About four years ago, Timothy Kurek, a 26-year-old man from Nashville, Tennessee, "came out" to his family and friends; he told them he was gay. That sort of event has become more common over the years, but his case was unusual: A year later, he again came out, this time to tell them he was straight and had been all along.
Timothy Kurek spent a year pretending to be gay in order to experience what life is like for LGB - which of course means lesbian, gay, and bisexual - people. He's now written a book about the experience and in a recent interview he told of having been brought up to be very afraid of God and God's judgments and how he learned that the "loving" thing to do to a gay friend was to tell them "you are an abomination" and that they need to repent or they were going straight to hell.
Four years ago, a lesbian acquaintance was crying in his arms, telling him how her family had kicked her out when she came out to them - and he realized that all he was thinking about in the face of her pain was arguments to "convert" her, that is, to make her "repent." Something clicked and, he said, "I feel God really kicked me in the gut."
That's when Kurek, in the center in the picture, embarked on his plan and started tell everyone, including friends and family, that he was gay. He needed, he said, to understand the impact of the label, the impact the label "gay" has on a person's life.
He got a job in a gay cafe, hung out in a gay bar, and joined a gay softball league. The only people that knew the truth were an aunt, a close friend, and a gay friend who was recruited to play his boyfriend so he would have an excuse when guys hit on him.
Nearly 95 percent of his friends stopped talking to him. His mother said she'd rather have been told she had terminal cancer than that she had a gay son. He discovered what it felt like to be called "faggot." He described his reaction as having been violated.
In that same interview, he said
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." So what I consider to be the most eye-opening facet of my year was really only a glimpse of how bad the closet really is. [Emphasis in original.]And, he said, it showed how much need there is for conservative Christians - I would say so-called Christians - to recognize that LGBT folks deserve equal rights.
This was another case of the truth of the old saying that supposedly comes from the Cherokee: "Don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes." Don't judge before you understand. Timothy Kurek sought to understand. And I just wanted to say good for him.
The need for an effort, if I can call it such, a journey, such as his was clearly shown in the comments in response to an article in The Guardian newspaper about him. A lot were dismissive, calling it all pointless - but, significantly, a lot more assumed that Kurek actually is secretly gay and this was just his way to “be gay” without having to admit to himself what several called his “sudden obsession” with “the gay lifestyle” “really means.” (Some referred to “homosexual orgies,” which is pretty weird since there was no hint of any such thing in any of the coverage; so I think it tells more about the commenters’ fantasies than it does about Kurek.)
The overall sense what that no one, more specifically in this case, no man could care about what gays and lesbians go though on a daily basis or about equal rights for gays and lesbians if he wasn’t gay himself.
Which again is what shows the need for efforts such as his.
What he did has a tradition of sorts: For one, there was John Howard Griffin, who in 1959 darkened his skin with medications and spent a couple of months living as a black man in the South. The book and movie "Black Like Me" - the title comes from the last line of a Langston Hughes poem - were the result.
It's also in the tradition of Norah Vincent, whose 2006 book A Self-Made Man is about her experience masquerading as a male. Then there was the 1947 novel and subsequent film - this was fiction, but it still fits the category - "Gentlemen's Agreement," about a writer who tells people he is Jewish in order to write an article about anti-Semitism.
And it also fits another, more directly, that is, more narrowly-defined, political tradition: Right-wingers grandly announcing that they are going to live on a welfare budget or a Food Stamp budget for a week or a month or whatever to show how easy it is, how easy those poverty-stricken moochers actually have it. The other part of that tradition is that they invariably fail and wind up having to admit how hard it is to live on welfare or Food Stamps. In fact, the second part of that tradition is so traditional that the right-wingers won't even do it any more: The last couple of times anyone did it, it was liberals intending to show that yes, it is hard. Hard enough that last year a professional chef tried it and even with all his expertise on recipes and eating healthy and having his own garden - plus getting some support from friends in the form of the occasional free meal - he still struggled to do it.
Discrimination and bigotry against gays and lesbians in this country is fading. Not fast enough; it can't be fast enough as long as any still exists, but it is fading. But it's far from the only sort of prejudice and I'm afraid that another sort of bigotry, what I call classism, the bigotry against the poor, is not only still rampant, I'm afraid it's increasing. That bigotry is what lay at the root of Witless Romney's infamous "47% remarks." And it's something I think I need to talk more about in the weeks to come.