Last Updated September 5, 2023.
In his memoir Boy Erased, Garrard Conley is able to give a voice to those who have grown up in strict religious households, those who have undergone conversion therapy, and those who wrestle with their identity. The New York Times Bestselling memoir was adapted to film in 2018, increasing the popularity and discourse surrounding the story.
By recognizing Conley's upbringing, we can understand why it was so difficult for him to come to terms with his sexuality, and why he might try to attend conversion therapy. The societal context is important.
Conley grew up in a family of Missionary Baptists in Arkansas.
I consider them to be fundamentalists. They believe that every word of the Bible is meant to be read literally. I grew up in a very small town of 100 people. (NPR)
When Conley was thirteen, his father became a pastor. Growing up surrounded by these beliefs, Conley was scared of his sexuality.
"I had believed there were actual demons possessing me . . . I had lived 18 years of my life in this almost cultish environment." (BBC News)
Conley was religious. When he was outed in college, the two came into conflict.
Dad took me into his bedroom and closed the door, he said, do you swear to God that you're not gay? And I couldn't do that because I had a close relationship with God. And he said, well, I can't see how you could be part of this family or this community if you continue to use that term. (NPR)
Conley did not begin writing his memoir until ten years after the experience. Even then, he struggled with how he might be perceived by others.
I was so worried about looking stupid—I felt everyone was already judging my background, the fact I had believed these things. (BBC)
With the best selling memoir and popular movie adaptation, the popularity has spread, increasing the discourse and shedding light on what many LGBT+ youth go through. Conley does advocacy work and is glad that his writing might be informative for questioning teens and parents.
Conley still believes in God and has accepted his sexuality.
If anything, it feels like it's giving me a purpose in life. It's tough to keep sharing this story over and over again and reliving the trauma to a certain extent. But I also grew up in a Christian household where the idea was you try to help other people become more compassionate. And that's something that I took from Christianity that I still love. And that's what I'm trying to do. (NPR)
Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Boy Erased is a memoir recounting Garrard Conley's struggle with growing up gay in a religious family in Arkansas. The only child of devout Baptist parents, Conley is torn between his religious upbringing his sexuality and identity. The conflict is familiar and emotional to LGBTQ readers, and the act of seeing how someone comforted by faith can suddenly feel unsure or unsafe in that same faith is a struggle well-known to LGBTQ people like Conley, who grew up in the church. Boy Erased certainly provides a heart-wrenching account of growing up gay in a religious setting.
Conley's perspective on conversion therapy is somewhat unique in that he voluntarily joined Love in Action (LIA) in an attempt to see if he really could be "fixed." Many other stories or memoirs about conversion therapy are about the subjects being forced into these programs, but Conley went willingly, if only for a few days. It certainly shows how family ties and religious loyalty can affect a person's decisions. Ultimately, Conley's story is meant to raise reader awareness about LGBTQ rights and reveal how harmful conversion therapy programs can be. He repeatedly emphasizes the abuse given out by these programs, and he effectively encourages readers to hope and aim for a better future for all.