When Straight People Tell Gay Stories

Timothy Kurek is getting a lot of press for his new book detailing the year he spent pretending to be gay. While I am incredibly pleased that Kurek’s experience in the LGBT community changed him from a self-professed, church-taught “homophobe” into a staunch ally for the community, I have become increasingly troubled by his story.

Some have pointed out that Kurek’s experiment, while certainly eye, mind, and heart-opening for him, was just that—an experiment. While Kurek may have felt the sting of the reverse closet—dealing with the stigma of being perceived as gay AND having to hide his true straight identity from his new gay and lesbian friends—his experience always had an end date in sight.

There was always going to be a time when he could go back to being in that acceptable “normal” majority—probably much to the relief of his distraught mother.

Emily Timbol, a straight LGBT ally, has written about her own experiences engaging with the LGBT community in an honest manner. She achieved the trust and respect of the community by being herself, she writes in The Huffington Post, instead of lying like Kurek.

What’s sad is that every interaction Timothy had during his year pretending was fake. The people he met thought he was something he was not. He was welcomed under false pretenses, acting like someone who understood the struggle that his LGBT friends faced. He did not. His heart might have been in the right place, and his intentions might have been pure, but what he leaves is a wake of people lied to. In this case, the ends don’t justify the means. Especially not when the ends could have been reached without lying to anyone.

But I think what galls me the most is the attention Kurek has garnered from the mainstream press—which really isn’t Kurek’s fault as much as it is the fault of a voyeuristic media that loves a peepshow, in this case into the lives of gay and lesbian people. The problem is, the media wants to hear from people outside of the LGBT community to tell the community’s story. This is the most offensive part of this story for me.

I wrote a book back in 2008 called Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. It was published by big-name publishing house (Jossey-Bass) and won high praise from Publisher’s Weekly before its release. When it came out, it got little attention from any mainstream press. Any touring I did in support of the book I created on my own, reaching out as best I could to interested parties. CNN never called, ABC never called, Christianity Today didn’t even slam me for it. My book may have helped some people in my niche audience, but it was anything but a groundbreaker.

I do not recount this to invite anyone to a pity party. I am proud of my little book and its little sales numbers. I have received many letters from grateful readers who were moved and who enjoyed the book. In reality, that’s all a writer really wants anyway—to know they’ve made a difference in someone’s life, even if it’s not on a grand scale. I do not write to complain, but to make a larger observation.

My dear friend Jack Rogers, former Moderator of the 213th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was once, himself, opposed to homosexuality. Rogers changed his mind, wrote a great book about that experience, and tackled the anti-gay scriptures in his Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality. In conversation with Jack, I learned that his book sold 25,000 copies, and is still selling in a revised and expanded edition that came out in 2009. By comparison, my book has struggled to sell 5,000 copies.

My point, and I do have one, is this: the media does not care when a gay or lesbian person says that gay and lesbian people are not sick, sinful, or deviant. Such assertions are viewed if not with derision, at least with suspicion. They only care when a straight person says such things. They listen when the Jack Rogers and Timothy Kureks of the world tell our story.

I’m eternally grateful that our allies are telling our stories, but why are we silenced in the process? Who better to witness and give voice to the trials, the pain, the heartbreak, or even the victories and euphoria than those who have actually experienced them all?

But, in the mainstream media, our voices are suspect. Of course a lesbian pastor is going to say that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is okay with God. It would be big news if she didn’t! But when an older white guy like Jack Rogers, or a mid-20s straight white guy like Kurek says it, it’s big news! God loves gay people and doesn’t judge or condemn them? Gay people are just average, everyday people like everyone else? Who knew? Hallelujah!

I am glad that Timothy Kurek has emerged from his big gay adventure as an ally who understands, just a little bit more intimately, the struggles that LGBT people face every single day.

But I long for the day when our community can come out from our closet of silence and be invited to tell our own stories—in our own voices.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)