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 nineteen-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 institutionalised 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 heartbreaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.
There are many books published everyday that PR departments tell us we should read, because they they tell an important story. Well today I’m going to tell you of one, that not only is written by a writer of great talent, but talks of his journey to acceptance of his sexuality and that should act as a clarion call to us all, to stand up for the rights of all LGBT+ people.
I bought Boy Erased by Garrard Conley while wondering around Waterstones in Piccadilly. They had a shelf dedicated to LGBT+ themed books, both fiction and non fiction. I remember standing there feeling excited that they were promoting these books, but sad also that it wasn’t just because they fitted into a theme, historical or medical memoirs for example. They were on display together, because sadly in 2019 men and women like Garrard Conley were and still facing attacks because of their sexuality and as Garth Greenwell is quoted on the cover as saying, to act as,
An urgent reminder that America remains a place where Queer people have to fight for their lives.
The sad thing is that this is not just the case in America, but also here in Great Britain, where gay conversation therapy has still not been outlawed. Where we think we are progressive, but where there is still so much change that needs to come about!
Garrard Conley at the age of nineteen was outed to his parents and faced losing not just the god he had believed in all his life, but heartbreakingly painful to read about, the love and support of his parents. He takes us on the journey that led him to try and cure his attraction to men and I have to be honest it is a hard and emotional read, but more importantly it is incredibly rewarding and very life affirming.
I’m not spoiling the book by saying this, as it is mentioned on the back cover, but he eventually finds the strength to accept himself, this is a story about his journey, not necessarily about the ending. So many LGBT+ youths in America took their lives because of the harrowing damage done to them by the Twelve Step programme Gerrard Conley took part in and that was just one such ‘cure’ therapy tolerated and promoted in America! Many others existed and still do, so though originally published in 2016, in the age of Trump, this book remains achingly relevant. Biden maybe president elect, but Trumps malign influence still holds so much of the religious right in its thrall.
Please read it if you can. I found myself deeply affected by his life and the awful long terms affects therapy had on him. He talks with warmth and remarkably forgiveness. It is a difficult read, but hopefully it will leave you feeling that we should all act to force the British Government to stop delaying legislation to ban this inhuman act once and for all.
Or why not ask your local independent bookshop to order you a copy?
About the author
Garrard Conley is an American author and LGBTQ activist known for his autobiography Boy Erased: A Memoir, recounting his childhood as part of a fundamentalist family in Arkansas that enrolled him in conversion therapy. The book was adapted for the 2018 film, Boy Erased.