Boy Erased

by Garrard Conley

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Boy Erased is a memoir published in 2016 by Arkansas native Garrand Conley. It recounts his upbringing in a fundamentalist Christian family, particularly as he struggles with balancing his homosexuality and religion, and ultimately details the "conversion therapy" he is forced to undergo when his parents discover he is gay. The story really focuses on just three main characters: Garrand, his father, and his mother.

Garrand is an only child who describes himself as conflicted and fearful of his sexuality. Despite a caring, healthy relationship with his mother, he gives the sense that he is trapped between a vehemently anti-gay local mindset on one side and a desire to express his true self on the other. However, he becomes more accepting of the reality in his later teenage years but still chooses to keep it a secret—until he is finally outed at 19 while attending college. Garrand is given an ultimatum by his father: disownment or gay conversion therapy. He seems tortured by the pain his preferences cause those he loves. He joins the two-week program but quickly begins having a breakdown: he has thoughts of suicide and questions his faith. He leaves the program early, goes back to college, and decides to choose for himself what kind of person he will become. His story tries to evoke the notion that gay conversion programs lack empathy and tenderness and are ultimately destructive.

Garrand's father is a car salesman and prospective preacher whose fire-and-brimstone brand of faith treats homosexuality as a complete anathema. He is described as rigid and intolerant of other lifestyles and employs a very narrow and inflexible moral code. He lacks empathy and understanding for his son's preferences and seems to insinuate at one point that it simply comes from lack of experience with women. The father causes tension when he expresses frustration with his son failing to become the man he wants him to be. He is the catalyst that leads to the gay conversion program, as he does not want anything to threaten his chances of becoming an ordained minister.

Garrand's mother comes across as less hostile than the father and has a much better relationship with her son. However, like the father, she believes the gay conversion program is necessary for her son's well-being and does not want his "gayness" to be a blight on the family name. She is every bit the Southern belle and is described physically on several occasions as heavily mascaraed, decked in lace and having a small nose. She is portrayed as fierce, proud, and determined, which is evident as she accompanies her son to Memphis where the program is held. Eventually, though, she comes to terms with his homosexuality and expresses regret at her mistreatment of him in his younger years.

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