By Garrard Conley
Published by William Collins
This memoir tells of Garrard Conley’s experiences with conversion therapy. The book has been turned into a major Hollywood film – Boy Erased movie trailer
The story is told on two levels, his experiences at a residential programme called Love In Action and the events that led up to him going there. It tells the story of him growing up in a traditional family with a father who is a conservative preacher. So, as he discovers that he is attracted to men he is conflicted over the conservative Christian values that are telling him that such attractions are a choice and are sinful.
There is no doubt that his parents love him and want what is best for him. They truly believe that trying to have him cured is in his best interests. They don’t want him to go to hell. The parents believe that being part of the Love In Action programme will be able to cure him of homosexuality.
This is an important story and it is told engagingly. You see the integrity of his family, and this is contrasted with the ideology that is present at Love In Action. Love In Action’s programme is based on the flawed idea that being homosexual is a choice and so people can choose not to be homosexual. It subscribed to the idea that there was a trauma or some other event that led to a damaged upbringing, with an absent father or overbearing mother. These ideas have been repudiated by reputable psychological associations.
I must admit that I did not fully understand the title of the book until I read The Miseducation of Cameron Post [reviewed next]. It comes from the way that the conversion therapy attempts to control the person and tries to rewrite their personal history. It was taking away who Conley was, to try to create a person who fitted in with their idea of Biblical Manhood.
Books, such as this, shed important light on the damaging effect that conversion therapy has on people and shows up the flawed pseudoscience on which they are based. When ideology is put above scientific evidence, then the result is often abusive.
This book is available to buy at amazon.co.uk
The miseducation of Cameron Post
By Emily M Danforth
Published by Penguin Books
This is a novel. It is generally not my intention to review novels, but this is one about conversion therapy and has been made into a film. It uses fiction to explore a subject that is important and timely and shows the outworking of the ideas from other non-fiction books. The movie trailer can be viewed at The Miseducation of Cameron Post movie trailer
Cameron Post lives in a small town in Montana, when her parents are killed in a car crash she goes to live with her grandmother and aunt. The story is mainly set in the early 1990s and starts with the first time that she kisses another girl and she realises that she likes it. It is her aunt who introduces her to a church which is not affirming of homosexuality. As Cameron grows up, she explores her relationship with other girls she learns about the wider world through films.
For a long time, she manages to hide this from her aunt and grandmother, but eventually they find out and her aunt arranges for Cameron to get sent to God’s Promise, which is a residential programme to cure ‘those struggling with same-sex attraction’. What comes across clearly at this point is the hypocrisy of those around her who are trying to make themselves feel holy by condemning what she is doing but excusing what they are doing. For example, her aunt is engaged to be married, but is having pre-marital sex with her fiancé. Cameron is willing to point this out.
The first part of the book reads rather slowly and the pace picks up when Cameron arrives at God’s Promise. As Cameron goes through their change programme, we see their attempts to rewrite her genuine history, with one of trauma and abuse causing her same-sex attraction. As readers we have gone through Cameron’s genuine history and can therefore see, more powerfully, how this is being erased and distorted to fit the ideological model of pastor Rick and his aunt Lydia.
It is through Cameron’s eyes that we get to see how the young people there are being made to hate themselves, with some devastating results. She makes friends there and they try to subvert the programme. This is emotional survival for them. They realise that the people running the programme have no idea about what they are doing, that it is based on pseudoscience and ideology. In realising that, they decide to play along and simply pretend to be changed.
This subversion of the programme by pretending to change really grounds this book in reality, see the next review of Curing Queers. Cameron and her friends know that there is no cure for who they are and that by being made to hate themselves, they are actually being harmed, not helped. In the end they are the ones who take control.
This book is available to buy at amazon.co.uk
By Tommy Dickinson
Published by Manchester University Press
I came across this book at John Bell’s talk at Greenbelt 2017. This was the talk when he came out as a gay man. (That talk is available to buy at the Greenbelt festival website Greenbelt
This is a book about mental health nursing and is based on the research that Dickinson did for his PhD. As such, it shows the academic rigour that you would expect at this level. But this is not a PhD thesis, this is a very readable account of the attempts made by the British medical establishment to cure homosexuals.
It covers the period 1935 to 1974. For most of that period, homosexual activity between men was a crime. Men who were convicted would be sent to prison, but there was an option to be sent to a mental unit to be cured. It is this second option that Dickinson explores. He interviews those who were patients receiving treatment and those involved in the mental health nursing system themselves.
What he found was a system that was well intentioned, but fundamentally flawed. There was no way to establish, medically, if someone was homosexual. Therefore there was no medical way to establish if someone had been cured. The only evidence that the medical professionals relied on was the testimony of the patients themselves. The medical professionals believed the treatment worked, because many homosexual men told them how effective it had been in curing them, but the patients were lying in order to get released. However those fake cures, added to the belief of the medical profession that the cure worked, so they tried to cure more people.
What actually happened in these hospitals was a form of aversion therapy, trying to get patients to associate their homosexual inclinations with negative feelings about themselves. By the medical standards of the time, this was thought to be the most effective way to cure homosexuality. The patients realised vary quickly that they were confined by the criminal justice system to stay there until they were cured. So, some set out to convince the doctors that they were cured, in order to be released.
It was only after the decriminalisation in 1967, that former patients were able to talk openly about their experiences and could tell the truth that they had not been cured. They could also talk about the damaging impact of the treatments. It is accepted now that those medical interventions were not only ineffective, but were harmful and they have been stopped in this country.
Anyone who argues in favour of conversion therapy should have to read this book.is the academic, medical evidence that these treatments do not work.
This book is available to buy at https://www.amazon.co.uk