In 2016, Garrard Conley published his memoir, Boy Erased. It told his story of being forced into gay conversion therapy by his mother and Baptist pastor father, and it’s now been adapted by actor-turned-director Joel Edgerton into a movie.
Lucas Hedges plays Conley — though here his name’s been changed to Jared Eamons — as a young man who’s outed by a college classmate and essentially told either that he can leave his family in shame, or he can undergo this conversion therapy to “cure” him of his homosexuality. Hedges gives an impressively nuanced performance, playing Jared as confused, conflicted, vulnerable, and still, somehow, self-possessed. In there, somewhere, he knows who he really is, though he struggles with it, wanting to please his parents and live the life his religious upbringing has told him is the correct one.
The program Jared goes through tries to achieve its goals through a combination of coercion, shame, pseudo-psychology, and appeals to religion. As you might expect, this is not cast in a flattering light, with the treatment of one of the patients playing out sort of like the much quieter cousin of the boot camp section from Full Metal Jacket.
Boy Erased definitely has a point of view, but I appreciated that it doesn’t turn anyone into caricatures. Those around Jared have a variety of motives, some of them well intentioned — though misguided and highly damaging — some of them more nefarious. But, at least, they’re all treated as people. The movie doesn’t do anything flashy or innovative, but it tells a necessary story from a very human perspective.
Though conversion therapy is explicitly opposed by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and many other organizations, and it’s banned in number of countries, the practice is still, as the movie notes, perfectly legal in 36 states. And yes, I looked it up, Kansas is one of them.