book reviews, homosexuality, religion

Repost: My review of The Cross in the Closet, by Timothy Kurek…

I posted this review on my original blog on March 25, 2014. It appears here as/is.

Today’s review is about Timothy Kurek’s 2012 book, The Cross in the Closet.  I don’t remember why I downloaded this book.  I think I heard about it somewhere and decided it sounded interesting.  Right now, it’s selling for about $5 on Amazon, so that might have also had something to do with my decision to buy.  I read Kurek’s book in a matter of hours…  and when I was finished with it, I was kind of reminded of this video.

This video is definitely NSFW, but it’s funny… 

The Cross in the Closet is the true story of how Timothy Kurek, like several authors before him, decided to fake something in order to develop empathy.  Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America, faked being poor and uneducated so she could write about what it’s like to be poor and having to work at minimum wage jobs to get by.  I read her book in the early 2000s and enjoyed it the first time I read it.  Then I read it again and it kind of pissed me off.  Ehrenreich wasn’t really poor and knew there was an end to when she’d have to fake being poor.  She had an escape from poverty– there was a light at the end of the tunnel that she could use to bolster herself when things got really hard.  That’s not to say that I don’t think she learned anything.  It’s just to say that her experience wasn’t all that authentic.

In a similar fashion, Timothy Kurek, who grew up near Nashville in a conservative Christian home and spent a year at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, faked being gay for a year.  At the start of his book, Kurek writes about how Jerry Falwell had preached against homosexuality and how people who are gay or lesbian are living sinful lives.  When Kurek is confronted by a gay activist who calls him “brother”, he calls the man to repentance.  He is very sure of his position; that homosexuals are hopeless sinners who lead disgusting lives.  He treats them terribly.

After a year at Liberty, Kurek goes back to Tennessee because his parents split up.  He starts hanging around a karaoke bar in Nashville, where he becomes acquainted with some homosexuals.  One of his dear friends, a young woman he knew from church, comes out to him.  She is devastated because her parents have disowned her.  As Kurek awkwardly comforts his friend, he can’t find the right words to say.  He realizes that he’s been bigoted.  He starts to realize that homosexuals are people too.  Then, he decides he’s going to experiment.  He hatches his plan to come out as gay to his family and friends, even though he is straight.  He will spend a year on this charade, learning something about the homosexual community.

Kurek’s family seems to take his announcement with shock and dismay, but they still talk to him.  His pastor at church sends him a rather hateful missive about not condoning the sinful gay lifestyle.  Some of his friends quit talking to him.  Kurek goes to a gay bar and is immediately hit on, which makes him uncomfortable.  Fortunately, he has a gay friend from the karaoke bar who serves as his boyfriend during the year to keep him from being hit on by interested men.  The friend, whose name is Shawn, is black, handsome, and a very gifted singer… and he doesn’t have a problem playing “boyfriend” at first.

I was intrigued by Kurek, who claims to be a conservative Christian, but does things that I wouldn’t expect from a lifelong conservative evangelical Christian.  Though Kurek writes that he spent a lot of hours in church, he smokes clove cigarettes.  At the start of the book, he claims to have only tasted beer twice, but by the end, he’s very much a drinker.  He dances.  He also swears a lot for someone who is so apparently Christian.  All of these things go against what I’ve been taught about the evangelical Christian community and what they think is okay.     

As the year passes, Kurek finds himself becoming more involved and therefore more knowledgable about the LGBTQ world.  He makes many friends, works in a gay cafe where he learns how to make excellent lattes, and goes to a lot of karaoke bars.  He learns that many homosexuals are wonderful people and some are not so wonderful.  He makes some very dear friends, even as he fights his natural attraction to women.  He even discovers that homosexuals can love God when he stumbles across a transvestite singing “Awesome God” at a karaoke show.  In short, Kurek seems to learn that in the most important ways, homosexuals are really not so different than straight people are.  One thing I noticed from Kurek’s book is that the gay community he was briefly a part of seemed very tight knit and caring… not unlike some church communities.  Although knowing what I know about some churches, I bet the gay community’s caring was more genuine.  From what Kurek writes, most of the homosexuals he befriended during his gay year were still friends when he came clean.

Actually, Kurek’s description of the karaoke bars was interesting to me, since Bill and I once went to one in Key West, Florida.  I happen to love karaoke and they had a great show going.  We went; I sang; and the people there were really great.  We had a blast… though I would be lying if I said Bill wasn’t very uncomfortable at first.  He didn’t know how to behave.  Bill has an adopted “half-sister” who is a lesbian, though she’s 19 years younger than he is.  He doesn’t know her as well as he’d like to, but through Facebook we’ve discovered that she’s a truly wonderful person who is very involved in her community.  But despite having a lesbian sister, Bill hasn’t been exposed to members of the gay community nearly as much as I have and really felt out of his element in a gay bar.  For that reason, I could empathize with Kurek’s first experiences visiting establishments that cater to the homosexual community.

Kurek’s year of being “gay” was difficult, though his experience being “gay” definitely wasn’t as difficult as it was for most of the new friends he made.  Again, Kurek knew his condition was temporary and could count down the months before he could be straight again.  His family and friends were by and large decent about it… until his brother and his wife found out halfway through the year that Kurek had lied about being gay.  It caused a huge rift that Kurek describes rather poignantly.  Kurek is close to his brother, so his brother’s anger was very painful for him.  Unrequited love on the part of Kurek’s “boyfriend” Shawn, seems to make Kurek’s experiment more difficult for Shawn.

I was surprised by how Kurek’s homosexual friends took the news when he told them he wasn’t actually gay.  They mostly seemed okay with his experiment.  I’m sure that to many of them, what Kurek did was pretty bold and maybe even kind of cool, especially since it led to Kurek being more empathetic.  However, I couldn’t help but realize that Kurek’s experience with being gay was not as authentic as it might have been.  In fact, it was a bit contrived and what he did is nothing new.  And I wondered if any of his new friends were offended by Kurek’s decision to be “fake and gay”.  He doesn’t mention any that I remember, though.

Kurek’s writing is basically okay, though there are some typos and misspelled words in his manuscript.  Kurek’s dialogue also sometimes feels a little scripted… like something I might hear on a soap opera.  He seems very young, too… which I believe he was when he wrote this book.  The youth seems to inject his writing with the kind of testosterone that makes young men single-minded and dogmatic about certain things.  The writing got a little preachy at times.  That being said, I thought The Cross in the Closet was basically an interesting book.  I would recommend it to anyone who thinks reading about Kurek’s experiment might interest them.  You could certainly read worse.

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Ex, LDS, psychology

The “princess treatment”…

About ten years ago, I was a big fan of the Project Rant series on YouTube. This channel featured actors who would take the most entertaining rants from Craig’s List and recite them as if they were the people who wrote them. I can’t remember which rant attracted me first, but I was hooked after I saw my first video– which wasn’t actually their first video. I have a habit of catching on to things after they’ve been established for awhile. For instance, it took me four years to discover Desperate Housewives. I never got into Nurse Jackie until long after it was off TV.

This morning, I discovered a video by Project Rant that I hadn’t yet seen. It’s entitled “Bully”, and appears below…

This one is a bit darker than most of them… I had somehow missed its release. I like her parting shot.

I hate bullies. I understand on a cognitive level that bullies exist because they have unmet psychological needs, and they take out their angst on people they perceive to be different and/or weaker than they are. I still hate them, though. I have been on the receiving end of bullies for most of my life, and it’s caused me a lot of pain. It’s also made me surprisingly resilient and resolute about some things. As I watched the above Project Rant video, I related to the actress as she describes mean people provoking her to take action.

What is a bully? Simply put, a bully is “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable”. I’ve seen some people and behaviors described as “bullying”, when they don’t actually fit the definition of “bully”. For instance, I don’t think mere criticism of someone counts as bullying. There has to be a threat or intimidation involved. There also has to be a perceived power imbalance– whether or not there is an actual power imbalance– which causes the bully to act.

This morning, Bill and I were discussing a sad and distressing situation involving a female bully and her victims. For years, we were the only ones who seemed to see what was happening. Other people have now noticed the bully and the bad behavior perpetrated by this person.

Having a relationship with a bully, particularly when it’s someone as close as one’s parent, is like falling into quicksand or being caught in an undertow. It’s very troublesome and exhausting to extricate oneself from those situations. Once you’re out of that metaphorical quicksand or undertow, you’re wise to stay out of the morass and avoid the area. That’s what going “no contact” is about. A person can go “no contact” with a bully and still forgive them, and even wish the best for them.

But, as the actress in the above Project Rant video points out, sometimes you have to take bullies down a notch. There are times when it’s appropriate and even necessary to take action against them. Sometimes, you have to fight back. Sometimes, the smallest and most subtle and obscure clues can be profound in how they illustrate an actual scenario of how a bully is operating. Context is important.

The above video is pretty funny… especially at the beginning, as the missionaries ring the doorbells to the stars.

This morning, Bill related a story he’d heard from someone who had served as a Mormon missionary. Mormon missionaries, as you may or may not know, are not often treated well by the public. They tend to get a lot of doors slammed in their faces. But every once in awhile, they run into people who offer unexpected kindness to them. It’s those people who are the most memorable, and who often have a profound affect on the missionary’s experiences in the field.

I have kind of a special affinity for missionaries. I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, which isn’t the same as being a Mormon missionary in terms of my purposes for being away, or the day to day lifestyle. How the experience is similar, however, is that Peace Corps Volunteers and missionaries are far away from home and typically don’t have a lot of money. Both groups of people can be somewhat vulnerable in a number of ways. And since they are so far from the comforts of home, some situations are magnified in terms of how they are experienced and remembered.

Sometimes, people are cruel, but sometimes they’re not. I think the LDS missionary and Peace Corps situations are also similar in that, a lot of times, missionaries and Volunteers find themselves daydreaming about being at home and feeling comfortable among material possessions and loved ones. However, it’s possible for a PCV to visit home during their service. It’s generally not possible for LDS missionaries to go home while they are “serving the Lord”, even if there’s an emergency. Being a Mormon missionary can be very tough, unpleasant, and uncomfortable.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Bill said that this missionary had been treated like a “princess” by a couple she and her companion met when they were missionaries. The couple, who were members of the church, helped them out by giving them a place to stay for a couple of weeks. For some reason, the sister missionaries had nowhere to stay, so the couple had taken them in on a temporary basis. Years later, she remembers the experience of staying with the couple and describes their treatment of her as “like a princess”.

It’s my understanding that the church arranges apartments for the missionaries. The apartments tend to be cheap and spartan in nature, and sometimes they aren’t in the best or safest neighborhoods. But supposedly, the onus is not on the missionary to go out and find an apartment on their own. I am left thinking that the missionary in this story was waiting for a spot to open in an existing apartment, but I’m not sure exactly what the situation was.

I was just awestruck that the former missionary felt this couple who had taken her and her companion into their home– strangers to them, except for being fellow church members– had treated her so well that she felt like a princess. Either the couple who had offered hospitality are extraordinary people who weren’t aware of the concept of what missionary life is supposed to be like, or the missionary’s life at home was extraordinarily terrible. Bill happens to know something about this particular missionary’s home life. Indeed, he knows about it quite intimately. And he can attest that life at home was probably pretty horrible for her.

Still… hearing that story this morning really gobsmacked me. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of accounts from former LDS missionaries. I know that for a lot of them, the mission is pretty tough. It’s physically, emotionally, and mentally uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s even dangerous. Sometimes missionaries come home with lifelong health issues related to their missions, or lose limbs or senses.

A number of missionaries have even died while serving. Some get sick with diseases like dysentery, or they become seriously ill because they don’t get adequate medical treatment. That tends to happen when the missionaries are in remote areas in developing countries. Some missionaries are victims of crimes. I remember in 2006, an “elder” (male missionary) from Utah was killed in Virginia when he and his companion stumbled across a criminal in the process of committing an offense. The criminal shot the missionaries, and one of them– Morgan Young– died, while the other was wounded.

Church members tend to regard those who die while serving a mission as somehow blessed– they had a special purpose that God needed them for in the Celestial Kingdom, or something. I remember, in particular, the missionary who died in Virginia, since that’s my home state and where I was living at the time of the death. His mother said her son had “died with his boots on”. Below is a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley, who was president of the LDS church when the missionary was murdered:

“I’m impressed with the thought that Elder Young has joined the ranks of a very select group who stand so very, very high in the estimate of God,” he said. “There is some special place and some special work for them to do under our Father’s plan.”

Some missionaries have accidents, which run the gamut from the garden variety car crash, to falling off cliffs while hiking, or even being mauled by animals. Many missionaries make it through the experience just fine, although some are left with emotional scars that haunt them. I’ve read a lot of stories by people who have been LDS missionaries and have left the experience worse for wear. But sometimes, the mission– as tough as it can be– is even better than being at home.

It’s not that different for Peace Corps Volunteers. Sometimes, PCVs die, have accidents, are victims of crimes, or contract exotic illnesses that affect them for the rest of their lives. I think that PCVs may have access to better healthcare. I know that they can be “medevacked” to the States or a western country for treatment, if it’s necessary. The LDS church, on the other hand, tends to do things as cheaply as possible. A lot of times, church members are tapped for help– donations of skills or material things, like a room in a house. So, say a church member is a doctor or a dentist. The church might call on that person to offer treatment for an ailing missionary free of charge, or at a much reduced rate. Sometimes people are glad to help, but other times, it’s an imposition.

I would think hosting two young women in a home, particularly since missionaries have to live by rather strict standards and rules, could be an imposition. I would not expect a missionary to be treated like royalty. But then, I also know that sometimes, just being treated with basic kindness, dignity, and respect when one has spent their whole lives being abused, can feel like royal treatment. So, knowing what we do about this situation, I guess I can understand why it felt like “princess treatment” for the missionary in question. She was getting treated like someone with value. And now, she wants to help others who are not being treated with value escape the morass, and get away from the bully who has victimized them for years.

It’s very satisfying to escape the toxic clutches of a bully. It’s even more satisfying to help someone else escape, and to help them realize that they can and should be treated with basic respect. But it’s absolutely mind blowing when someone describes being treated with dignity and decency as “the princess treatment”. I have no words for that. It’s possible that this missionary was really treated as if she was a princess, but I doubt it. I think being treated with warmth, friendliness, fairness, and love was so foreign and comforting to her that it felt like “the princess treatment”, much like a plate of bland vegetables or saltines tastes like the best food in the world to a starving person. It’s all about perspective.

Anyway… we hope we can help her take the bully down a notch. Maybe not with a literal baseball bat… but with something just as devastating and powerful. Time will tell.

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What if “Dick” had found me attractive?

“I ain’t done bad” either, but I ain’t no Fancy Rae Baker…

Remember Reba McEntire’s 1990 hit song, “Fancy”? It was about woman who was raised “poor white trash” whose mama bought her a dancing dress and sent her out on the streets to find herself a man. That song, oddly enough, is in my head this morning as I consider the reactions I got to yesterday’s post about “Dick”, the guy who insinuated that the only the reason Bill loves me is because I can sing. I was thinking about the triumphant ending of the song, where Fancy describes all she’s had and all she’s done, despite her impoverished upbringing. She said, “I ain’t done bad.”

I remember when “Fancy” was a hit. I was a freshman at Longwood College. My friends and I used to laugh at this song. One of my male friends said, “Hit the streets, Fancy! We ain’t got any money!” My parents didn’t tell me to hit the streets, but when I turned 18, they were definitely ready for me to GTFO on my own. I was their last kid and they welcomed having an empty nest. So off I went, and I didn’t date much until I was in my late 20s. When I met Bill, I was in graduate school, convinced that I would never marry. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend and he, having just separated from his ex wife, wasn’t looking for a girlfriend. But I guess it was just meant to be.

There were a few guys who expressed an interest in dating me, but a lot of them were simply friends. They liked my sense of humor, but I didn’t “ring their chimes.” Consequently, I didn’t date a lot of guys. It’s true, I had a fairly boring young adulthood. I wasn’t dating much, like my pretty older sisters did. But I also didn’t wind up with memories of bad break ups, like they did. I found a guy I liked, who also liked me, and married him. Honestly, I think I’m lucky it turned out that way. Who wants to be saddled with memories of dating selfish jackasses like “Dick”? Besides, I really don’t think I’m ugly. Are you surprised? I never understood why dating a lot of people was so important anyway.

Bill didn’t marry me just because I can sing. Bill didn’t even hear me sing until I’d already “hooked” him with my writing skills and creative use of profanity. He was attracted to me because of my mind, not my body. 😀 I used to write kinky stories, and Bill was a fan of them. We happen to like the same kind of stuff, so we’re sexually compatible. But we also chatted online before he ever read my stories. He liked me even then– before he’d even seen my face, heard me sing, or listened to my cackle. You know why? Because he’s not a shallow fuck, and he values people for qualities beyond what he sees on the outside. I am extremely blessed to have him for that reason alone.

My husband treats me with dignity and respect, and he loves me for many things beyond just my physical appearance. That means that as we both inevitably get older and uglier, we’ll probably stay together and maybe even live longer. Sure, he also loves my boobs and my big blue eyes. He loves my smile, too. The point is, he thinks my whole package is beautiful, and that’s enough– for him and for me. So, what guys like “Dick” think doesn’t matter, although like anyone else, I don’t enjoy being insulted. What he said was an insult to my pride, but the truth is, I wouldn’t have been interested in “Dick”, anyway. I’m not attracted to abusive assholes, and thank GOD for that.

Boy, do I relate to this… although people don’t hit on Bill in front of me. My resting bitch face probably helps discourage them. I do think some might wonder why Bill finds me attractive, though.

Yesterday’s post got a lot of comments, many of which came from people who very kindly offered me consolation. I suppose it’s natural that people would console me for being subjected to “Dick’s” tone deaf comment that implied the only thing attractive about me is my singing voice. I do appreciate the kind comments, but the truth is, I got over “Dick’s” shitty comment years ago. I mean, who cares what he thinks? I guess if I have any regrets about that incident, it’s that I wasn’t quick enough to offer a devastatingly witty retort.

The incident I wrote about yesterday happened in 2011. It’s now 2020, and look at my life. I live in a safe, beautiful country with a man who loves and supports me. I have traveled to interesting places and made a lot of friends. I’ve paid off my student loans and have minimal debts. I’m basically healthy (as far as I know), and I don’t have any lingering reminders of past lovers, like herpes or HIV. I do whatever I want every day, and no one cares if I wear makeup, a bra, or can give them a good blow job. I have a comfortable, privileged lifestyle… and the fact that we were even on a SeaDream ship, or ANY ship, is proof positive that we’re doing alright. As I commented to jono51 yesterday, “I live pretty well for a ‘fat and ugly woman’, no?”

Imagine, though, what my life would be like with a guy like “Dick” finding me attractive. I’ve often thought that really beautiful women must have to deal with a lot of stupid shit from horny guys who can’t help hitting on beautiful women. When you’re very physically attractive, you will attract a lot of people. A few of those people might be high quality folks, but a lot of them will probably be guys like “Dick”, who are simply interested in what they see on the outside. Guys like “Dick” are thoughtless and self-centered, and as their conquests inevitably age, they almost always lose interest. Then the pretty lady, if she’s not herself like “Dick”, will often be cast aside for a younger, sexier model. That sucks, doesn’t it?

If I had married or even dated a guy like “Dick”, I would probably be on the receiving end of daily insults. I imagine that he would express disappointment whenever I ate something he didn’t approve of, especially if I also gained weight. “Dick” would probably want me to dress up and wear makeup for him, and he’d be interested in showing me off to like-minded shallow people, trying to impress them. He’d likely expect me to pleasure him sexually whenever he felt like it, and he probably wouldn’t be a very generous lover to me. He’d eventually get tired and resentful of my needs, since beauty and health inevitably fades. Seriously… this guy was calling his dead wife a “cow” for getting breast cancer and dying! Imagine what kinds of things he said to her when she was living! I didn’t mention it yesterday, but “Dick” also made disparaging comments about other people, not just on the cruise, but whole groups of people who didn’t fit his narrow world view. So why would what he says matter?

I’ve written this story before, but because it’s pertinent today, I’m going to briefly share it again. Back in the late 1990s, I was probably at my physically most attractive in my lifetime, outside of babyhood. I’d lost a significant amount of weight and was dressing well, wearing makeup, and even getting my hair cut professionally (which I pretty much never do). I had started going out at night, often by myself. One evening I went to a bar in Williamsburg, Virginia. A bunch of my co-workers were there, including my friend Arielle, who was slim and pretty. I hadn’t come to the bar with my work pals, but as we were all there at the same time and basically friendly, we were hanging out at the same table.

Take note. I’m not a cock or vagina blocking friend… If you want to talk to a woman, go ahead and talk to her. Don’t talk to me.

Christina Aguilera’s song, “Genie in a Bottle” was playing, and Arielle started dancing. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was this strange guy standing there. He said he’d noticed me talking to Arielle was curious to find out if she had come to the bar with me. He wanted to know if she was “alone”. I suspect he thought I was Arielle’s “fat friend”.

I might be big and fat, but I’m not the “big fat friend”. And I really don’t care if you get laid. Knock yourself out, if you can convince her to go home with you, and please spare me the “non-discriminating friend” who will fuck anything.

I probably gave him a weird look because I’m not Arielle’s keeper. I mean, Arielle was and still is a friend, but I’m not a cock or vagina blocker. We weren’t there together, but even if we were, he was interested in her, not me. The guy had seen Arielle, thought she was pretty, and decided that he wanted to approach her. But he didn’t want to be shot down, so he approached me instead. The unspoken message to me was, “I don’t think you’re cute, but I like your friend. So please help me meet her so I can get laid… or whatever…” And why should I help you? We don’t even know each other, and frankly, you aren’t that cute, either. Asking a stranger about the dating status of another stranger you think is “cute” is creepy and weird. Fortunately, that guy didn’t get anywhere with Arielle. She has also found a guy she likes, married him, and has a beautiful son. I suspect her appearance isn’t the only thing her husband admires about her, either.

Yep… Bill and I are in love, in spite of ourselves. And in spite of my beer gut and witch’s laugh.

Anyway, just like Fancy, I feel like “I ain’t done bad,” even if the “Dicks” of the world don’t think I’m pretty enough to lay, let alone marry. You know what? I’m glad “Dick” and his ilk think I’m a fat troll. My husband finds me lovable, and that’s enough for me. I don’t need to impress guys like “Dick” or anyone else. I’m not even interested in anyone else, even if I don’t enjoy being insulted, pitied, or getting backhanded compliments. I don’t so much as get crushes anymore, even if I notice a guy is cute. And I don’t think I’d like to be “Dick’s” wife or girlfriend. But, like I said, despite being “fat and ugly”, I ain’t done bad. So deal with that, Rambo.

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