Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fake and Gay...

I've really been on a reading tear this week, so I'm going to write another book review.  Today's review is about Timothy Kurek's 2012 book, The Cross in the Closet.  I don't remember why I downloaded this book.  I think I heard about it somewhere and decided it sounded interesting.  Right now, it's selling for about $5 on Amazon, so that might have also had something to do with my decision to buy.  I read Kurek's book in a matter of hours…  and when I was finished with it, I was kind of reminded of this video.


This video is definitely NSFW, but it's funny… 

The Cross in the Closet is the true story of how Timothy Kurek, like several authors before him, decided to fake something in order to develop empathy.  Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America, faked being poor and uneducated so she could write about what it's like to be poor and having to work at minimum wage jobs to get by.  I read her book in the early 2000s and enjoyed it the first time I read it.  Then I read it again and it kind of pissed me off.  Ehrenreich wasn't really poor and knew there was an end to when she'd have to fake being poor.  She had an escape from poverty-- there was a light at the end of the tunnel that she could use to bolster herself when things got really hard.  That's not to say that I don't think she learned anything.  It's just to say that her experience wasn't all that authentic.

In a similar fashion, Timothy Kurek, who grew up near Nashville in a conservative Christian home and spent a year at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, faked being gay for a year.  At the start of his book, Kurek writes about how Jerry Falwell had preached against homosexuality and how people who are gay or lesbian are living sinful lives.  When Kurek is confronted by a gay activist who calls him "brother", he calls the man to repentance.  He is very sure of his position; that homosexuals are hopeless sinners who lead disgusting lives.  He treats them terribly.

After a year at Liberty, Kurek goes back to Tennessee because his parents split up.  He starts hanging around a karaoke bar in Nashville, where he becomes acquainted with some homosexuals.  One of his dear friends, a young woman he knew from church, comes out to him.  She is devastated because her parents have disowned her.  As Kurek awkwardly comforts his friend, he can't find the right words to say.  He realizes that he's been bigoted.  He starts to realize that homosexuals are people too.  Then, he decides he's going to experiment.  He hatches his plan to come out as gay to his family and friends, even though he is straight.  He will spend a year on this charade, learning something about the homosexual community.

Kurek's family seems to take his announcement with shock and dismay, but they still talk to him.  His pastor at church sends him a rather hateful missive about not condoning the sinful gay lifestyle.  Some of his friends quit talking to him.  Kurek goes to a gay bar and is immediately hit on, which makes him uncomfortable.  Fortunately, he has a gay friend from the karaoke bar who serves as his boyfriend during the year to keep him from being hit on by interested men.  The friend, whose name is Shawn, is black, handsome, and a very gifted singer… and he doesn't have a problem playing "boyfriend" at first.

I was intrigued by Kurek, who claims to be a conservative Christian, but does things that I wouldn't expect from a lifelong conservative evangelical Christian.  Though Kurek writes that he spent a lot of hours in church, he smokes clove cigarettes.  At the start of the book, he claims to have only tasted beer twice, but by the end, he's very much a drinker.  He dances.  He also swears a lot for someone who is so apparently Christian.  All of these things go against what I've been taught about the evangelical Christian community and what they think is okay.    

As the year passes, Kurek finds himself becoming more involved and therefore more knowledgable about the LBGTQ world.  He makes many friends, works in a gay cafe where he learns how to make excellent lattes, and goes to a lot of karaoke bars.  He learns that many homosexuals are wonderful people and some are not so wonderful.  He makes some very dear friends, even as he fights his natural attraction to women.  He even discovers that homosexuals can love God when he stumbles across a transvestite singing "Awesome God" at a karaoke show.  In short, Kurek seems to learn that in the most important ways, homosexuals are really not so different than straight people are.  One thing I noticed from Kurek's book is that the gay community he was briefly a part of seemed very tight knit and caring… not unlike some church communities.  Although knowing what I know about some churches, I bet the gay community's caring was more genuine.  From what Kurek writes, most of the homosexuals he befriended during his gay year were still friends when he came clean.

Actually, Kurek's description of the karaoke bars was interesting to me, since Bill and I once went to one in Key West, Florida.  I happen to love karaoke and they had a great show going.  We went; I sang; and the people there were really great.  We had a blast… though I would be lying if I said Bill wasn't very uncomfortable at first.  He didn't know how to behave.  Bill has an adopted "half-sister" who is a lesbian, though she's 19 years younger than he is.  He doesn't know her as well as he'd like to, but through Facebook we've discovered that she's a truly wonderful person who is very involved in her community.  But despite having a lesbian sister, Bill hasn't been exposed to members of the gay community nearly as much as I have and really felt out of his element in a gay bar.  For that reason, I could empathize with Kurek's first experiences visiting establishments that cater to the homosexual community.

Kurek's year of being "gay" was difficult, though his experience being "gay" definitely wasn't as difficult as it was for most of the new friends he made.  Again, Kurek knew his condition was temporary and could count down the months before he could be straight again.  His family and friends were by and large decent about it… until his brother and his wife found out halfway through the year that Kurek had lied about being gay.  It caused a huge rift that Kurek describes rather poignantly.  Kurek is close to his brother, so his brother's anger was very painful for him.  Unrequited love on the part of Kurek's "boyfriend" Shawn, seems to make Kurek's experiment more difficult for Shawn.

I was surprised by how Kurek's homosexual friends took the news when he told them he wasn't actually gay.  They mostly seemed okay with his experiment.  I'm sure that to many of them, what Kurek did was pretty bold and maybe even kind of cool, especially since it led to Kurek being more empathetic.  However, I couldn't help but realize that Kurek's experience with being gay was not as authentic as it might have been.  In fact, it was a bit contrived and what he did is nothing new.  And I wondered if any of his new friends were offended by Kurek's decision to be "fake and gay".  He doesn't mention any that I remember, though.

Kurek's writing is basically okay, though there are some typos and misspelled words in his manuscript.  Kurek's dialogue also sometimes feels a little scripted… like something I might hear on a soap opera.  He seems very young, too… which I believe he was when he wrote this book.  The youth seems to inject his writing with the kind of testosterone that makes young men single-minded and dogmatic about certain things.  The writing got a little preachy at times.  That being said, I thought The Cross in the Closet was basically an interesting book.  I would recommend it to anyone who thinks reading about Kurek's experiment might interest them.  You could certainly read worse.

   




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