GA Voice: Tell us about how this experiment began.
Kurek: A friend of mine used to go to karaoke with me in Nashville every week. She said, “I just came out to my family who is saved and they completely rejected me.” She got kicked out of her home, excommunicated from her church, was forced to move out and then, with no financial support, had to drop out of college. …
I realized that my instinct was to preach to her and change her instead of just loving her in that moment of sorrow. That voice telling me to preach to her wasn’t God. It was my spiritual programming.
I started to wonder how I could get rid of that programming and really feel her pain. I knew it wasn’t enough to have sympathy: I had to have empathy. To understand what she went through, I would have to do what Jesus did and become something I wasn’t and walk a mile in her shoes.
I had always been taught to follow Jesus. Up until then, following Jesus just meant going to a legalistic church, listening to Rush Limbaugh and voting Republican. I knew I had to get away from those things and just see what it was like to live like a gay man.
What was it like to come out to your parents?
I hated lying to them but what other way could I possibly understand how it feels to have the fear of rejection unless I did?
But you knew you would tell them eventually that you weren’t gay and they’d love you again so was there really a fear?
If they had rejected me, I would have known forever that their love was conditional so it was a real fear. It was terrifying.
What gay things did you do?
I adopted the label of “gay” – I’m straight so I can’t be gay. I could only immerse myself in gay culture. I didn’t want things to be scripted so I just hung out in the gayborhood. When someone asked me to play on the gay softball team, I said yes. When someone asked me to go to New York to protest with SoulForce, I said yes. I let everything happen the way it would have naturally happened if I really were gay.
I did have a pretend boyfriend because the first time I went to a gay club, I realized I was in way over my head. I pulled my one gay friend from karaoke in and asked him to help. He agreed to be my boyfriend so it kept me from having to flirt and gave me an excuse if a man asked me out.
I did let him kiss me one time for the experience. We also held hands and I was very comfortable with him but I didn’t do anything sexual whatsoever.
What was the biggest surprise that you learned about the gay community?
In my upbringing, there was a list of gay stereotypes like alcoholics, drug addicts, promiscuous… all of the negative adjectives. When I started living with them, about 99 percent of those stereotypes evaporated. …
There was a series of these breaking down stereotypes moments that moved me along but I think the moment the scales fell off my eyes — I wrote about it in the chapter I called “Jesus in Drag” — it was when I was at the [LGBT] café.
I heard a familiar song coming from the community center next door. It was karaoke night and I walked in, there was a drag queen on stage singing “Our God is an Awesome God” and everybody in the room had their arms up, eyes closed and just praising God.
It was the most intense worship experiences of my life. It was also the moment that I felt ashamed of how stupid I had been to think that you couldn’t be gay and be a Christian.
What was the biggest surprise that you learned about the Christian community?
I had a few friends openly reject me. But more shocking was how isolating and debilitating it was when I realized when my church and everyone in it cut me off without a word.
It ended up being a blessing to find out who my real friends were. I was rooting for them to come and be like Jesus to me so that I could break some of the stereotypes about Christians. It was really convicting that when I walked into the gay community in Nashville, I was instantly welcomed, loved and accepted like Jesus would have done. I never felt that level of love or community in any church.
If the church could emulate the LGBT community in terms of their ability to accept and love each other, I don’t think the world would be the same.
Top photo: ‘Up until then, following Jesus just meant going to a legalistic church, listening to Rush Limbaugh and voting Republican. I knew I had to get away from those things and just see what it was like to live like a gay man.’ — ‘The Cross in the Closet’ author Timothy Kurek, who is straight, on his decision to live as a gay man to find out about the realities of homophobia. (via Facebook)