Garrard Conley on Identity and Surviving Conversion Therapy

Editor's Note:

If you want to hear more from Garrard Conley, tune in to this interview with him on Beaks and Geeks.

Our current political situation is striking major concern within the LGBTQ community. Though great strides have been made in the recent years, it’s scarily easy to revert back to old ways. We need people within the LGBTQ community to stand up for their rights and remain vocal, to ensure that discrimination doesn’t win.

Garrard Conley made his voice heard. His compelling memoir, Boy Erased, is a powerful and raw recollection of his experiences with gay conversion therapy as a teenager in small-town Arkansas, where religion was at the forefront of life and being gay was the utmost sin. Published in May 2016, the book quickly became highly celebrated, making its way onto Buzzfeed’s “The 18 Best Nonfiction Books of 2016,” as well as Oprah’s “Top Ten Memoirs.”

Watch the video below to hear Garrard Conley speak about how his family and the church tried to shape his identity, his experiences with gay conversion therapy, and the current climate for the LGBTQ community.

Transcription of Garrard Conley on finding his identity and his experiences with gay conversion therapy.

Often we are in these environments where people are trying to shape our identities – it’s very difficult to find who you are in those moments. It’s also difficult to see other people who have different viewpoints than you do at that moment. And so, I would say the lesson is to be patient with yourself as you try to figure out who you are and maybe try not to jump to any conclusions because I did and I went to a conversion therapy.

I listened to what my parents said to me and what the church said to me and that was really damaging for me. And so, I would say if you can find a way to have patience with yourself, do so. My biggest personal takeaway from this time in my life was that you can have two narratives in your mind, and many more hopefully, going on at the same time.

I mean I was raised in fundamentalist Christianity where we were told there was only one interpretation of the Bible. And so, going back to these moments and seeing that I possessed this God fearing brain that was very fundamentalist based. But also this brain that I now think of as sort of the literature brain, which is able to see character and contrasts and nuance.

And a lot of narratives tried to flatten that out and a lot of churches do as well. So I really felt like it was important for me to express that you could have multiple narratives. In the current political climate, I mean, we have such polarized viewpoints going on.

And in many ways it feels as though the Arkansas that I knew when I was growing up and gay, and people were hurling slurs at me, is now you know the whole country in some ways. It feels like that to me. And it’s discouraging and it’s really scary for LGBTQ individuals to live in this kind of climate, especially since we know so much about Mike Pence and his support of conversion therapy.

The community that I’m in is great for me. All these great LGBTQ groups, and all these great homeless shelters for LGBTQ individuals – they’re the people that will stick with you. We’ve done this before. We’ve been through this. It doesn’t make it any less scary. But we can do it again. We can survive. And we can thrive at some point.