Pretending to be gay?

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This is one of those stories that I read and just think “What??” Nashville resident Timothy Kurek just came out of the closet (on National Coming Out Day!) by telling his friends and family that he’s…straight? Kurek was raised to believe that homosexuality is a sin. When a friend came out to him as a lesbian, it made him question his belief, so he decided to live as a gay man for a year to see what it was like. Over the last year, he came out to his parents, friends, and community, “got a job in a gay cafe, hung out in a gay bar and joined a gay softball league, all the while maintaining his inner identity as a straight Christian.” Kurek just revealed all this on Thursday when he launched a memoir about his experiences, titled The Cross in the Closet, and he’s had about a bajillion interviews and articles written about him since then.

Okay, I’m super conflicted about this whole thing. On the one hand, you take a homophobic man, add some real life experience, and turn him into an ally and gay activist. That’s fabulous, and I’m all for that! But something about this story just rubs me the wrong way.

I’m pretty sure it’s the privilege. Yeah, that’s what it is. Can you imagine having enough privilege in your life that you felt comfortable running an experiment in which you lied to all your friends and family about a central aspect of your identity for a year? Kurek totally admits that he only experienced a tiny portion of the discrimination that gay people face every day of their lives, and I appreciate that he realizes that. How much harder is it to face discrimination when you actually identify as a gay person? Instead of being an attack on who you’re pretending to be (like in Kurek’s case), it’s an attack on who you actually are.

I feel for the gay community of Nashville, and for every person who trusted Kurek enough to flirt with him, hang out with him, and confide in him about their lives. If I were in that community, I would feel so betrayed right now. The most fucked up part of this story to me is that he recruited a gay friend of his to play his boyfriend so he would have an excuse not to hook up with guys. What’s wrong with saying “No thanks, I’m not interested”? Are gay men just too sex-driven to take no for an answer? As a straight man, does Kurek feel that he needs to have a girlfriend in order to fend off all the crazy women hitting on him all the time? And what about that friend of his? What if he met someone during that year and fell in love with him, but oh whoops! I have to pretend to be this guy’s boyfriend even though he isn’t actually gay. Yikes.

A calmer part of me is really happy that young Christians are becoming more and more accepting of gay people by the day. If this is what gets Kurek to that acceptance, and to advocate for gay people in his church, that’s great, it really is. I guess I’m just annoyed at the rhetoric that suggests he’s some sort of martyr, when really all he did was lie about himself for a year and then write a book about it. That rubs me the wrong way.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted October 15, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I think this is an overall net good. This seems to be a very extreme version of “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” Especially, if it leads to a book that gets the word out in a socially conservative community written by a person the community trusts and thinks of as one of their own. I almost think that in the fight for civil liberties, there is no bad publicity. The more exposure everyone has to gay rights (or whatever the issue is), the more comfortable people will become with them.

  2. Posted October 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Great post– and an interesting dilemma! On the one hand, Kurek’s book (well, the way he describes it in some interviews) reminds me of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed”: a well-intentioned social experiment with the potential to open some eyes and minds to discrimination and oppression we may not be aware of, and/or are complicit in. Kurek’s position (as you rightly point out) is one of privilege. However, couldn’t this mean his voice may have a better chance of being heard among other privileged individuals? Individuals who otherwise may not have been interested in critical perspectives on the treatment of the gay community by some Christians? It’s interesting to consider where responsibility lies in advancing social justice. Are there limits to the ways and extent that allies can support these movements? Is it possible to use privilege productively, while simultaneously critiquing and deconstructing it?

  3. Posted October 15, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I do think this smacks of privilege and appropriation, and as such is off-putting.

    On the one side, it reminds me of debates over whether it would harm or help gay rights if sexual orientation were framed as a choice or genetically predetermined. Kurek explicitly chose to publicly identify as a gay man. I haven’t read the book, but I would assume that it illustrates that Kurek is deserving of empathy and respect, or what he would consider Christian kindness, regardless of whether he could “convert” back or just choose not to be gay. His story could be particularly useful to share with cure-the-gay believers.

    On the other side, what makes Kurek’s story so special? Is it just the stunt factor that drew major news attention? In a country that doesn’t hear enough coming out narratives from those who don’t have Kurek’s privilege, this story highlights the fact that we need more books written, more coming out stories told, and a nation that is willing to listen to someone who isn’t a straight Christian.

  4. Posted October 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Good for him, I say.

    Amy, I fail to understand your concerns. (And you call him homophobic – why?)

    Others have done similar things: Norah Vincent pretended to be a man (‘Self Made Man’), Gunter Wallraff pretended to be a Turkish worker in Germany, etc. So it is nothing new.

    As for your concerns, well, I really fail to see what your problem is:
    . Privilege? he can do it, for whatever reason, and that makes him bad?
    . He lied to his new-found friends for a year. Well, maybe. But maybe we should ask them, no? I suspect (I don’t know though) that they have taken it quite well.
    . He pretended to have a boyfriend. Wow! Frankly, that charge does not rate high on any scale. Sorry. Women do it all the time – to keep all those men at bay – and no one has ever told them that that is ‘fucked up’.

    As for lying for a year, consider this. Someone claims to be a Republican and infiltrates the party. And he writes a book about his experience. Amy, would you be horrified? He lied, you know. He deceived a lot of people, naughty boy.

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