An Interview with Timothy Kurek

I first stumbled across Timothy Kurek on a LinkedIn group about book marketing. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that a realized that he was the same guy I had been reading about, the former Conservative Southern Christian who went underground in Nashville’s small but vibrant gay community, effectively going into the closet as a straight guy and coming out a year later with his outlook profoundly changed. The book that resulted has earned the author an appearance on The View, been dissected on Huffington Post, and received glowing praise from no less a figure than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Too often, issues surrounding our gay and lesbian neighbors get clouded by superficial discussions of sexual morality and abstract arguments about legal equality. Kurek’s book cuts through that and performs the not-inconsequential feat of bridging two communities who seem irreconcilably at odds, and opening a channel for communication, for those who choose to use it.

In the following interview, Kurek says his lack of a college degree was one factor which contributed to his early reluctance to go ahead with a book. I suspect he learned more about life in that year than a lot of college graduates managed to absorb in four.

I believe there are a few among us have, under the spell of curiosity, alcohol, or some really good weed, “experimented” with a member of their own gender, but that never goes beyond the surface and past the moment. Kurek “experimented” with every aspect except the sexual for an entire year, immersing himself in the humanity behind the endless discussions, and the result should be illuminating for anyone willing to hold their own bias, about gays or Christians, up to the light he’s shining on the issue.

Upon reading the book, I thought I needed to have a talk with the author. He was gracious enough to agree.

[question]Was writing the book always part of the plan?[/question]

[answer]I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was like twelve years old, and so I had thought about it. But at the same time, I am a college dropout, I only had a year and a half of school, and knew nobody in the publishing world. So the answer is Yes and No. I didn’t make the decision on the book side of things until about four months in my experiment, when I was reading through journals entries I was taking and said, “These are actually pretty good, and I really want to share these with people.” Then I had a friend connect me to an agent, so that was when I made the decision, but I had no idea going in that was going to happen, or that I would ever be able to make it happen, because of my lack of education and contacts.[/answer]

[question]The media reports suggest that you were this evangelical Christian, then your friend came out, and, bang, you were going this. The book suggests that it was a more gradual evolution and not a “Road to Damascus” moment.[/question]

[answer]It was definitely a “Damascus” moment, but I couldn’t just immediately come out and do the experiment. My brother was engaged and getting married in November, so I was going to wait until they were married and had spent the holidays together. I knew it was going to potentially tear them up. I wanted to be sensitive of the timing, knowing they were participants in something they were not choosing to participate in. That forced me to slow down and think more about what it was I wanted to and for how long, and I was able to work a lot of details in the process.
But if that situation with my friend hadn’t happened, I don’t know if I ever would have moved forward anything.[/answer]

[question]But even before that, you were struggling somewhat with your thoughts on the subject.[/question]

[answer]I wasn’t struggling with my beliefs theologically on the subject. I believed it was a sin through and through. Even if I loved the people I was around who were gay or lesbian, I still wholeheartedly thought it was a sin. Through my experiment, I questioned a lot of my theological beliefs that I was taught and that was one of the things that changed: reconciling sexual orientation and faith. I was starting to move more into a grace with certain things than I had been in the past, but I wasn’t even remotely there yet. It’ll probably take me ten to twenty years to figure any of it out.[/answer]

[question]The book mentions several times the people who were part of your life before the experiment, but who seemed to drop off the radar the moment you came out to your family. Have you heard from any of them since the book was released?[/question]

[answer]No! And I thought that after we had done all the press for the book that we would hear something from them. I know specifically even at Liberty [University], there are a lot of Liberty faculty and people at the school who are aware of the book and that Liberty is talked about in the book. A lot of the social circles I used to run in, I gone on and seen people posting about it, but no one’s actually come forward. I don’t know if it’s a shame thing, because they realize that it wasn’t actually real and they were dicks [laugh], so I thought I’m not going to go crawling back to them now.

If they disagree with me, or disagree with what I did, or disagree with the book, I think those relationships are better left dead. I’ve forgiven them and I wish nothing but the best for them but I’m not going to put myself around them or try to reach out to them, ever again.[/answer]

[question]I assume that people portrayed in the book have read the book and you have heard from them. I’m curious how they reacted.[/question]

[answer]Most of my friends in the book, if not all of my friends in the book have read it. There’s a picture of me that’s been floating around the internet, of me at Pride Day with these two drag queens. I just met them and it was like, “Hey, you guys are looking all fancy. Can I take a picture with you?” And they were like, “Oh, sure!” Well, the picture got around and they both contacted me on Facebook and said, “We’re so happy we took that picture with you. We’re reading the book. Can’t wait to see you!” So when I go to Nashville in December, I’ll be catching with a lot of people, and I think we’re going to do a book release party down at Tribe, where I spent most of my time. So we’ll see what happens.

I’ll actually be down there shooting a documentary, this mini-documentary. This Dutch film crew is flying in doing like a half-hour documentary for Holland, Belgium, and England. [/answer]

[question]About your project?[/question]

[answer]Specifically about my project, about the book. They’re going to be interviewing people from my book, and friends and family, stuff like that, seeing the locations I was in, what part of Nashville I was in. [/answer]

[question]One thing that I took way from the book is the stress you went through, even periods of depression. If there is one thing you want people to take away from the book, if they take nothing else away, would it what someone would feel who wasn’t doing an experiment and who was actually in that situation?[/question]

[sidequo]The closet is a monster. And it eats people alive, and it ruins lives. To come out of the closet, it takes an extreme act of courage.[/sidequo]

[answer]Absolutely. The closet is a monster. And it eats people alive, and it ruins lives. To come out of the closet, it takes an extreme act of courage. It was unreal to me to how the self-depression impacted my mental state. I was definitely depressed, more so than I’ve ever been in my life. And I knew, “Hey, in eight months, or six months, or four months, it’s going to be over, and I’ll be out of the closet, and ‘straight Tim’ again,” and able to live my life. And because I’m straight, I’ve back in “normal,” privileged straight society. I’ll be immediately accepted again for being me.

That was also convicting, because I was getting a glimpse of this thing and I had no idea of how ultimately crushing and insidious it can be, because I’ve got an expiration date.

That was the most eye-opening thing of my entire year, was seeing how horrible it was to not get to be who I am, and have to lie to everyone about who I am. [/answer]

[question]Yours was almost a “backwards” closet. You weren’t allowed to be straight.[/question]

[answer]Yeah, it was interesting. I had opportunities to flirt, or to date girls that I was genuinely interested in, and I could have said, “Hey, this is an experiment, I’m not really gay,” but I wasn’t able to do that. So the option of love was taken off the table. The option of dating and being young and single, that was taken away from me. I was going to a church in Portland where I was the only straight guy, and hearing some of the guys during the sharing time talking about how they just came out of the closet in their late forties, and they were just broken, and you could tell that the closet had really hindered them in their life, and cut them off from having a normal life. It was really intense.[/answer]

[question]I can only use my imagination as to what it’s like, if someone reads this book and doesn’t empathize with people that situation, there’s probably something wrong with them.[/question]

[sidequo]I do hope that, even if conservative Christians who read the book don’t change their views on it, per se, they’ll at least realize that it’s not these people’s choice. They’re living in the closet in fear of losing everyone in their life, that it’s a really hard life to live.[/sidequo]

[answer]It’s unreal. I will say that one positive to come from the whole thing is that I’ve had people connected to me say, “Oh, my gosh. A straight guy gets it.” And I’ve had people who are in the closet message me, and say, “Everything you said, we were crying the whole time you were talking about, because that’s our life.”

And I do hope that, even if conservative Christians who read the book don’t change their views on it, per se, they’ll at least realize that it’s not these people’s choice. They’re living in the closet in fear of losing everyone in their life, that it’s a really hard life to live.[/answer]

[question]Who is your ideal reader? If you could give your book to one person, who would you most want to read this?[/question]

[answer]I definitely think that it has a dual audience, in that the people who have responded the most positively are both conservative Christians who have gay siblings or friends or uncle or aunts or whatever, and LGBT people who, if anything, I wanted them to know they’re not alone, that I’ve experienced and I understand much more than I did before.

I also wrote about the reverse bigotry, how I didn’t conquer my prejudice, I pushed the object of my prejudice back to the Christians. I’ve had LGBT people that have emailed me and say, “Hey, you challenged us to reconcile with our conservative Christian family.

So I think that the message is a lot broader than I originally thought, in terms of our audience, because it’s dealing more with the nature of prejudice than it with the LGBT stuff. There’s really no one ideal person. There’s a few ideal groups. I’m happy that it’s reaching people on both sides of the divide. It’s all about getting people into a conversation, and not into an argument, and so far it seems like that part of it is working.[/answer]

[question]The View and Desmond Tutu? It’s getting someone’s attention.[/question]

[answer]Yeah. It’s really humbling, when you write a book, or you do anything, to have that kind of response to it. Most authors never get to do a radio interview, much less go on The View. So I definitely feel humbled and blessed that I’ve been given those opportunities, because it’s my first book. It’s not like I’ve been doing this for ages and some pro at doing interviews or anything like that. It’s a whole new world for me.

Desmond Tutu’s endorsement blew me away. He’s my hero; to have him endorse it like that was just incredible. [/answer]

[question]Coming from the background you have, you use the word “convicted” in a way that might not be familiar to people who don’t have your upbringing.[/question]

[answer]As in “conviction” is a more appropriate use of the word. Anyone who feels like they, for instance, no matter their religious background, they go through the line at the grocery aisle or the checkout line, and they’re rude to the person who is the cashier, and then they leave and they’re like, “Wow, I shouldn’t have done that. I should have been nicer to that person.”

I think conviction is a universal thing. It’s not necessarily, in terms of the spiritual sense of it, widely understood, but I think people understand when we hurt other people. There’s a natural human base level of consciousness and conscience that tells us what we’re doing is right or wrong.

I feel there are a lot of people, there are a lot of people who are atheists who have read the book and said that they are very skeptical and they hate reading Christian stuff and they can even read the book and read the religious stuff in it without disliking it or cringing at it. That was another positive thing to hear. [/answer]

[question]I can vouch for that.[/question]

[answer][Laugh]I read on Reddit, in the atheist section, it was a trending topic. It surprises me because, I love my atheist friends but the second I mention God or faith or anything like that, they kind of tune out. So to have them not tune out is really cool.[/answer]

[question]My ninja Google skills have told me that the original title of the book was “Jesus in Drag.”[/question]

[answer][Laugh]Yeah, we never made a set, definitive title until about two months before publication, but when I wrote the book on my computer, all the files are called “Jesus in Drag.” So we left the chapter title, but we didn’t want to turn off potential readers who are conservative, by doing things just to be provocative. Plus, the fact of the matter is, in that chapter, “Jesus in Drag,” in hindsight, it wasn’t actually a drag queen. That was probably a transgendered woman. I left it in there as a drag queen because, writing something after the fact, it’s hard not to write from the perspective you’re in currently about the past. I tried to process things as they happened, plus I wrote it in present tense, and my naivete, I kept it in there. I naively thought, “Oh, that’s a drag queen.”

We just thought it would be easier to not call [the book] that, because it would hinder our audience. [/answer]

[question]Well, I think I’ve covered the waterfront. Is there anything you wanted to add that I might have missed?[/question]

[answer]No, I think you’ve covered everything pretty well. Plus, obviously the book covers all of it, so hopefully people will just go and get the book.

That’s actually been one of the interesting things. There was a panel discussion about me on Huffington Post Live, where people were basically questioning me or knocking me, and only one person on the panel had actually read the book. Before you judge it, read it.[/answer]

[question]One of the criticisms that I read, and it was one of the more perplexing ones, said that the book’s treatment of gays and lesbians may be great, but it reinforces “transphobia.”[/question]

[answer]Your talking about Kathy Baldock?[/answer]

[question]Yeah. She would be talking about Angela/Albert in your book? How is that reinforcing anything negative?[/question]

[answer]The idea she is coming from was that I was reinforcing trans stereotypes. In real life, Angel was sexually abused by her dad, and had all these intensely negative abuse-laden situations, and that would lead anyone who read about it to think, “See, all these trans folk really are just mentally screwed up, and have been abused and stuff.”

First of all, the book is not about trans issues. It was about a straight guy who was prejudiced against gays and lesbians and that’s ultimately where it’s at.

Kathy, she’s an interesting person. I’ve met her several times. She wrote that, and she’s made a point to go post the link to that blog on any forum whatsoever that is talking about my book, which is kind of revealing.

But the thing is, the trans community is almost completely different from the LGB community. The gays and lesbians that I know, they don’t even understand the trans issue and how to handle trans people. It’s not somebody wanting to be somebody of the same gender. It’s somebody believe their somebody else, trapped in the body of the wrong gender. That’s more of psychological and identity issue, than “Hey, I’m only attracted to men or I’m only attracted to women.”

So it’s not a trans book, and a lot of LGB people have bucked back against that, and said, “He’s writing about gays and lesbians. And not even lesbians as much as gay men. He’s working specifically with what he felt the most prejudiced against, which was gay men.” Straight guys don’t have a problem with gay women. We’re desensitized to that.[/answer]

[question]And my reaction would be, if that’s her story, then that’s her story.[/question]

[answer]And it’s not like, even though I spent a year, I’m going to meet 20 to 30 trans folk in the Bible Belt South. Angel was the only transgendered person, up to that point, that I had ever met, or that I knew was transgendered. So that criticism, I don’t think, holds much water, but everyone’s entitled to their opinion. [/answer]

[question]It just left me scratching my head a little, so…[/question]

[answer]I think it left a lot of people scratching their heads, but this is just a hot-button issue, everyone takes such a passionate stance, even if it’s an irrational stance. I’ve been really lucky in that the criticism that has come at me from the LGBT community, other LGBT people have stepped up and defended me, so I haven’t really had to defend myself to the LGBT community, to my critics in that community, because they’re divided on it.

I guess some of them don’t want something with straight white privilege trying to speak on their behalf, which is not even necessarily what I was trying to do. I was just telling a story about how my viewpoints changed. It’s amazing how that gets lost in the shuffle of it. [/answer]

[question]Another thing I took away from the book is that none of the people who knew you personally had a problem with it.[/question]

[answer]Yeah, there were only two people who had a problem with it, and neither one of them had a problem with it from an ideological perspective. It was from a personal situation, where one guy had developed feelings for me and sent me some potentially embarrassing text messages and stuff where he was trying to flirt with me, and thought, “Oh, no, now everything I said is going to be written about.”

I was like, “No, this is not an expose on you. That’s not the point of it. Do you I’m going to able to include in the book every conversation I ever had with everybody?”

And the other person was my old pastor’s daughter who I met on National Coming Out Day during my experiment and we become friends. And I didn’t know until a week before I had turn the second draft of the book in, that she was going to actually let me use her story, because she was wrestling with what she thought about it. Ultimately through our conversations she ended up making the decision and she’s been one of my biggest supporter since then.

That’s a long story, but the two people who had an issue with it, no longer have an issue with it. Even those who didn’t like it, are in my corner.[/answer]

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