Raised in a small farming community in Arkansas by deeply religious parents, Garrard Conley struggled for years to reconcile his sexuality with his family’s expectations. When confronted with an ultimatum — attend Christian gay conversion therapy or lose his parents’ support for his education — Conley chose the latter. Boy Erased is a memoir of his teen and college years, including his short, shame-filled stint at the controversial Love in Action program in Memphis. Seamlessly weaving together his memories of this time, Conley’s story is both fascinating and heartbreaking.
Trigger warning: contains depictions of sexual assault and self-harm.
“Most of us were from the South, most of us from some part of the Bible Belt. Most of our stories sounded remarkably similar. We had all met with ultimatums that didn’t exist for many other people, conditions often absent from the love between parents and children. At some point, a ‘change this or else’ had come to each of us: Otherwise we would be homeless, penniless, excommunicated, exiled. We had all been too afraid to fall through the cracks; all of us had been told cautionary tales of drug addicts, of sex addicts, of people who ended up dying in the throes of AIDS in some urban West Coast gutter. The story always went this way. And we believed the story. For the most part, the media we consumed corroborated it. During our childhoods, you could hardly find a movie in small-town theaters that spoke openly of homosexuality, and when you did, it almost always ended with someone dying of AIDS.“
Garrard Conley is the author of Boy Erased. He has been a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine and a literature teacher in Bulgaria, and now lives in New York City.
Length: 352 pages
Set in: Arkansas and Tennessee, United States
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