Immersion based reporting has exploded in recent years with authors like A.J. Jacobs, but for one new author the immersion experience took him on an unprecedented journey, and it all began with two words: "I'm Gay." In his new book, "Jesus in Drag," Timothy Kurek dared to go where no conservative Christian has ever gone before, attempting to test years of teaching within the conservative denomination of his youth. The book releases Oct. 11.
Timothy, just how far did you go for the research of this book? Who did you "come out" to and what was their response?
I came out to everybody! My friends, family, everyone. When it all began I wasn't even doing it for a book. I just knew that I needed to understand, as realistically as possible, how the label of gay might change my life. The social experiment itself demanded all or nothing. I knew I'd have to fully engage in order to understand, so there were only a few people that knew what I was doing.
Every coming out story I've ever read or heard share one common trait: fear. Fear of the reactions and the great what-ifs. With that in mind, it was essential that I experience the same realistic fear and apprehension that comes with making the declaration that I was a gay man. In all of my life I've never been more nervous, or physically and emotionally shaken than I was standing in front of my family when I came out.
And how did they respond?
For the most part I was accepted, but my family operated off the Christian cliché "love the sinner, hate the sin," so while they didn't disown me, it was hard for them to accept me as a gay man. It wasn't long before I realized that "love the sinner, hate the sin" is almost as insidious as being rejected outright. How truly comfortable can you be sharing the ups and downs of your life with a family that doesn't know how to respond to your orientation? The answer is not very. It was a major eye-opener for me!
So is the book about being gay?
Not at all. I could never write a book about being gay because I'm not. The only thing I could do as a straight man was to experience how the label of gay impacted my everyday life, and when nothing else changed about me except the label of my orientation, how it really felt to live as a second-class citizen.
You said that you were still very much homophobic when you began this experiment. What was your first experience inside a gay bar or club?
I really wish I had a video of myself the first time I went into a gay dance club! I'm sure it would make me laugh. In my entire life I had never been around so many gay men. I had never been so uncomfortable. Within minutes of being in the club I had a man pull me onto the dance floor. The entire time I was mortified. He wasn't wearing a shirt and was covered in baby oil and glitter. I didn't know whether to punch the guy or smoke a cigarette after the song ended. In hindsight he was a perfectly nice guy, but everything I had heard in church about gay men told me that he was a sexual deviant and predator, and I was irrationally afraid. I definitely wasn't in the right frame of mind that first night, so all I remember was the fear.
But you overcame that fear fairly quickly didn't you?
Yes I did, and I told my one gay friend about my experiment. I asked him if he would be my "boyfriend" so I could not only learn how to act/be, but so I had an excuse to remove myself from situations that were too uncomfortable. He agreed and became my teacher, my partner and one of the most influential people in my life during that year.
As for my homophobia, once I told my family and friends that I was gay, I knew there was no turning back, so I was able to adapt fairly quickly. When you are so radically out of your comfort zone, you either become resilient or you shut down. Thankfully, things worked out.
What was the most eye-opening part of your year living with the label of gay?
Surprisingly the most eye-opening aspect of my year was experiencing just how detrimental the closet is. When I came out as gay, I was going into the closet as a straight man, and the repression and isolation I experienced was crushing. The combination of knowing I had to constantly hide my true attractions and orientation, with the reality that I couldn't even hope for the possibility having a relationship, was overwhelming. And 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.
Right now you're raising funds through an Indiegogo campaign? What is that? Why are you raising money?
Indiegogo.com is a crowd-sourcing site. It's a fantastic avenue for individuals looking to raise money for specific projects. Why am I raising the money? There's a simple reality with smaller publishing houses that hiring a good publicist is the only way you have a shot at getting the word out. Smaller houses don't usually offer a publicist, and most books from them fail to meet expectations because the author doesn't have the network to properly promote their work. The message of this book, the message of love and acceptance and how that practically looks, is key, and I need help spreading that message. I decided to crowd-source the cost of a good publicist by offering pre-orders at the $50 donation level. The perk is that if you donate $50, not only are you pre-ordering the book, but you'll receive your copy before the release date.
Any final thoughts?
I really hope that people read this book, no matter your stance on politics or religion. It is imperative we experience each others' stories, and to allow ourselves to learn from people in every walk of life.