community

'Boy Erased' author Garrard Conley reveals the heartbreaking reality of gay 'conversion' therapy

The writer's harrowing story is being turned into a Hollywood movie.

2018-06-26

A year into college at the age of 19, Garrard Conley was coerced by his devoutly religious parents to attend a gay 'conversion' therapy programme in Arkansas. It was an experience that would shape him for years to come.

Now 33, Garrard has recounted the experience in his new memoir Boy Erased, which was released in the UK last week and is being turned into a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman, Russell Crow and Troye Sivan.

In Attitude's July issue - available to download and in shops now - the writer opens up about the daily reality of gay 'cure' therapy, which saw him grouped together with people dealing with other 'sexual deviances' suchs a bestiality and paedophilia. 

"My parents sent me... after they’d found out I was gay from someone at my college, who’d been a friend up until the moment when he raped me", Garrard recalls.

"As a pre-emptive strike against my testimony, he’d called my parents and told them what I, in a moment of weakness and insecurity, had admitted to him: that I might be gay.

"An ultimatum followed from my father, a missionary Baptist pastor: either attend conversion therapy or don’t see him and my mother again, and don’t receive any financial help from them for college."

Garrard was sent to a programme called 'Love in Action', a religious-based course of therapy that draws heaviliy from Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes.

"The conversion therapy part is blinding. It’s easy to mock," Garrard explains.

 

"There’s the 275-page handbook with dozens of rules about how to dress and stand and engage in eye contact. There are the bastardised Freudian models of behaviour. There are the sessions where men are asked to watch sports — to learn proper masculine reactions.

"To have it all laid out in a handbook with numbered pages, to see the institutionalisation of homophobia, is to see bigotry for what it is: absurd.

"And where are the roots deepest? In the pointed jokes, the snide comments, the conspiratorial smiles behind someone’s back, in the way my husband was continually mocked for his effeminate voice, in all the normal ways a normal family might behave toward their “less-than-normal” son.

Garrard Conley, shot by Frank Berlin exclusively for Attitude's July issue

"You don’t have to be in conversion therapy to be in conversion therapy."

Garrard's story has a happy ending: Now happily married and living in New York, he was able to escape the clutches of fundamentalism that left him feeling suicidal. Others were not so lucky.

"In the end, Love in Action was just an ugly office where we all sat around on metal folding chairs", he reflects.

"Some people died because of it."

You can read Garrard's full account of his time undergoing gay 'conversion' therapy in the July issue of Attitude.

Buy now and take advantage of our best-ever subscription offers: 3 issues for £3 in print, 13 issues for £19.99 to download to any device.