As I’ve gotten older I find myself reaching for more and more non fiction and non fiction narrative/memoirs. While younger me wanted to escape the world and used books to do so, currently I want to feel more like a part of society. and to understand the social, political and religious systems that have created the world and how it came to be in it’s current (scary and sorry) state.
I came across Boy Erased quite by accident and purchased it on a whim, not knowing what to expect. It’s a memoir by Garrard Conley, a ministers son, who upon being viciously outed by his rapist went to a Christian fundamentalist run “straight camp”. The year was 2004 and he was just 19 years old. He went willingly to the notorious “Love In Action” (LIA) group and his family supported him, with his mom travelling and staying with him during his “treatment”. The LIA really heinously group homosexuality together with pedophilia and bestiality and consider homosexuality to be a disease. He doesn’t go into detailed descriptions of the conversion therapy itself but he goes into enough detail for it to become apparent that it’s a strange bastardisation of the 12 step AA programme and how insidiously awful the LIA are.
I don’t think Garrard gets angry enough at how disgusting the ex-gay group are, he highlights the abuse, the mental torture and bullying that occurred but he falls short of entering full outrage mode; but not to worry the readers of the book do it for him! The searingly honest and simple way he’s written this book really brings out your protective instincts. You’ll be like an angry bear while reading certain parts, you’ll want to smash everything (not only the patriarchy)!
Garrard has written beautifully about love and sexuality and his prose is accessible and compelling. His take on familial love, acceptance and spirituality is interesting as it’s informed by his upbringing in a rural Southern Baptist town and a set of beliefs about an all seeing, all knowing God.He has captured his journey of self acceptance and how it interacts with personal faith and the wider faith community that surrounds him. It’s an interesting and deeply intimate self determining experience that he has chosen to share with us and it should not go unnoticed.
This memoir was undoubtedly upsetting and yet I felt it was very tender and full of hope. The poisonous conversion therapy is so distressing to read about, I don’t like imagining going through it. However in contrast the relationship Garrard has with his family is so beautiful and pure, it really gives the book such a powerful and uplifting sentiment. His mother and father have very different ways of connecting with their son, but you see that behind everything is a deep well of love. It really proves that cliché that love trumps everything.
It gives me hope that despite the fact that intolerance and hateful rhetoric still exists that somehow in the years ahead there may be a more equal future for us all.
PS It was just leaked that there is a film being made! Joel Edgerton will be directing it, and Garrard Conley himself is being included in the process. I am going to make a wish that the film captures the hopeful feeling that the book leaves you with!