Category Archives: but I digress

Cross in the Closet – evangelical pretends to be gay for a year, learns important lessons about tolerance

cross in the closet

As soon as I heard about Timothy Kurek’s Cross in the Closet, I knew I had to read it. Kurek, a straight evangelical from Nashville, Tennessee, spent a year pretending to be gay, “coming out” to friends and family to better understand how people are treated in America who bear the label of “gay.” His experience turned him from a bigot into an active ally of the LGBT community. I could immediately identify. I also grew up as a Southern evangelical and had to change my opinions and attitudes about gays based on my experiences.

I wasn’t exactly a bigot toward gays growing up. I certainly wasn’t toward other races – my family was unusually progressive in that regard.  I was simply ignorant. I believed the stereotypes and misinformation you get from most evangelical churches. Gays were perverts who purposely defied God. They were all promiscuous and would recruit little boys if they could. They were probably molested as children. And other such drivel. I just didn’t have any information to the contrary.

Most gay people in our small town were in the closet. Any socially awkward (like me, for instance – no girlfriend in high school) or effeminate boys were accused of being gay and if any of them were, they didn’t dare admit it. A gay person who came out in a place like that had a very strong chance of being disowned by his or her family. I wasn’t particularly down on gays, but I definitely told gay jokes and spread the occasional rumor. I’m sure I must have hurt a few people without realizing it.

If someone I liked was reputed to be gay, I would defend them by denying it. “Surely not? You can’t know that…” I was so ignorant and naive that I once tried to convince someone that Queen weren’t gay, based on the picture on the cover of The Game. “They can’t be gay, they’re wearing leather just like Fonzie!” Plus they rocked. Surely gay people couldn’t rock?

Once I got out in the world, went to college and got to know a lot of people who were different from myself, I wound up rethinking much of what I had been taught. I’m so glad I did, because it prepared me for the day that my own brother came out as gay. When the day came, I really didn’t care. He was the same awesome guy as ever, and relieved to get it out of the way. Mom was the same – her reaction was to ask if he wanted to go out to eat. It was basically a non-event.

So, what did I think of Cross in the Closet? In short: I loved it.

Kurek’s book isn’t perfect. I wasn’t sure what to think of his literary device of the “inner Pharisee” (though it makes an important point) and there were some typos that I understand will be corrected for the second edition. But Kurek is a good storyteller and I found his book genuine and moving. Kurek became a part of the Nashville “gayborhood” and got to know firsthand what it’s like to be part of a group he himself once helped persecute. He got to know the people as human beings who could be decent, loyal, and even in some cases deeply religious. He also learned about the frustration and pain of “the closet.” It was a brave thing to do and he emerged a better person.

There has been a bit of controversy about the book, particularly in the gay community. Deception is the main sticking point for some. He misled his family and his gay friends. Was it justifiable? A few have dug even deeper and questioned whether he has told the truth about his motivations. Did he REALLY conduct this experiment because he wanted to learn what it felt like to live as a second class citizen and become more empathetic, or was he just looking for a way to write a book that would sell?

I will cut him some slack for a couple of reasons 1) He was an evangelical Christian and as a former evangelical Christian myself I remember how complicated the concept of motivation could be. When you feel like you should do something, is it God telling you to do that thing or are you just listening to your own thoughts? It is also possible to want more than one thing at the same time. He was already an aspiring writer when he started this, so of course he was going to think of turning this into a book. 2) He’s young. He’s changing, trying to figure out what’s true and where he fits in the world. His religion wasn’t satisfying him and he decided a shock to the system was in order. He wanted to deprogram himself. And I think he has, at least to a large degree. He figured out the impulse to judge people was his indoctrination talking and not God talking. He did it one year, which is pretty impressive. It took me until well into my 30s to realize it. Some never figure it out.

And face it. If Kurek had written this book in some “more ethical way” as  a lot of his critics suggest — interviewing LGBT people for example — none of us ever would have heard about it. Like it or not, the one-year experiment and reverse “coming out” gave Kurek a compelling story to tell, one that had bestseller potential. It’s hard to predict when something will become viral, why people go crazy over one idea or book or song while ignoring another that might be just as worthy. But when it happens, it happens. If it has a good outcome and I think this does, be thankful for it.

I see Kurek as part of a movement made up of former evangelicals who remain passionate about their faith, but are standing up and calling attention to some of the grievous damage the Religious Right has caused. Others include Jay Bakker (son of Jim Bakker), Frank Schaefer (son of Francis Schaefer), and David Blankenhorn (founder and president of the Institute for American Values and former gay marriage opponent).

I think Kurek is a natural rebel, something I can identify with. I went through a stage where I wanted to cure Christianity, make it a more tolerant, kinder and gentler religion. I took pride in the label of heretic and thought of myself as a reformer. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t true at all and couldn’t really be fixed, but I didn’t get there overnight and it wasn’t easy. Maybe Tim will get to that point in his life one day, maybe he won’t. (If he does become an atheist, he’ll have yet another lesson about closets.)

Despite my feelings about religion, I’m realistic. I know America will probably always be largely Christian. That being the case, I think it’s great that there are people like Kurek who see tolerance and kindness as a Christian duty. The more Christians like him, the better. And hopefully Cross in the Closet will give us a lot more of them.

And since this is a music blog, let me add the following reminder:

freddie mercury vs justin bieber


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Zach Anner announces new show: Riding Shotgun

Just got a great Facebook update from Zach Anner of Austin, my favorite wheelchair travel show host/comedian. He is about to start a new travel show that looks very promising.

You may remember that Zach won a national contest by Oprah Winfrey and got to make a travel show for OWN, her new cable network. I fell in love with him back then and was rooting for him the whole time. I posted about him and even went to see him at the Alamo Drafthouse.

I got to see most of the episodes of Rollin’ with Zach. I liked them, and I think it was a great launching pad for his career, but I didn’t think it demonstrated his real potential.

I got the feeling the show’s producers didn’t know quite what to do with him and were calling too many of the shots. He was funny and he had some interesting and adventurous experiences, but he didn’t get to be as spontaneous and funny as he can be.

The new show could be just what the doctor ordered. It will be “by the Internet, for the Internet.” He’s teaming up with Reddit and will make his travel choices in the U.S. and Canada based on input from Redditors. That’s an audience that can appreciate some adult humor, believe me. He’ll be able to be himself, and I bet it will be a lot of fun.

Here’s his announcement:

You can keep up with what Zach is doing by following his Facebook page.

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Bastrop’s Lost Pines after the fire – life will find a way…

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Just got back from my first hike at Bastrop State Park since last summer’s disastrous wildfire. I was dreading it, but I have to say I’m more encouraged than I expected to be. The place is still alive. It’s not like it was and will never be again during my lifetime, but in 100 years it will be awesome. That’s a long time for a human, but not such a long time for a forest.

The first thing that struck me was how bright and sunny it was in places that used to be in full shade, and of course there were many burnt trees, still standing but lifeless. It was also a lot quieter than before. Not as many things moving around as before.

Then I noticed how green it was. We’ve had some rain after long periods of drought and there were lots of gorgeous wildflowers. Looking around, there were a few pines with some green needles at the top. I didn’t see them, but was told that seedlings are starting to appear.

Plans are also under way to plant seedlings from an even more drought-resistant strain of loblolly pine. It’s going to come back.

Humans can be so arrogant. We think life is here for us. It isn’t. Life is simply… life. It’s a miraculous stubborn thing that just seems to keep going, despite all setbacks. We’re just a part of that, a much smaller part than we think.

I am continually amazed at the way life adapts and survives. I am convinced that if an asteroid or supervolcano wiped out every living thing down to the bedrock, as long as there were any pockets or caves with living things in it, the globe would be as vibrant and alive in a few million years as it is today.

I even have a crazy idea that when the sun swells up at the end of its lifespan, swallowing up the earth, somehow seeds of life will escape and find a place in the universe where they can take root again. It could be our job to carry those seeds. Maybe that’s the only reason Nature allows us to exist…

And on that note, the forest has had a lot of help from people – dead trees have been mulched, material has been put down to stop erosion. There’s a lot of work still to be done. Life will find a way, but since we contribute to things like wildfires, we have a responsibility to give nature a boost when we can.

If you would like to help make Bastrop State Park and its forest make a comeback, you can vote for the park in a contest sponsored by Coca Cola. If the park gets enough votes, it could win a grant of $100,000. You can get to the site here, or go right to the Facebook app and cast your vote.

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Bicycling in the country, great way to spend Easter Sunday

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Nothing like a bit of nature to help you get your head together. I spent a couple of hours bicycling in the countryside outside Elgin, Texas and except for the sore muscles and sore tail, it was a very pleasant way to spend Easter Sunday.

Not that it was all that “natural.” I saw transmission power lines and a gravel pit, was passed by the occasional car or truck and could just hear traffic whizzing by on U.S. 290. Got chased by a few dogs. But I saw some gorgeous wildflowers and could hear the birds, including a woodpecker tapping away. And best of all, I could hear myself think.

I’m still out of shape – living in the Sausage Capital of Texas for two years hasn’t helped my waistline – but I’m working on it. I love riding, though I am not and never have been “competitive.” I still enjoy it, exhausted as I may be. Riding downhill almost makes struggling uphill worth it. Dat breeze.

I didn’t find a good song for Easter this year (Here’s what I posted in 2010, in 2011, and here’s a Good Friday song by Fairouz you must hear if you never have), so I’ll leave you with this:

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Zach Anner’s show, ‘Rollin’ with Zach’ will premier on Monday, Dec. 12

Just an update in case you haven’t kept up. A while back I wrote about Zach Anner, a comedian in a wheelchair who won a show on Oprah Winfrey’s new cable network with huge support from fans on the Internet. I got to meet him during a screening at Alamo Theater in Austin, the night of the official announcement. Well… The time has come. The first episode of the travel show ‘Rollin’ with Zach’ will air on the OWN Dec. 12, at 7 p.m. Central. Watch it if you can. I think this young man is going to be huge. He’s funny as hell, not to mention inspiring. (I don’t get OWN, but someone is going to record it for me.)

Edit: Here’s a five minute sneak preview.

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Art wall at Sparky Park

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Recently discovered an interesting place in Austin, a pocket park known as Sparky Park, located at an abandoned power substation on Grooms Street, near 38th Street. The park features an an “art wall” that turns a utilitarian concrete wall around some electrical transformers, into something that is very cool, very Austin. Local artists took karst stone, mirror balls, fossils, bits of glass and other found objects, and made a sort of “grotto.” Check it out sometime. It’s easy to miss, but it’s worth looking for. Makes me happy to know they haven’t run the bohemians completely out of town.

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Zach Anner wins show from Oprah’s network. Go Zach!

Normally I don’t give a crap about celebrity and I’m not a big fan of reality shows, but I am thrilled that Austin’s own Zach Anner will get the travel show he’s always wanted to make after winning the Your OWN Show contest on Oprah’s new network. (Buffalo, NY wants to claim him just because he grew up there, but they can’t have him.) In fact, it was a tie. Kristina Kuzmic-Crocco gets her cooking show as well.

I didn’t see it coming, but I think Oprah made the right decision. She wound up with two people who were too talented to let go. They would probably just get picked up by some other network at this point.

I got a chance to see Zach in person last night at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar at a viewing party put on by his friends from Lark the Beard Production Company (the guys from the Wingmen series on Youtube). For a while I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. My pickup overheated in the traffic on Lamar and I had to pull over a couple of times and let it cool off. But I did make it and had a great time watching the show. They started off showing some of Zach’s videos and he made wisecracks and told how they came about. He also gave some great commentary during the commercials as we waited to see who was going to win.

“I want you guys to root for Kristina too,” he said. “We’ve gotten to be really close. Plus, she’s really cute and looks like Sandra Bullock.” I didn’t think about it till he said that, but she does, kinda.

I had a feeling in the beginning that Zach had it in the bag, but I was still on pins and needles as they showed Kristina’s cooking show pilot and it was really good. Of course Zach’s was also excellent. Then the surprise ending came and got a standing ovation.

Zach said he’s known that he and Kristina won since October. “I had to come back and lie my pants off and hope everybody still liked me once they found out,” he said. His mother also knew, but “nobody goes outside in Buffalo in the winter” so it was easier for her to keep the secret.

Zach said the travel show will begin sometime in summer and he will start out visiting places in the States at least for a while before venturing out of the country.

I appreciated that he took time to meet with everyone and pose for pictures after the show. I felt a bit awkward at first, since I was with a bunch of people who knew him personally and I was just an “Internet person,” but he seemed genuinely happy to see me. I didn’t have a Reddit T-shirt to wear, but I told him I was part of the “Reddit wave” that helped him win the online voting. (That wave for Zach is also what got me to quit lurking and join that frustratingly addictive site.)

I loved the way he dealt with the question about the online voting controversy last summer that turned out to be a tempest in a teapot (People noticed Zach’s total was dropping for a time — most likely it was just the tech guys working for Oprah trying to combat mass voting by mischief-makers from 4-chan, God love ’em).

“I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “There was so much positive news to think about. I don’t have any idea how the Internet works. As far as I know I still have Compuserve.” Funny and graceful as always. In fact though, I believe he does know quite a bit about how Internet culture works, a perspective that might prove valuable to people on Oprah’s network who are probably somewhat baffled by it.

Can’t wait to see Zach’s show. I know it’ll be great. I don’t have the premium cable channels, but I might have to sign up by summer.


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