Boy Erased

by Noe Kamelamela

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday May 11, 2016

Boy Erased

Testimonies like "Boy Erased" are a necessary part of getting rid of ex-gay ministries or, really, any kind of program in which the explicit aim is to change the identity (in this case, the sexuality) of the subjects. I imagine that this book was difficult to write because much of the imagery centers around the author being uncomfortable with following through with his natural desires, but also being upset with the idea of having to give up his family or the way his family wanted him to be.

"Boy Erased" comes not only from those conflicts, but also from Conley's need to purge himself and raise public awareness of the harm he suffered in a Love in Action program.

The memoir meanders backwards and forward through time as Mr. Conley tries to pinpoint the exact moments when he knew he was gay, when he knew he had to stop being gay, and when he knew he just could not exorcise his sexuality away through prayer and exploring the many feelings he really didn't have about his own sexuality. In my own experience, I think that sexuality, much like any identity, can change over time or according to circumstance. Certainly, that's the opinion of many people who have attempted, or will attempt, to obtain treatment for themselves or for loved ones. Initially, even the author believed that this was the case. Conley's awareness of the permanent nature of his sexuality creeps up on him slowly, as does his understanding that the Love In Action's results are less than what is promised in the brochures.

Tragically, being forced to examine his identity leads the young writer to his ultimate truth: His patterns of behavior were similar to other failures of Love In Action, other men and women who repeatedly relapsed. Additionally, there was something wrong with being told that he was unfixable and disgusting over and over again.

The author mentions in the present tense that the business where he made these discoveries about himself was not only closed, but excoriated by various staff and former patients. There are still places where ex-gay programs exist, are used, and are funded by health insurance. Although there are psychological and psychiatric associations that no longer consider homosexuality a disease, there are real dangers for the men and women who choose to seek treatment for something that cannot be cured. In this case, the mental and emotional trauma is vivid and close to the surface.

"Boy Erased"
by Garrard Conley
$27 Hardcover
Riverhead Books

Noe Kamelamela is a reader who reads everything and a writer who writes very little.