Boy Erased (Review)

One of the aspects of my parents’ lives I’m thankful for, is that they did not express radical or fundamentalist religious beliefs.  Yet, they were practicing Methodists and they didn’t “approve of my lifestyle”.  Thankfully, they never sent me away to attempt to change my sexual orientation. Given that I grew up during the less enlightened 1960s, I would have been just another suicide statistic if my parents would have subjected me to radical Christianity. It was through this filter that I read Garrard Conley’s Boy Erased: A Memoir.

Within this autobiographical book, the reader discovers the inner life of a gay boy, who is the only child of very religious Baptist parents, living in Arkansas. His father has ambitions of becoming a pastor overseeing his own church. In fact, the father is also grooming the son to follow in his footsteps as a Baptist preacher.

As the elder Conley is readying himself for ordination, the religiously indoctrinated younger Conley is grappling with his homosexuality. As the young man is adapting to life as a college freshman at a religious college, Conley is raped by a fellow student.  Later, Conley is outed to his parents by that same student. Due to this unfortunate convergence of events, Conley decides to voluntarily enter an “ex-gay” program.

Under his mother’s supervision, Conley is enrolled at an “Exodus International” affiliated program “Love In Action”, “LIA”. Conley describes “LIA” as a twelve-step program that used very warped methods. The fundamentalist group replaced the “Alcoholics Anonymous” program and reframed homosexuality as addictive behavior. “LIA” shoehorned homosexuality into their rigedly defined category as “sexual deviance” into which they included pedophilia and bestiality.

“LIA” paired psychological brainwashing techniques with rigorous Christian indoctrination.  The program was designed to sublimate homosexual desires into a fundamentalist “relationship” with God by way of the organization’s doctrinal view of Jesus. As Conley tries to conform to the “LIA” model, he notices severe flaws in the foundation and methodology of the program.

In a roundabout way, Conley’s mother ends up being his familial ally.  She holds vigil in a nearby, depressing hotel room as her son grinds through the psychological torture of “LIA”.  Even though she is determined for her son to successfully change into a heterosexual, the mother maintains a degree of tenderness that Conley desperately needs. She is obliged to maintain the necessary façade of upright Christianity for her BoyErased-02husband’s ordination ceremony. At the same time, she feels the compassionate tug of wanting to be a good mom to her troubled son.

As I read Conley’s book, I often compared the author’s struggle to accept himself with my own spiritual path to self -acceptance.  Despite my secular foundation, I reflected, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” I suspect that many LGBT readers will also feel something similar.

Garard Conley’s first book seems to be aimed at a general audience. I think individuals in the LGBT community will find the book enlightening, especially those who have suffered through an “ex-gay” program.  My hope is that parents who are grappling with a child’s non-heterosexual orientation will read this book. Nobody should suffer the non-acceptance of their own parents and family.

After I finished reading the book, it seemed like Conley was holding something back.  I couldn’t place a finger on just what it might be. Perhaps the omission comes from Conley’s former experiences in the closet.  I cannot fault him for this.

{ Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrard Conley; 352 pages; published May 10, 2016 by Riverhead Books (Penguin); ISBN: 978-1-59463-301-0 }

moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a quote from actor Jason Ritter. “I think as far as I’ve been able to understand from my friends that I went to college with and things like that is that it almost seems like Russian Roulette when you’re coming out of the closet to your parents.”


About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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