Boys, Erased

Me at Fernbrook Elementary School, circa 1988-89

Heading out to see Boy, Erased today. Long overdue but its release has been weirdly limited in MSP and also, I’m busy. And lazy. Anyway, it got a wide release over the holiday weekend so off I go.

I read Garrard Conley’s memoir last year, and, while our personal stories have little in common, the markers of our lives are quite similar: queerness, gayness, religion, fear of parental rejection, actual parental rejection.

Conley was an Evangelical Christian when he was forced out of the closet in college, by the very person who sexually assaulted him. The son of a preacher and a faithful believer himself, the conservative religiousness of Conley’s community was used as a weapon to, well, attempt to erase him.

I, on the other hand, got close to the idea of coming out as a teenager. But confronted with the reality of

a: not knowing what the heck my deal was, and
b: having to come to out to my dad,

I  retreated. I’m talking a deep retreat, into the religious conservatism that was weaponized against Conley, and so many other LGBTQ young people. I became a Christian. A born-again Evangelical for the rest of high school; then, for about ten more years, just your run of the mill midwestern progressive mainliner.

Garrard’s faith, family, community, all tried to erase his queerness with the horrific programs of conversion therapy. I attempted to erase it myself, with evangelicalism.

It would be another twenty years before I figured out enough of my deal to come out (still mining the depths, but getting deeper daily). And the act, coming out, turned my world inside out even at 36 years old. Conley, at 19 or so, was pushed out, into the fire, and had his own resulting traumas. Which is just to reiterate the uncontroversial but crucial point, that the stories of LGBTQ folks finding their place in the American cultural and religious landscape are all unique, but many of the brands we’ve been burned with are the same.

Listen to Radiolab’s podcast series on conversion therapy, UnErased.
Listen to Garrard Conley on Cameron Esposito’s show, Queery.

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