What my mother didn’t yet know about being gay in the South was that you never ran out of material, that being secretly gay your whole life, averting your eyes every time you saw a handsome man, praying on your knees every time a sexual thought entered your mind or every time you’d acted even remotely feminine- this gave you an embarrassment of sins for which you constantly felt the need to apologize, repent, beg forgiveness.
Garrard Conely grew up the son of an aspiring Baptist preacher in Arkansas which is probably the worst case scenario for someone who is grappling with their sexuality. He had a girlfriend, whose brother was also in the closet, but it was more for appearance sake and they broke up before Garrard went off to college.
It was in college that Garrard is outted by a friend to his parents. Since Garrard’s father is going through the process of being ordained it is not great timing for their only son to be gay so he gets sent to Love in Action. LIA is a 12 step program, modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, aimed at fixing gay people. Garrad prefaces his story with a disclaimer that these events took place over a decade ago and LIA prohibited journaling, photos or recordings of any kind so he is just going off of his and his mother’s memories as well as his ex-gay handbook.
The pacing is thrown off by flashing back to Garrard’s childhood and adolescence with his time in LIA’s outpatient program. I thought this was a strange take on what could easily have been a linear story but then I realized why he was padding his story because he was only at LIA for eight days. The book summary used the phrase “harrowing and brutal journey” but the people at LIA weren’t even that awful. Sure, they are absolutely wrong about being able to (or even needing to) “fix homosexuality” but they mostly went about it with talk therapy and personal inventory activities.
Now, I would never pretend to know what going to therapy to change a fundamental part of my identity in order to please my parents whose religion prohibits my sexuality is like. But eight days? I hope Conely’s story helps teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality and if my situation was more similar perhaps I’d feel differently but overall I just wasn’t hooked.