“Was this what the Church was warning me about the whole time? And if this was the punishment I had received on earth, how much worse was it going to be in the afterlife?” pg. 117
In the Boy Erased: A Memoir, Gerrard Conley recounts his time in Love in Action, a Christian Ministry specializing the the conversion of Homosexuals into Ex-gays. Conley’s story is focused to 2004, with some backtracking to things that happened earlier in his life, though he uses his “homework” assignments from LIA to show the majority of these. Conley talks in detail about the steps of LIA as well as the tactics used in attempt to convert him.
Conley did not decide to write his memoir in a way that I expected. I expected this to be written more like smaller life stories that added to the overarching story, but the majority of the novel takes place is 2004 when he was in the LIA. When he does include things that happened outside of 2004 he does so using journals that he recalls writing for the first step of the program. Boy Erased read a lot more how I would expect a fiction novel would read. Which after learning more about the author makes sense as he goes on to finish college and get a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. This did not make the memoir unenjoyable, it was just unexpected.
One of the most shocking things to me about this novel was the Conley was admitted to Love in Action in 2004. I was eleven in 2004 and it is terrifying to think that these horrific things happened in the United States during my lifetime. He does a good job of bringing the year into perspective by describing himself playing Final Fantasy VIII on the Playstation and later going to see The Passion of the Christ in the movie theater. These two things I was alive for the release.
I spent the majority of this memoir thinking that Conley willing admitted himself into the program, but I came to find out later on that his father, a Baptist Pastor, forced him into it. This was appalling to me, who would willingly put their child through Hell just in the hopes that it would make them not be gay anymore? This hell did not use physical abuse, only verbal abuse justified by Bible. At one point Conley says that he felt as though being Gay would lead him to “messing around with someone’s dog if [he] didn’t cure himself.” (pg.6) The therapy made him believe that being a homosexual was no different than being a pedophile, a murderer or participating in bestiality.
Conley also struggles deeply with his faith throughout the year. Conley grew up in a deeply religious family, his father becoming a baptist preacher later in his life. Conley recalls as a kid being terrified of Armageddon and he would be left alone because his parents’ faith was stronger than his. The Baptist faith was deeply ingrained into his being but because of the LIA he found himself wondering if any of the bad things happened to him was because of his homosexuality and that it was God’s way of punishing him for his sins. He does not understand why God would allow him to be a gay or why, no matter how much he prayed, it refused to go away. Conley never comes to terms with this and in the epilogue mentions that his faith in God never recovered.
Conley says, “I wish none of this had ever happened. Sometimes I thank God that it did.”(Author’s Note) I, truly, wish that the things that happened in this book never happened to you, but I am proud of the bravery you had to share your story with millions of people. Thank you for your courage.