by Garrard Conley
Garrard Conley, the young man in the ExGay program lead by John Smid (see previous article), has written about the pain of his experience in his book, Boy Erased. Deadline.com reports that multiple distributors are bidding for Boy Erased (screenplay by Joel Edgerton). Edgerton also will star with Lucas Hedges, and Edgerton is courting Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman for supporting roles. The film will start production in the fall.
The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. When Garrard was a 19-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life.
Through an institutionalized Twelve-Step Program heavy on Bible study, he was supposed to emerge heterosexual, ex-gay, cleansed of impure urges and stronger in his faith in God for his brush with sin. Instead, even when faced with a harrowing and brutal journey, Garrard found the strength and understanding to break out in search of his true self and forgiveness.
By confronting his buried past and the burden of a life lived in shadow, Garrard traces the complex relationships among family, faith, and community. At times heart-breaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.
Riverhead Books, May 2016
In my MFA program, I took a nonfiction class, and my professor said to me, “You need to find your big subject,” and I said, “Well, I went to this ex-gay therapy thing,” and the whole class leaned forward and were like “WHAT?!” The big question in that room, in that moment, was “How could any parent do that to a child?”
And that made me upset, because my immediate answer was “Of course they could have done this. Have you never been to Arkansas? Do you not know what it’s like growing up in a fundamentalist family?” But of course they didn’t know.
So, the book started out as an essay that was just addressing the idea that yes, it’s actually very easy for parents in this culture [to send their kid to ex-gay therapy] and it’s part of the a continuum that is still alive today…”
– Garrard Conley to Amy Gall, May 16, 2016, “The Opposite of Labels: Garrard Conley” Barnesandnoblereview. barnesandnoble.com/review/the- opposite-of-labels-garrard-conley
“When my father said, ‘You’ll never step foot in this house again if you act on your feelings. You’ll never finish your education,’ I thought, ‘Fair enough,’” Garrard Conley writes.
The year was 2004, and Conley, a college freshman, had just been outed, against his wishes. Having grown up in a strict Baptist household, Conley agreed with his parents’ plan to enroll him in Love in Action, a program of “ex-gay” therapy intended to “cure” him.
Patients were required to make daily moral inventories. When his mother wondered aloud what happened if you ran out of sins to write about, Garrard thought, “What my mother didn’t yet know about being gay in the South was that you never ran out of material, that being secretly gay your whole life, averting your eyes every time you saw a handsome man, praying on your knees every time a sexual thought entered your mind” meant you could spend every day repenting.
Some people stayed in the program for decades. Conley broke free, at the cost of years of strained relations with his parents— especially his preacher dad, who was ostracized for having an openly gay son. The triumph of this harrowing story lies not only in the reclamation of self but also in the survival of one family’s love.
– Dawn Raffel “The Best Memoirs of 2016” www.oprah.com http://www.oprah.com/ book/best-memoirs-of-2016-boy- erased#ixzz4jigJ8ixb
For more information, go to garrardconley.com.