Trapped in the Closet

Using the iconic Black Like Me as a model, an author goes undercover as a gay man.

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When Griffin wrote Black Like Me, the problems were obvious. He wanted to answer the question, "What is it like to experience discrimination based on skin color, something over which one has no control?" For Kurek, author of The Cross in the Closet, the question he wanted to answer seems almost pat, "What would Jesus do?"

"I knew it wasn't enough to have sympathy; I had to have empathy. To understand what [his friend who came out] went through, I would have to do what Jesus did and become something I wasn't, and walk a mile in her shoes," Kurek told the GA Voice, an LGBT media outlet.

At the heart of the question as to whether gay rights can be called civil rights is the crux of what Griffin was trying to uncover by going undercover as "something over which one has no control." For his part Kurek has made clear that he could only pretend. He can never know what it's like to be a gay man because he is straight. Those are his facts. The same goes for Griffin, who had a dermatologist friend darken his skin.

Neither man could do more than tour, whether the journey was about race or sexual orientation. This is where the singular trips Griffin and Kurek took take on new meaning, not just for them but for the audiences of their comparable books. Both believe that those who inhabit the worlds into which they peeked aren't there by choice; they're there because of something over which they have no control.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

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Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.