When I was 18, I moved to NYC as a closeted gay man. I was a Southern Baptist Christian and found a small church that welcomed me. I believed God had led me to that church because the minister had been an ex-gay man and I just knew he could help me change. Needless to say my desire to hide who I am quickly vanished and 25 years later I am happily married to a man. But that early experience became the background for my novel Well with My Soul.
I share my own small journey to show the relevance for my thoughts on the book The Cross in the Closet by Timothy Kurek, which was published on national coming out day this year. I recently finished reading the book and find myself in an odd place about it. For those that do not know, Kurek pretended to be gay for a year to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. As a conservative Christian, he had been very confrontational to homosexuals prior to his experiment. The book has received raves for his fortitude and endurance to undergo such a project. Some people believe he is doing a great deed for the gay community as he makes the talk show circuit sharing his story: teaching others to not hate gays. Sounds wonderful. Then why as a gay Christian reading this book did I feel incredibly judged by this outsider pretending to be something he is not?
Don't get me wrong -- that this man can give up an entire year of his own life in an attempt to understand what we in the homosexual community go through is admirable. Perhaps it is the writing style that throws me. He writes in platitudes and of stereotypes. He often goes out of his way to remind the reader he is straight... sometimes at the expense of phrases such as 'lesbians simply haven't met the right man.' He speaks of disgust for a man that comes on to him in a bar (which seems to happen all the time to Kurek) and then 20 minutes later declares his love for the person: a love of Christian brotherhood for a fellow human. These abrupt changes in thought are written in first person to show the reader Kurek's own struggle through the process. People such as Mel White (whom I greatly respect) sing his praises as if Kurek has written a cure-all for those that despise our community. Kurek is a man who could easily use the word fag, but once "out of the closet" saw the sting of the word. I don't mean to sound condescending, as I know I'd be thrown into the stereotype category of those in his book, but my heart ached midway through reading this book. It hurt because I felt preached at by an outsider. I know the sting of that word. I've heard it many times. Why am I troubled by an imposter suddenly seeing it too?
And then something happened by part three of the book and I began to change. While he lost people around him based on his lies, my heart had not completely softened to Kurek and his plight. And then he realized his bigotry against gays had switched to the church and I could truly see my own bigotry towards him. Kurek is young. He was 21 going on 22 when he went through this project and I had to remind myself that we all thought we knew everything at that age. I know that I did. It occurred to me that perhaps his preaching on platitudes does not come from a place of malice: it's just who he is. Suddenly I wasn't angry at the young man for taking on this project. I had an understanding for what he was going through in a similar way in which he discovered what makes our community so strong.
I'm glad that he came out of his project a more understanding human being. I'm still on the fence about his book being a tool to aid anyone else who currently believes all gays are going to hell. Readers should see it more as a personal journey and less of a manual for loving one's neighbor. It seems to be written more for evangelicals to grasp and less for those in the LGBTQ community. In the end, Kurek isn't gay. He wasn't truly living with everything that we have experienced in our own coming out process. He is allowed to knock down that closet and declare through the written word it was all fabricated and go back to his other life. Many of us struggle for years dealing with that very issue -- not being able to say all is well within our souls. I ache for those that can't. I appreciate those that can find understanding. And I pray for the division in our country brought on by my life and those in my community -- for just being who we are.
Lastly, while the book has been compared to Black Like Me, I can't help but wonder if there was a small part in Kurek that saw it as an ingenious entrance into the world of writing. (And if so, I applaud him for that.) I guess time will tell as we see what other books he puts out there and what his platform as an author will be. I look forward to watching where this takes him on both his writing journey as well as his spiritual one.
Mine is but one opinion in our vast community. We all have them and each may be different. I would love to hear what others are thinking as they read the book as well.