‘Boy Erased’ And The Evil That Is Conversion Therapy

Joel Edgerton’s film, Boy Erased, will soon be available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

I remember when Bruce committed suicide.

A friend and mentor of mine, he was a homosexual living in the Bible Belt. When he first came out to me, he did so in tears. Weeping, he told me he’d understand if I hung up the phone and never called him again. I told him that no such thing would happen. And I remember thinking how sad it was. Over the years, Bruce would tell me that, as a young child, someone gave his parents a book on raising a gay child in a Christian family, implying heavily that the book would offer tips on how to “convert” the child to embrace heterosexual norms. That always stayed with him, and from the moment he found the book, it colored the relationship that he had with his parents, which was never anything other than strained and awkward.

Bruce prayed throughout his lifetime that God would “take the gay away”. God never did. And then came the year when Bruce’s Aunt Doris died. He had been her caretaker, and had nowhere to go. A professionally trained, yet struggling actor, some friends of his – a husband and wife with two boys – opted to take him into their home in Atlanta. Bruce would take care of the home, take care of the boys, and when the boys went off to school, Bruce had plans to plug into the theatrical community in Atlanta and start anew.

That is, until the husband and wife – both graduates of Bob Jones University – decided that having a gay man living under their roof would negatively influence their children, and therefore, Bruce had to go.

Subsequent phone calls with Bruce were very troubling. He talked often of hurting himself. I encouraged him to seek help. He promised me that he would. But on October the 30th of that year, Bruce parked in a church lot, took an overdose of pills, and drifted away. His family said that it was a heart attack. Those of us who knew Bruce the closest knew better. Bruce left this world because he couldn’t bear it anymore. It was too cruel. Too cold. And so now, he’s gone. And he’s never coming back. From the moment I left Bruce’s funeral, I vowed that I would speak up for those who could not speak for themselves. I unpacked the cruel teachings of the church and replaced them with broadminded and grace-centered alternatives.

And I couldn’t help but think of Bruce several times while watching Boy Erased.

Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, Boy Erased tells the story of the son of a pastor, Jarod Eamons, who is sent to conversion therapy after his family hears of his alleged homosexual activity at school. It’s no surprise that Jarod is gay at this point in the film. He struggles to find intimacy with his girlfriend. He casts longing glances at some of the men around him. And he develops a crush on his roommate in college, a church counselor who brutally rapes him one night. In fact, it is the rapist who calls his family anonymously and tells them that Jarod is gay.

Jarod’s father immediately seeks the counsel of the elders in the church, who suggest that Jarod be sent to a facility called Love In Action in order to rid the boy of his so-called sinful lifestyle. From the get go, things are disturbingly amiss at L.I.A. The cold glances from the staff, the almost militaristic way of running things. Even still, Jarod wants to be a good Christian and give it a try. After all, the leader of L.I.A., a man named Victor Sykes, informs the boys that God could not possibly love them in their current state. He often encourages the boys to express anger in various ways, to change their posture, their ways of speaking – to erase all hints of sensitivity and all effeminate gestures. Some fall into line, some to the point where it physically takes a toll on them, while others merely play the part so that they can get the hell out in time. In fact, as Jarod begins to see the facility for what it is, he is encouraged to do just that by a fellow student – to fake it.

When one of the boys is brutally attacked one night by his own family, due to his inability to follow through with the procedures, Jarod decides that he has to find a way out and find the courage to be himself – regardless of the consequences.

I thought about Bruce, because one of the characters in the film suffers a similar fate as he did. It’s a moment that takes the wind out of your sails, especially if you’ve been a suicide survivor. Bruce was never subjected to conversion therapy, but he suffered from the inability of others to accept him for who he was, who refused to even offer a temporary roof over his head because of who he was, and who, laughably claiming to be Christians, refused to show him the love of Christ. The whole idea of “conversion therapy” is to say, “we’re not going to love you, God is not going to love you, unless you conform to what we consider Normal”. And if that isn’t pure hatred from the darkest depths of hell, then I don’t know what is. For the love of God, we all have to love more. We all have to do better.

As David Lynch said, “Change your hearts or die”.

Boy Erased stars Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, and Xaiver Dolan. It will soon be available from Universal Home Pictures Entertainment.

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