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Boy Erased [Book]

Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir Boy Erased recounts his experiences at the Memphis, Tennessee, “ex-gay” therapy program Love in Action, to which his parents sent him in 2004 upon learning that he was gay.

Conley, who was born in Memphis and grew up in northern Arkansas—first in Cherokee Village (Sharp and Fulton counties), then in Mountain Home (Baxter County)—is the son of Hershel Conley and Martha Caudill Conley. His father served as a Missionary Baptist pastor in Mountain Home. Conley was a Lyon College freshman when another student outed him as gay. In response, his parents sent him to Love in Action. His memoir is a painful reflection on his struggle to deal with his sexual orientation in a culture dominated by a conservative Christianity that disapproves of homosexuality.

In Boy Erased and interviews about it, Conley stressed that he wrote his book to give hope to others facing similar circumstances. As he told Bryan Borland of the Arkansas Times, the message he seeks to convey to others like himself is, “Hold on. Keep reading. Keep learning. Some day you will make it out. But don’t forget where you came from. There are people like you who haven’t made it out, and these people need your help.”

In Boy Erased, he states, “On some days, it’s hard to believe that I ever lived in a world that operated on such extreme notions of self-annihilation. But then I turn on the news, read a few articles, and realize that what I have experienced may have been unique, but in no way was it disconnected from history. Minorities continue to be abused and manipulated by nefarious and well-intentioned groups of people, and harmful ideas continue to develop new political strains all over the world. What I can’t quite understand —and what I may never be capable of understanding—is how we all came to be mixed up in the ex-gay movement, what drew each of us to Love in Action’s double doors.”

Reviewer Steven Tagle noted that, while Conley repudiated the “ex-gay” therapy on which his parents insisted and began living an openly gay life, he writes with sympathy for his parents, and, in particular, his mother, who supported his decision to leave Love in Action. Reviewer Emily Donaldson found Conley’s mother to be the hero of his narrative “who unironically embodies the concept of ‘love in action.’” In an interview with writer Lauren Prastien, Conley recounted a conversation in which someone asked him, in his mother’s presence, what kind of parent would send a child to “ex-gay” therapy. His realization: “This is her story, too. The story won’t make sense if it is not also the story of a woman who ‘did this to her child.’ Out of Love. Out of Fear. Out of a South that spends a lot of time killing its children on accident. And of course it doesn’t hurt that I teach ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ every year now.”

In 2008, Love in Action’s director Jon Smid resigned and in 2016 married his partner Larry McQueen. In his memoir Ex’d Out, he states that, in his view, “ex-gay” therapy is ineffective.

For additional information:
Borland, Bryan. “Surviving Gay Conversion Therapy.” Arkansas Times, May 19, 2016, pp. 26–27, 32. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/a-qanda-with-garrard-conley-author-of-boy-erased/Content?oid=4413491 (accessed November 17, 2016).

Brickhouse, Jamie. “‘Boy Erased’: A Minister’s Son Trapped Between Religion and His Sexual Identity.” Washington Post, May 10, 2016. Online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/boy-erased-a-ministers-son-trapped-between-religion-and-his-sexual-identity/2016/05/10/48cc7c8a-0b14-11e6-8ab8-9ad050f76d7d_story.html (accessed November 17, 2016).

Conley, Garrard. Boy Erased. New York: Riverhead Books, 2016.

———. “Why My Parents Tried to Cure Me of Being Gay.” CNN Opinion, May 10, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/10/opinions/ex-gay-conversion-therapy-garrard-conley/ (accessed November 17, 2016).

Gail, Amy. “The Opposite of Labels: Garrard Conley.” Barnes & Noble Review. May 16, 2016. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/the-opposite-of-labels-garrard-conley (accessed November 17, 2016).

Prastien, Lauren. ‘Boy Erased’: An Interview with Garrard Conley.” Michigan Quarterly Review, February 16, 2016. Online at http://www.michiganquarterlyreview.com/2016/02/boy-erased-an-interview-with-garrard-conley/ (accessed November 17, 2016).

Summar, Todd. “Garrard Conley: On Surviving Ex-Gay Therapy, Writing His Memoir, and the Year in Queer Lit.” Lambda Literary, June 20, 2016. Online at http://www.lambdaliterary.org/interviews/06/20/garrard-conley-on-surviving-ex-gay-therapy-writing-his-memoir-and-the-year-in-queer-lit/ (accessed November 17, 2016).

Tagle, Steven. “Bad Education.” Los Angeles Review of Books, June 23, 2016. Online at https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/bad-education/#! (accessed November 17, 2016).

William D. Lindsey
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 11/29/2016

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