A Steely Dan song from the 1970s plays in a karaoke bar as Timothy Kurek’s friend leans over to him, in tears, and says her parents have disowned her because she’s a lesbian.
Kurek grew up in the Bible Belt believing homosexuality was a sin. His mind floods with thoughts: My friend is an “abomination” who needs to repent; I can change her; I can shame her and convince her she isn’t really gay.
“Thank God I didn’t get the chance to say any of that stuff to her. She ended up leaving before I could open my big mouth,” says Kurek. “I felt my shirt sleeve and it was wet from how much she had been sobbing on my shoulder. I realized in that moment I hadn’t loved her and held her and been there for her.”
Kurek, now 26, was homophobic most of his life. He thought someone who didn’t live according to the Bible would go to hell. But that night, he started doubting what he believed.
“I needed to conquer that voice inside me and I needed to question all that programming that was inside me,” he says.
In his Nashville Christian church, Kurek took the Bible’s passages literally. In his community, Jerry Falwell was considered liberal, he says.
“After two decades in a church that was so crazy conservative I needed to do something pretty radical. The only thing I could think of was to allow myself to be beaten by my own beliefs and to walk in the shoes of the people I had shunned all my life,” Kurek says.
Kurek decided to come out to his family, friends, and church as being a gay man.
He planned to live that way for a year to see how the label of ‘gay’ would impact his life.
If nothing else changed about his appearance and he simply stopped dating women while posing as a gay man, what would happen?
“I had rehearsed a speech 5,000 times in front of a mirror, but as soon as I was standing in front of my brother and sister-in-law to tell them none of the words would come out,” he recalled. “Finally I just said, ‘I’m gay’ and my hand smacked over my mouth.”
The announcement was most difficult on his mother.
“My mom wrote in her journal the day I came out that she would rather find out from a doctor that she had terminal cancer and three months to live, than have me come out of the closet as gay,” he says.
While his family tried to be supportive, he instantly lost his friends.
“A bunch of my friends, most of my friends, the vast majority of my friends didn’t talk to me the second they found out I was gay,” Kurek says. “They stopped emailing, calling, texting, everything.”
Three people were in on his experiment – an aunt who could keep tabs on how his mother was doing, his karaoke friend, and a man who pretended to be his boyfriend.
He felt lonely and isolated. While many areas of the country are accepting of homosexuality, that wasn’t the case in the south where he was highly aware of others “snickers and sneers.”
“What I went through is nothing compared to the experience of the average gay and lesbian. They were never able to say ‘only 12 or eight or six more months of this before I get to be me again,'” Kurek told me. “I only had a glimpse of how bad the closet really is.”
Kurek’s year-long experiment has changed his views. He now believes that conservative evangelical Christianity has completely distorted the issue of homosexuality to serve its own “homophobic culture.”
He moved away from Nashville, to Portland and then Tacoma, to write about his experience in a book released this month, The Cross in the Closet. He adds, some communities outside Seattle and Portland remind him of the South – well-intentioned people who are intolerant.
Kurek has his share of critics for pretending to be gay for a year. He says his gay friends stuck by him even after he told them the truth.
Ironically, now people don’t believe he’s straight.
“They tell me, ‘You’re gay. You’re gay,'” Kurek says, “Well you know what? That’s not a dirty word for me anymore.”
By LINDA THOMAS I’d be upset if one of my brothers lied to me for a year