FLORIDA, November 1, 2012 — For the last several years, our country has been in the midst of an extensive debate over LGBT rights.
Unfortunately, it is often forgotten that there are real people behind the headlines, and their stories are far more complicated than stereotypes let on. Few people who are not members of the LGBT community can possibly understand this as Tim Kurek does.
While most of us likely have friends or family members who are not heterosexual, can any of us imagine walking a day in their shoes? Kurek presented himself as a gay man for one year in order to discover what life is like for an often marginalized segment of our society.
In the process, he learned a great deal about the world around him, reconsidered some of his own views, and strengthened his Christian faith.
Kurek wrote about this journey in his new book, The Cross in the Closet. Released just last month, it has attracted a great deal of media attention and seems primed to start a new dialogue regarding the virtue of compassion.
So, what was the most surprising aspect of living as a gay man? Did Kurek have to search far to find Jesus in the people he met? What inspired him to pretend to be gay in the first place?
He tells us about all of this and more in a candid interview.
Joseph F. Cotto: For most of us, the idea of living as someone of another sexual orientation is all but incomprehensible. Why did you choose to take on such a challenge?
Tim Kurek: Two reasons. One, I wanted to know what it would be like to be on the receiving end of my own theology and attitudes about homosexuality. And two, because I needed to feel the fear, the tangible terror of the “what ifs”. It was essential that I tackled this project in a flesh and blood way, instead of theologically. I needed to see people as people, instead of as the label of gay or lesbian.
Cotto: Being of a conservative Christian background, what were your opinions about non-heterosexuals prior to living as a gay man?
Kurek: I was taught that homosexuality was a sin, and that the only righteous relationships were heterosexual. Homosexuality was a capital S sin. A scarlet letter sin. In addition to the theological perspective on this, I was taught stereotypes about lgbt individuals. Gays were God hating, promiscuous, liberal deviants.
Cotto: You have written that when a friend of yours announced she was a lesbian, her family abandoned her. How did this impact you?
Kurek: It was the first time I got to see the result of my theology, the first time I felt the physical tears of a gay or lesbian on my shoulder, after having been abandoned by the church and family. And I got to see my reaction to her. It wasn’t a good reaction.
Cotto: After initially coming out as gay, how did your family members react to the news?
Kurek: My family was loving, but didn’t know how to process having a gay son or sibling. It was difficult because while they treated me with love and grace — a great kindness compared to what a lot of my friends families have put them through — I knew they were struggling with the news.
Cotto: What was the most surprising aspect of living as a gay man?
Kurek: Absolutely and without a doubt it was the crushing nature of “the closet”. During my year I was in the closet as a straight man, and had to repress my attractions and natural inclinations to speak and flirt with the opposite sex. I always took it for granted that at any time I might meet my soul-mate. Those in the closet don’t have the luxury even of that possibility. And what I went through was nothing compared to lgbt individuals because I had an expiration date and knew I’d be free at a certain point in the near future.
The closet caused terrible depression and anxiety within me, and even the glimpse I got of it changed my life.
Cotto: Throughout the year that you lived as a gay man, you attempted to find Jesus in the people you met. Was your quest for spiritual enlightenment a successful one?
Kurek: Absolutely! And I didn’t even have to “look” for Jesus. So many stepped forward and were Jesus to me in my life and it was a beautiful thing to witness.
Cotto: Did your life philosophy change during the aforementioned year?
Kurek: Yes it did. I am now a huge fan of Desmond Tutu. His theology of Ubuntu has changed my life and my faith for the better. I love that man!
Cotto: As a conservative Christian, you were taught to be fearful of God. What are your perceptions of the divine today?
Kurek: I think I used to equate that “fear” with the same kind of fear I’d be afraid of a murderer or natural disaster. Now I believe that “fearing God” means being in total awe and respect of God. If God is love, and His love is complete, the only thing I am afraid of is that I won’t be able to experience enough of Him in this lifetime.
Cotto: During the years ahead, do you believe that the Christian community will become more tolerant of non-heterosexuals?
Kurek: Totally. There will always be those that interpret the Bible more literally, and that is their right. I just hope we all learn that no matter what our beliefs (especially Christians), we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves and that means we should exhibit the fruits of the spirit in our interaction. Love, love, love. It never fails.
Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering exactly how it was that you came to be a writer. What inspired you to follow this career path?
Kurek: I wanted to be an author from the time I was 12. As I’ve gotten older, I realized the 9-5 lifestyle isn’t my thing. I like the fact that I can stay up late, sleep in, and work in my bathrobe. I like that my time in “the office” is spent around people at a cafe. I love the freedom of letting the muse push me every day. It’s the only thing I think, I could do and still be happy.
Writing is a huge part of who I am. I love connecting to readers, especially now having experienced that connection with people all over the world.
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