Like Timothy Kurek, the man making media rounds for "pretending to be gay" for one year, I was raised in an evangelical household. A Christian since the age of 4, I was taught right and wrong through the lens of the Bible. Homosexuality was always something I knew was wrong. My parents didn't even permit me to watch "Will and Grace" for fear that it might confuse my values.
Timothy and I have something else in common. Our best friends later came out to both of us, challenging everything we believed about ourselves, God, homosexuality and the Bible. The difference is I didn't decide to pretend to be gay for a year to learn about the LGBT community. Instead, I asked them to teach me, from their own experiences.
From my first Pride parade, to the hours I spent with strangers discussing God, my identity was never a lie. There were no secrets. I was straight and a Christian. Before deciding to fully invest myself (as much as possible) in the LGBT community, I feared that this would close doors. Surely these people who had been bullied, rejected and hated by others representing the same God, would want nothing to do with me. I couldn't have been more wrong. Over and over I was welcomed, listened to, allowed to speak and treated with respect. The sincerity went both ways.
My experiences changed me. They also changed my family, who have since decried the discriminatory attitude many Christians hold toward gay people. It wasn't easy, and like Timothy, we lost some friends along the way. The difference is that those friendships were not lost over a lie. They were lost because some people couldn't handle the fact that I was straight Christian who grew to love the gay community. That never changed. While Mr. Kurek might say the same, his love was never based on honesty. The importance lies in the sincerity. Every interaction I had was real, because I was me, and my gay friends were being themselves. No pretend.
What's sad is that every interaction Timothy had during his year pretending was fake. The people he met thought he was something he was not. He was welcomed under false pre-tenses, acting like someone who understood the struggle that his LGBT friends faced. He did not. His heart might have been in the right place, and his intentions might have been pure, but what he leaves is a wake of people lied to. In this case, the ends don't justify the means. Especially not when the ends could have been reached without lying to anyone.
I say that as a person who learned, from early on in my journey, that I didn't need to pretend to be someone I'm not to change. I just needed to open my mind, and eyes, and see the people around me who were willing to share their experiences. Because the important thing to remember, for straight Christians like Timothy and I, is that our privilege will always prevent us from truly knowing what it's like to be gay in today's society.
I'm glad his year made him an ally. I hope that his book changes hearts and builds respect for the gay community. But I can't help wishing that what Timothy had done, instead of spending his time learning through pretending, was spend a year using his privilege to fight for the people around him. He benefited from his year living gay. But his friends in the community are still fighting for the rights that he never lost.