It wasn't easy for Timothy Kurek to tell his mother he was gay.
The Nashville native, who had a conservative upbringing, learned how heartbroken she was after reading an entry in her private journal about the incident.
"I'd rather have found out from a doctor that I had terminal cancer than I have a gay son," she wrote.
However, Kurek is not gay. He is a straight man -- an evangelical Christian and a graduate of the conservative school Liberty University -- who decided to go "undercover" as gay for one year in order to test his beliefs.
He felt called to do the experiment after a lesbian friend, who was a fellow Christian, was kicked out of her home for her sexual orientation. Initially, he felt compelled "to straighten her out, to fix her." But then another idea entered his head.
"Maybe that voice was the result of two decades spent in a hyperconservative religious bubble," Kurek says in a new TEDx talk on the experience, which The Advocate reported on in 2012. "I needed to understand what she was going through."
In response, Kurek came out to family and friends as gay. Over the course of 12 months, he recruited a friend to pose as a boyfriend, went to gay bars, and participated in an LGBT protest in front of the United Nations.
Timothy Kurek (center)
The experience was not easy at first. "I want to vomit. I need a cigarette. I feel like beating the hell out of him," Kurek wrote in his memoir, The Cross in the Closet, after a muscular man painted in glitter first made advances toward him at a nightclub.
In addition, his religious community expelled him from the fold.
"The vast majority of my community closed their doors on me that day, and it felt as though I had died," he says.
But gradually, his views changed. He met gay Christians who, as he attested in past interviews, were "more devout than me!" He also experienced discrimination firsthand, when he and softball teammaters were called faggots. The attack rattled him.
"I lost it. I saw red. I felt so violated by that word," he said.
Today, he confirms that "being gay for a year saved my faith." It also made him an ally with a much more diverse set of friends. Even his mother "went from being a very conservative Christian to being an ally to the gay community."