If you are on the fence about the compatibility of your religion and the LGBTQ community, Timothy Kurek’s “The Cross in the Closet” is a worthwhile read.
Timothy Kurek conducted a social experiment where he posed as a gay man for a year in order to get rid of his own prejudice against the LGBTQ community and wrote a book about it, called “The Cross in the Closet”. While I still have some mixed feelings, if you are on the fence at all about the LGBTQ community and religion, this is a worthwhile read.
When I first wrote about his book I was head over heels for the premise—at least until I had an LGBTQ friend of mine explain to me how hurt she was by the project. I sent a message to my friend, Drew Proctor, who is much smarter than me and is excellent at articulating different people’s perspectives. I felt like I was on the verge of understanding, but I just needed to talk it out a little bit more.
“I see why some LGBTQers are upset,” he said. “It trivializes their actual struggles so this guy can write a book. At the end of the project, he goes back to being straight. They have to live with the prejudice day-in and day-out.”
I decided to read the book for myself to see how this was handled.
Timothy and I share similar backgrounds, so I understand the realization that he came to after his friend Liz came out to him: he was essentially bred for prejudice. The project was born as she cried into his shoulder and he stood silent and refused to comfort her. He stepped outside of himself just long enough to wonder how he could be so judgmental and rude to his good friend.
In the first part of the book, Timothy gives us context to his beliefs and explains the catalyst for the project. The next part is about the initial fallout from his experiment and the vertigo from the sudden changes he encountered. He also talks about the various events and places that his journey lead him to, including becoming a regular at gay bar and becoming a barista for an LGBTQ coffee shop in the heart of Nashville. The last section of the book reflects on how the people he met affected him and how they react when he tells them the truth about the project.
In a world where Anderson Cooper came out and the general public didn’t really bat an eyelash, but instead responded with a swell of support, it seemed to me like this experiment came a couple decades too late. However, as I read through the book, it became clear that this book is more about how to keep your faith when it has dictated a certain principle for so long and you have an experience that completely shatters that principle.
I also wondered if there was anything unsound about the ethics of the project, considering he lied to his family and friends, and I ultimately think he could have accomplished the same thing as a straight man. I asked our own Justin Cascio what his thoughts were.
“There are journalists who go undercover; I appreciate that, and that they provide stories I wouldn’t otherwise get to hear, because they are outsiders going into a space with their outsider perspectives,” he said.
I also asked my friend Andy Nichols, who is from the United Kingdom, for his opinion. He said he didn’t think there was anything unsound about it.
“If you had asked me ten, fifteen, or certainly twenty years ago I might have said something different,” he said. “I do get frustrated with people who insist that things must be a certain way. I sort of sit back and laugh at that.”
One thing that keeps coming to mind is something I heard preached for years in church: “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” Timothy took that concept of empathy literally, which is something I find very honorable about Timothy’s project. While I may not necessarily agree with the means, I think one of the most human and most loving things you can do is to drop all your assumptions and try to understand someone else’s perspective.
As Justin Cascio said, “I think it’s helpful to people who might need some practice walking in the shoes of those who are more marginalized than themselves. It sounds like a project of empathy, and that can help anyone, no matter their sexual orientation or identity.”
The book itself is well-written with a lot of detail about the emotional journey that Timothy took through the course of the project. What I loved most was his desire for true understanding, and the anecdotes of his “boyfriend” Shawn and the friends that he made were heartwarming.
There is an alter ego/character called “the Pharisee” who constantly interjects with common arguments against the LGBTQ community that Timothy responds to as he lives as a gay man, which is really useful for people who deal with these conversations a lot in their regular lives.
The quote that sums up the book for me is this:
Until this year I never quite understood why the LGBT community adopted the rainbow as a symbol for its existence. Diversity, unity and promise, a rainbow is said to express these ideals, but I believe it was chosen for an entirely different reason. I believe it was chosen because, above all else, a rainbow is beautiful, and everyone desires to be thought of as beautiful. For years I’ve lived color-blind in a world of rainbows, ignorant to the beauty all around me.
If you are at all on the fence about the LGBTQ community, or wondering how your faith (Christianity or otherwise) could be compatible with gay rights, I would highly recommend this book to you.
Empathy is something we could all use a little bit more of. And while I wish he had spent a little bit more time delving into the lives of the people he met, I am ultimately grateful for people like Timothy Kurek who think it is worth sacrificing comfort to learn to love and understand others more.
For a larger discussion about the ethics and perception of this project with people who are much knowledgeable on the topic than I am, there is an awesome excellent HuffPost Live segment about the book that included panelists Noah Michelson, Emily Timbol, Jacob Tobia, and Justin Lee that you can watch here.
Photo credit: Flickr / Dominic’s pics