The Christian, the Stunt, and the Book Deal: A Response to Timothy Kurek

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It must have been quite a shock when Timothy Kurek came out of the closet.

Sorry. It must have been quite a shock when Timothy Kurek came out of the closet AGAIN.

See, Kurek had already come out of the closet once before. A year ago he had announced to his family, community, and congregation that he was gay. Since then he had lived life as an openly gay man, dating, going to gay spaces, experiencing gay nightlife, living openly as a member of one of Christian America’s most reviled minorities.

Until the moment when he came to everyone he knew and loved and came out again.

As straight all along.

Cue phone calls for the book deal.

Timothy Kurek’s book The Cross in the Closet details his year-in-the-life-of-a-fake-gay-man social experiment. Kurek, a virulently and violently anti-gay Evangelical, was so disgusted by his encounters by LGBT people that he desired to, in his own words, ‘fix them, straighten them out.’ Kurek decided to come out as gay for one year as a sort of ‘behind enemy lines’ endeavor in order to better understand the gay mind and lifestyle for himself. In his book, Kurek details the trials he encountered as a fake gay man. Coming out to his mother. Having to resist physically assaulting or vomiting on gay men who approached him in clubs. Feeling personally violated when someone called him and his softball team ‘faggots.’

After the year was up, Kurek shed his identity as a gay man, re-came out as straight, got a sweet book deal and speaking platform out of his experiment, and now goes to TED talks and conferences, describing his incredible epiphany that LGBT people are in fact human beings and some of them are even Christians, and detailing the journey in our footsteps that led him to (presumably) no longer want to physically assault us when we get near him.

There has been some positive feedback from the LGBT community. It’s understandable. The past decades have been wave after wave of nearly unendurable hatred and oppression from the Christian majority. When one of them, a Christian, even slightly indicates that LGBT people may possess the basic humanity that they enjoy without question, it’s natural to flock to that flicker of candlelight, that hope. After all, even a bowl of piss looks inviting when all that has been offered is arsenic.

But I am far from the only person, LGBT and otherwise, who cannot see Kurek’s social experiment as anything other than what it is: A problematic, patronising, predatory PR stunt. The issues in Kurek’s methodology are so numerous it is difficult to know where to start, but for the sake of brevity I’ve boiled it down to the four biggest issues.

  • His reduction of LGBT identity to a costume, a plaything, and a prop for his experiment is insulting and harmful. It reduces a basic part of LGBT humanity to something to be tried on for size. It turns the painful and often traumatic journey of LGBT people to a stunt. A selfish quest for empathy for those Kurek has hated and harmed all of his life. This appropriation of the unique trials of LGBT people does nothing to make us more visible, more human, and everything to turn us into a standing joke in Kurek’s ‘the straight man among the queers’ comedy routine. Kurek claims to have walked a mile in our shoes, never once acknowledging that our shoes belong to us in the first place.
  • Kurek’s putting on and taking off of a gay identity directly feeds into the homophobic and long-standing religious belief that LGBT people ‘choose our own lifestyle.’ Now that Kurek has demonstrated that anyone can ‘choose’ to be gay, can live as gay, can identify as gay, and become straight again in the flip of a switch, actual LGBT people are expected even more to comply with this false narrative. It matters not that Kurek was a fraud all along. He lived our ‘lifestyle,’ he played the part and now he’s straight and in godly standing again. Kurek’s privilege as a straight man allowed him to shed all the grief and pain that comes with a queer identity in a queerphobic society. He, and only he, has that ability.
  • He cashed in. Kurek got a book deal out of his PR stunt, speaking engagements, a platform, money. There was no cost to his allyship, only benefits to be reaped. And now he occupies a space in the LGBT community, bulldozing over the platform that rightfully belongs to LGBT people.
  • Kurek tells our story with the benefit of his straight privilege. Every time he laments how hard it was to live as a gay man (when he wasn’t lamenting how difficult it was to not physically attack us in clubs), he indicates that his words are more believable, more applicable, more empathetic, because he is straight. There are literally millions of stories from actual LGBT people about the coming out process, but Kurek’s stunt is beneficial only to those who would never listen or believe LGBT stories from LGBT people. He’s straight. So it must be true. This is erasure, this is heterosexism, this is dangerous.

Several days ago Kurek gave a TED talk about his year among the gays. I saw it last night, and when it was done I reacted on Twitter, with a lot of anger. It was so painful, so enraging to see yet another Christian preying on the LGBT community, coopting and profiting off us, occupying a place on the stage that so many LGBT people deserve and will never have. I poured out my rage, my anger, my grief.

Kurek’s response was a winky face and a ‘thanks for thinking of me!”

Allies are important. They lift up the oppressed and amplify their voices. They are there when comfort is needed, there to listen. They turn their own privilege into a platform for those without it. They do not benefit or profit from their allyship. They do not expect praise or reward for it. Sometimes they suffer the consequences inflicted by an oppressive world. Sometimes they pay a high price. Sometimes they die.

Allyship is kind, it is patient, it is selfless. It amplifies and defends. It does not boast, it does not profit. It does not sign book deals, it does not coopt platforms.

Kurek’s book is called The Cross in the Closet but he has never been in the closet. The white, straight, Christian man that is Timothy Kurek has never known the closet. He has never touched it. It is not a closet Kurek came out of, but a wardrobe. He walked into a magic wardrobe into a Narnian fantasy where he was crowned a queen and lived amongst the inhabitants. And then when it was enough for him, he walked out back into the mundane, shedding his crown with no ill effects. There is no closet here. Just a cross, just a game, just a fantasy. A fraud as a gay man, as an ally, as a compassionate human being.

Earlier today, Kurek wrote a passive-aggressive response on Facebook addressing myself and others whom he felt had unfairly attacked him. You can read it here, but the TLDR version is “I’m sorry you asshole haters are hating on me, it really hurts my feelings when I’m not praised for my social experiment by people who don’t know me, but I’m the better man because God wants me to love you and I do.”

It’s a concise summary of all the false victimisation that was at the heart of Kurek’s walk in LGBT shoes. In his second paragraph he coopts the language of the oppressed once again when he says:

It doesn’t feel good to be hated. It doesn’t feel good to have your life and your heart trashed by strangers that don’t even know you.

Kurek clearly can’t see the irony in the fact that the people he is complaining about know exactly what having one’s life and heart trashed by strangers is, far more than he ever will. There is no empathy from me. Not from someone who spent his entire childhood terrified of Christians.

The final paragraph is his proclamation of love to the asshole haters:

I know you hate me and I know you hate what I did….I want you to k

now that I love you, truly. Not only that but I believe that God loves you, just as you are…Once again I love you, and no words or beliefs you hold about me will ever change that.

To which purpose, the conclusion of this post is addressed in return directly to Timothy Kurek:

I don’t hate you. You aren’t worth the effort of my hatred. That belongs to many of your brothers and sisters in Christ. It belongs to those who terrorised my home in the midst of the Troubles, who murdered my neighbours and filled the gutters with blood. It belongs to those who harass and persecute my people. It belongs to those who strip my community of dignity and civil rights.

For you I reserve only a low contempt. Contempt for what you did, contempt for the profit and the platform you reaped from it, and contempt for the personal character that permits you to paint yourself as the victim in all of it. I will not hide that from you, nor the plethora of reasons that you have earned it.

But enough of these claims that you love me. You don’t.

You don’t love the Irish boy who screamed on a blasted-out street in Omagh seventeen Augusts ago. You don’t know him.

You don’t love the Romany Gypsy teenager who hide his ethnic identity from the Church and the community for fear of laughs and assault and ostracisation. You don’t know him.

You don’t love the young queer man who desperately, desperately pleaded to be straight, anything but this, anything but gay, because he couldn’t bear one more reason for Christians to hate him and hurt him. You don’t know him.

You don’t love me.

You love the idea of me.

You love the prostitute, the tax collector, the leper that I am in this American society. You love the chance to trumpet your faith at the front of the Temple, to prove that you can act like Jesus and minister to us like he did.

You love that you can love me.

You love me as a prop. You love me as a ministry. You love me as a costume. You love me as a doctrine.

You don’t love anything about me that actually exists.

I have seen so much of Christian love I can identify it in a heartbeat. It is the love that preys, the love that twists, the love that abuses, the love that demands recognition, praise, proper conduct. It’s the love you are demonstrating with every breath you take.

I have also seen real love, true redemptive love, the love that listens and sacrifices and comforts and bleeds, the type of love you show nothing of.

So let us drop these pretenses.

You gave up your fraudulent gay mask after a year. Give up your false façade of love as well.

picture credit: http://7-themes.com/6918217-mask-masquerade-photo.html