninformed and impulsive as those who pass judgment on us.

      When it comes to gay and straight people–just like Caucasian and Black, Christian and Jew, man and woman, and so on–there can be no us and them. We're all in this together. I think it was Charles Dickens who said (I'm paraphrasing) each of us is trudging toward the grave, trying to do the best we can. We're here to learn from each other's differences. We're also here to learn acceptance and love.

      Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate it.

  4. I just finished reading Tim's book. As a heterosexual Christian woman I really appreciated his book. It was definitely worth the read.

  5. Anonymous, I'm glad you read Tim's book. I think it was definitely worth it, too.

    I'm just about finished another book that deals with Christianity and homosexuality, and I plan to right a post about that very soon. I hope you'll check it out.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate it.