Garrard Conley’s Boy Erased is a very personal memoir about Conley’s experience being gay in, and subsequently being enrolled in “ex-gay” therapy in, the Bible Belt.
Garrard is from a quintessential southern home – one that is filled with love and strict Christianity. His father is a preacher and car salesman with ambitions to become an ordained pastor in the Baptist church. Because of this, Garrard is well-known in the community and must play the role of the perfect son. He has a girlfriend who goes to the same church, works hard at the dealership, and goes to church every Sunday.
Garrard has known he was gay, or at least not as heterosexual as his family would like, for years. With the pressures of his family and the Bible Belt upon him, however, he suppresses his sexuality for years. On only a few rare and deeply (personally) shameful occasions throughout his childhood, Garrard gives in to his sexual urges.
When he breaks up with his girlfriend and goes to a small Christian college, Garrard is baffled by how free-thinking most of his peers are. He begins to imagine a life in which Christianity is not the center of his life and he can embrace his true self.
Through a series of devastating events during his freshman year of college, Garrard is outed to his parents. They decide that he will attend “ex-gay” therapy to become the perfect heterosexual Christian son they and God require him to be. In Boy Erased, Conley tells the heartbreaking true story of what led him to, and what transpired within, “ex-gay” therapy.
Please take caution when reading Boy Erased if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Eating disorder
- Sexual assault
I was very eager to read Boy Erased after seeing the trailer for the movie adaptation. I was expecting it to be very interesting and moving. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet my expectations. It was interesting, and it was moving, but it wasn’t very. That being said, this is a memoir, and I would never intend to speak on the lived experiences of others. I only judge how I connected with the writing.
Conley is extremely introspective with his writing, which is to be expected with memoirs and this difficult topic, but it was so much so that at times I couldn’t understand what he was getting at or trying to say. I would describe the writing as a step above a stream of consciousness. The time period switched around wildly and without warning other than a new paragraph; trains of thought cut in and out and didn’t seem to make it to their final destination.
Further, Garrard spends a large chunk of the book discussing religion. I understand this, because that’s what his life revolved around for 19 years. However, it was personally tiresome for me to read about the intricacies of Christianity and faith for what I would estimate to take up no less than half of the memoir. This is strictly my personal opinion of the book, and if Christianity interests you or is an important part of your life, it’s very possible that this aspect of the memoir will touch you.
The story itself is devastatingly interesting. Garrard’s secret is so big yet so easy to keep, until he realizes that there’s another way to live. The changing of time frame – while confusing and disorienting for me – provides interesting perspective on other parts of the memoir. His time at “ex-gay” therapy is gripping and infuriating. What Conley went through is nothing short of heartbreaking. Writing it must have been cathartic, and the audience can only have grown from reading it – I know I did. An inside look into the life of a gay young man in the deep South and his changing relationship with his parents and himself is both fascinating and alarming.
I wanted to love Boy Erased. I thought it would be amazing. In the end, however, I am resigned to the fact that the writing did not wow me, and that I worked very hard to get through the confusing, overly introspective, and overtly Christian musings for a lesser payoff than I was expecting. It wasn’t a waste of time by any stretch – I strongly believe that everyone should read this or other books by members of the LGBTQ+ community to better understand their experiences -, but it did not meet the expectations I had for it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts on Boy Erased. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya.