Several of our featured authors watched the film, Boy Erased. It’s based on the real-life story of Garrard Conley who wrote a memoir of the same name. Boy Erased follows a young man’s journey through reparative or conversion therapy, and it’s also a story of a mother’s and father’s relationships with their gay son. It’s a heavy film, and we debriefed it together in our extensive conversation below.
What was your first thought, emotion, and gut reaction as the credits rolled on Boy Erased?
EUGENE: I was pretty depressed and wrung out afterwards. I had listened to the Boy Erased audiobook before seeing the movie so I knew what was coming, but seeing it on screen impacted me more. I really felt for Jared and his story. Many parts made me squirm in memory of things I had looked into or experienced.
Prior to the movie’s release, I’d heard a few concerns from friends saying it would be “just another Hollywood Christian-bashing movie.” That’s understandable. I’ve also grown weary of the negative Christian stereotypes (evil Puritans, crazy fundamentalists, and corrupt priests with the major exception of Frollo from Hunchback of Notre Dame; he’s awesome).
But I thought the movie presented a nicely balanced view! Jared’s parents are shown to be loving, caring people, just deeply misguided. That was so refreshing! The movie didn’t showcase a black-and-white Gays: GOOD; Christians: BAD approach, which I appreciated.
MARSHALL: I felt sad but not depressed. The movie motivated me to seek ways to somehow change the environment of churches and Christian families so that people struggling with their sexuality will be supported and not merely confronted.
RYAN: When the credits rolled, I sat in stunned silence. The whole movie, I kept looking for someone to blame for what was going on. Should I lay the blame at Jared’s parents’ feet? Some of it, sure, but they didn’t invent conversion therapy.
Should I lay the blame at the feet of the primary therapist, Victor Sykes? Perhaps more blame was warranted here, but again, none of it seemed to be his idea, exactly. He was complicit, but he was perpetuating an evil that had been done to him first.
I wanted to be angry at someone after watching Boy Erased. I wanted to pray down the wrath of God upon someone.
DEAN: I wonder, Ryan, if the ultimate blame goes further up the ladder to the point wherever it instilled in Victor Sykes, Jared’s dad (a pastor), and many others this idea that sexuality automatically discounted a person’s salvation. Perhaps the blame shifts to incorrect understandings of human sexuality and psychology.
Victor and Jared’s dad are indeed responsible for the decisions they made. But you noted correctly that they acted out of a belief that originated somewhere.
As for me, I silently cried. Tears streamed down my face as I grasped the hand of my best friend who saw the movie with me. My heart ached, my mind reeled, and my spirit just felt crushed. Everything in me wanted to go out and start correcting so many wrongs done to LGBT people in the name of religion. I felt angry at misdirected actions from uninformed and unqualified Pharisees.
I felt broken over the lives that have been destroyed, ruined, or ended because of such a thoughtless battle to change something — sexuality — that doesn’t need to be changed.
TOM: So, I watched the movie on my laptop at a Panera Bread. After finishing, I sat in my car and promptly wept for a half-hour. It hit me harder than any other movie I’ve ever seen, no exaggeration, undoubtedly amplified by my currently emotional season of life.
Boy Erased sobered me and drained me, and I felt prompted to make a video response a day later. I felt emotionally rocked throughout the movie, relating with Jared and disagreeing with him but understanding him and mostly feeling despair over it all: this horror of reparative therapy and how my story, how our collective YOB story, fits into the larger cultural and spiritual narrative.
This world of faith and sexuality — it’s such a supercharged world full of supercharged experiences.
Have you directly or indirectly experienced conversion/reparative therapy? How did this dynamic of Boy Erased affect you as a Jesus-follower who holds to a traditional sexual ethic without attempting to change your sexuality?
DEAN: As a grown adult, I once ended up talking with a conversion therapist for a few hours, though I didn’t know that’s what he was at the time. I was looking for a counselor, and someone recommended him.
They definitely should have not recommended this guy, though. He spent the entire time trying to convince me that I had been molested by my dad — I’d have never been attracted to men otherwise, he surmised.
I never saw that counselor again after that conversation. I don’t personally know anyone who has undergone conversion therapy, but I’ve done research into the stories of those who have. Not everyone experiences such horrible techniques as in the movie. Sometimes, conversion therapy seems more like a distorted cognitive-behavioral therapy combined with exposure practices focused on sexual thoughts.
Basically, speculated nonsense.
MARSHALL: I have never experienced reparative therapy myself, but I have talked to guys who have. Their experiences were not as traumatic as portrayed in the movie, just somewhat ineffective and expensive. Seeing the trauma depicted in Boy Erased made me even less a fan of reparative therapy.
TOM: I’ve heard a little from folks who have experienced reparative therapy, but I’ve simply never asked for the full story. I regret that so much now, being so ignorant to it all. Boy Erased has inspired me to learn more of this sub-world within our already same-sex attracted (SSA) or LGBT+ Christian sub-world.
I found Boy Erased conflicting to watch, agreeing with this base belief — not that sexual orientation itself is sinful and needs to be reversed, but that God calls his people to a singular sexual standard — and yet horrified by all the therapeutic methods employed.
The therapists and other Christians in the film invoked the Bible and the name of Jesus and it all felt…off. Like a horror movie where everything appears normal on the outside but something just isn’t quite right.
RYAN: Tom, that’s the other thing I thought as the credits rolled — how much like a horror movie it was. Part of that feeling comes from Boy Erased being filmed that way.
Indeed, one of the ingredients of horror is normal, everyday things being supernaturally wrong.
I felt this way about conversion therapy: the Christianity I love and am so familiar with was bent, twisted, and contorted into something recognizable yet alien, something wearing angelic clothing yet demonic, powerful, and terrible.
TOM: And, no doubt, Christian critics of this film will point to the faux-Christianity presented and discredit Boy Erased as an “inaccurate portrayal” of Christians. But just because we’d agree that the film’s Christians don’t represent all believers, it does not discredit that this story happened. Is still happening.
Today. 2019. All over the country.
These “Christians” and “Christian programs” indeed still exist, and this story needs to be told, heard, and seen.
EUGENE: I used to follow many reparative therapy-promoted organizations and even looked into it for myself. I never actually experienced conversion therapy, and I’m glad I didn’t. Although, in all fairness, the organizations I looked into were nowhere near as bat guano crazy as Love in Action, the one depicted in the film.
The first ever SSA-identifying Christian I met underwent reparative therapy and kept telling me how helpful it was, encouraging me to do it too. He said it helped him heal his childhood wounds from his father and even decreased his attraction to men. When we walked places together, he constantly looked back at women and said stuff like, “Wow, did you see her? She was so hot . . . “
Later on, he confessed to me that he’d had a sexual webcam session with another man. He proceeded to have a full blown meltdown over it, saying the incident had given him PTSD and that he felt he’d lost his virginity somehow. He went on about this for hours over several phone calls, and nothing I said calmed down.
I’ve had similar sexual stumbles, and I’m not proud of them, but I’ve moved on from them. It makes me suspect this guy’s conversion therapy might’ve contributed to his ongoing meltdowns. Like maybe he thought he was “cured,” only to experience that sexual incident as even more jarring than otherwise.
RYAN: I haven’t been involved with conversion therapy, nor do I think I know anyone who has. A few hours after the movie, a profound feeling of thankfulness washed over me that Jesus had protected me from that darkness growing up. I could have easily fallen victim to it, but the Lord went before me.
Boy Erased cast my youth and young adulthood in a new light: sure, I’ve often felt lost and alone, muddling my way through murky waters, finding my way by stubbed toes; but God guided me around so much danger, unbeknownst to me.
TOM: Wow, Ryan. I hadn’t even considered this perspective. And I’m right there with you now. I can’t imagine what my life — my very faith — would look like had I undergone anything remotely akin to Jared’s experience in the movie.
Forget the concept of choosing another sexual ethic for oneself; is it any wonder that so many people walk away from faith altogether in the aftermath of reparative therapy?
EUGENE: Even though I disagree with Jared’s affirming position, I totally empathize with why he went that way. I think just about anyone in his position would. As tragic as it is, it’s totally understandable. It fills me with such sadness. And it makes me more angry that some Christian organizations blow off people’s stories like this by saying, “Oh, they’re just perpetuating a victim mentality.”
What was your personally most impactful scene of Boy Erased? Call it your “favorite” scene or, perhaps, your most convicting?
EUGENE: The scene where students and family members take one of the students, Cameron, and physically beat him with Bibles in a sort of “mock funeral” was hard to watch. I should note that this scene is not in the book. I highly suspect it to be a separate Love in Action incident made to paint a bigger picture of that organization’s craziness.
RYAN: The scene that hit me hardest was Jared’s receiving the news that Cameron, who’d stood up for him in that climactic scene of his leaving the facility, had killed himself. The audience is sort of left to read between the lines that the Love In Action staff had driven Cameron to suicide as retribution for sticking his neck out for Jared.
But Cameron’s sacrifice made him an image of Christ: suffering, beaten, mocked, and scorned so that Jared could go free.
MARSHALL: Like Ryan, that scene also impacted me most. I’ve had three friends from my church die by suicide, including one in the last year. One of those admitted his same-sex attraction, and the other two did not. But I have good reason to believe those two were also gay.
DEAN: Marshall, I am so sorry for the losses you’ve experienced. I cannot imagine what seeing that in Boy Erased felt like for you.
TOM: Jared’s two bedroom scenes with two gay friends hit me hard in two different ways. The first with shock and horror, because it erupted into an unexpected rape when I’d thought some mutual sexual experimentation would unfold; the second, with admiration and yearning as Jared simply lay with Xavier in his bed, fully clothed, holding his friend’s hand and caressing his cheeks as he drifted to sleep.
“Stay with me; nothing needs to happen,” Xavier told Jared. And nothing did.
I worried the scene would escalate into a sexual encounter, not because of my beliefs or anything, but because the moment already packed such a tender punch, especially with Troye Sivan’s gorgeous vocals in the background. That this encounter remained a warm, platonic expression of touch and intimacy really inspired me.
It made me think fondly of my own physical expressions of love with gay/SSA friends over the years, how I want to share more of this platonic intimacy with other males across the board.
DEAN: Tom, the contrast of those two bedroom scenes struck me as well, especially because Victor, the therapist, didn’t seem to regard Jared’s encounter with Xavier as bad and actually blamed Jared’s rape on Jared.
It struck me how Christian culture that places all of its stock in “staying within the right lines” can shame victims for what happened while completely ignoring other ways that sexuality plays out — without any sexual contact.
I believe it shows our skewed understanding of sex and sexuality in the church.
RYAN: I hadn’t noticed that contrast! That’s a good observation. In fact, neither encounter with either friend ended the way I expected. I was concerned the message of the rape scene would be: “See? If you repress your sexuality, you’ll turn into a rapist.” But maybe that’s a standoffish reading.
(I’ve never had sex and it has not turned out to be super difficult not to rape anyone.)
TOM: Yeah . . . me neither.
DEAN: The conversation Jared initiates with his dad at the end of the movie — “I’m your son, and I’m gay.” — shows his boldness in giving his father the facts while acknowledging that the decision to maintain a relationship is entirely in his dad’s hands. Jared would continue to grow into his own self, and his dad could be a part of that or not — but he would need to make that decision himself.
It’s a conversation I wish I were able to have with my dad. But my dad is mentally not there anymore.
EUGENE: I thought Boy Erased ended terrifically. It doesn’t end on a “yay he’s living with a boyfriend happily ever after” note. It’s rather dark, and it’s clear that Jared is still not a happy person afterwards. The movie is smart to leave it on an uncertain note and let the audience decide how they feel.
TOM: For sure. Even though someone takes a defined stand on sexuality, one way or the other, there are still consequences: ongoing family relationships, connection (or a severing) to faith, and the general day-in, day-out grind of life in a fallen world. Rain falls on us all. Life is hard for everyone.
Even though Jared ultimately reaches a conclusion on sexuality opposing ours, did you see any of yourself in his story? Did any personal experiences, relationships, or personality traits connect with you while watching Boy Erased?
MARSHALL: Although I could relate to Jared’s strong emotions of shame, fear, and wanting to please his parents, I have reached a very different conclusion. My own experience following Jesus Christ has been so fulfilling that I know I’ve made the right choice decades later!
RYAN: That scene where Jared smashes a cologne advertisement on the side of a bus shelter particularly resonated. The ad featured a muscular, shirtless man, and Jared lashes out upon seeing it, destroying it with a rock.
I’ve had seasons of life when I was so frustrated with myself that small things reminding me of my sexual orientation could trigger similarly dramatic responses. I’m in a much more emotionally spacious place now, but I can still get quite angry at advertisements like that sometimes.
However, this anger is less rooted in shame for my sexuality and more in having my sexuality leveraged to try to sell me something. I think this anger is righteous.
EUGENE: I squirmed a little when Jared’s dad told him he was deeply disappointed he wouldn’t be having any grandchildren because of his son’s sexuality. I’m also an only child like Jared, and I worried my parents would react negatively to my coming out because of that. Thankfully, they’ve been very gracious and loving, saying they don’t care about grandkids and just want me to be happy.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if they have been disappointed. One would think just about any parent would, right?
RYAN: Eugene, I suspect part of the journey for any parent is learning how to let go of their expectations, allowing their child to be their own person. If they’re still stuck on the grandchildren thing, though, it’s like: “Well, Sheryl and Douglas, this isn’t what I pictured either, but we all play the hands we’re dealt!”
TOM: I’m glad one of my siblings has already produced the first grandchild. Definitely takes some unconscious pressure off that scenario.
The end of the movie hit me in a hard way. Four years removed from the main events of the film, Jared winds up becoming an author: we see a published article about his experience in conversion therapy and hear of the additional prospect of a book. A picture of him and his boyfriend sits on his desk by the newspaper clippings.
As an author myself, it felt like watching the “other road” I could be walking right now: writing about my experience on this side of things before eventually coming over to the “right side” — especially as friends in my life have walked away and chosen this alternate path.
Seeing Jared choose what my dear friends have chosen devastated me all over again. Seeing real life unfold on a screen hit really close to home.
EUGENE: That’s such a haunting way of looking at it, Tom.
TOM: Haunting is how I’d put it, too. Like I’m looking in a mirror with so much identical reflection yet vastly different tweaks.
Watching Boy Erased also made me wonder if a story like mine — I’ve written a memoir, too — could ever unfold in a film. Will we ever see such a movie where the protagonist reaches a different conclusion on sexuality, one more comparable to ours? Or if he does, can said “Christian film” not be cheesy and lame and actually be well told, well produced, and deeply meaningful?
As much as I wrestle with this “mirror path” and even mourn a lack of representation in stories more akin to mine and those in our community, I also want to give Boy Erased the space and honor it deserves. I’m glad this film now exists.
DEAN: I saw myself almost entirely in Jared: similar age, similar church background, similar thought processes. My sexual experiences in college were very different than Jared’s, and I wasn’t outed to my parents, for which I am thankful — because I am absolutely sure that, had I been outed, I would have been sent to a conversion camp.
That’s why Boy Erased hit me so hard. For in only one difference — Jared’s parents finding out and mine not — our stories were the same.
I could have been sent to a conversion camp. I could have had someone physically beat me with a Bible. I could have had my life completely thrown aside.
My mom would not have stood up for me like the mom in the movie, though. I love her, but she would not have rescued me. I would have never been free.
And that possibility scares me.
Would you recommend Boy Erased? Why exactly, and to whom?
EUGENE: I’d recommend Boy Erased to any gay/SSA Christian, be they Side A, B, X, or Y.
TOM: You forgot Side Z. And Side LMNOP.
EUGENE: Regardless of one’s viewpoint, a lot can be learned from this movie. I’d also recommend Boy Erased to any church or Christian organization looking for how to approach sexual minorities and include them. This movie is a valuable crash course on what NOT to do.
MARSHALL: I’d recommend the movie to anyone who is a Christian, experiences same-sex attraction, or cares about someone who does. Boy Erased brings up so many thoughts and feelings that need to be carefully thought through.
DEAN: I’d recommend Boy Erased to any adult Christian. I cannot think of any Christian who should not see this movie.
RYAN: The rape scene really caught me off guard. I don’t picture myself as squeamish over sexually violent content when it’s presented the way it was in Boy Erased, but it was still kind of disturbing. I wouldn’t recommend the movie to anyone who thinks he’d have a hard time with that scene.
Honestly, I’m having difficulty thinking of anyone to whom I’d wholeheartedly 100% recommend the movie. I’m not saying it was poorly made or didn’t have a valuable message, but for anyone who’s anti-conversion therapy, it’s just upsetting and bias-confirming. And I think anyone who’s still pro-conversion therapy in 2019 would just find reasons to discredit the message (“That was just one program,” “It was a biased portrayal,” etc.).
Oh! You know who definitely should see it? Nicole Kidman fans. She did an incredible job as Jared’s mother. She had at least one scene praying in private, and speaking as an insider to the esoteric phenomenon she portrayed, it was amazingly authentic. Aquaman squandered her, but she shone in Boy Erased.
TOM: From Kidman as Jared’s mom to Russell Crowe as Jared’s pastor/dad to Lucas Hedges as Jared, the acting throughout Boy Erased was fantastic. It’s a sobering movie, especially for believers, but also a necessary one. I hope Jesus-followers you wouldn’t expect to watch give it a chance and allow this story to have its way with them.
I’ve already heard gratefulness from one such person in the aftermath of my talking about Boy Erased, and that just blesses me so much.
Have you seen or read Boy Erased? What were your takeaways from the film?
I saw the movie and wept through much if it. I personally didn’t go through Christian repairitive therapy, but something else happened. My mother was not stupid. She knew what I was. So she allowed me to visit my uncle, under the guise of teaching me the ‘birds and the bees’. He showed me hardcore pornography. Hours of it. I was aghast, seeing a woman fully exposed for the first time. Not only did it not ‘cure’ me, I became even more interested in seeing guys. It started an addiction to porn in me, one that only increased when I went celibate. I finally had to go to addiction meetings to break myself of the habit. The porn also made me feel bad about myself as I was not as studly as the men portrayed in the films. I took to overeating, which only made me feel more bad about myself. I finally topped out in my weight at 320lbs and had the symptoms of diabetes. Only the stroke of 2012 ended that.
I just wonder: what would have happened to me if my mother loved and accepted me the way I was?
I am so sorry that you had to go through something like that. I haven’t seen this movie that they’re all commenting on but I know a little bit of the story. As a Christian, I know that there is only one Holy spirit and it’s his job to convert. What you were put through was more like psychological torture.
I feel like this is a story on the same level of tragic as Boy Erased. They both seem like stories of people who hated same-sex attraction more than actual evil, and sacrificed their child to a god they didn’t realize they were worshipping.
Ryan, I appreciated your thoughts on this post very, very much. Also, your comment to Brad.
Well, Brad, my mother tried to tell me she accepted me the way I was. For me, there was absolutely zero consolation in it and definitely no hope. I genuinely fear to think where I would be if I had resigned myself to that acceptance. My brother did, and he died of AIDs. Would I have followed in his footsteps?
I am so sorry for all you had to go through, my friend. But, in the end, I think God uses the horrible circumstances of our lives to bring us to Himself. I would gladly have traded my upbringing for the one I have been able to give to my own boys. But then…would theirs be what it is had not mine been what it was?
I thank God for the power of redemption. He can truly take the ashes of our lives and make something beautiful of them in His time. Love you very much, brother.
I’ve intentionally been avoiding Boy Erased. When I ask myself why, I think it’s because I know and have associated with a fair amount of Side X guys and this whole issue hits pretty close to home. I have attended programs designed to help men with unwanted same-sex attraction reconcile their faith and feelings, which I personally didn’t find harmful (only speaking for myself). These weekends were not reparative therapy but do attract a large number of side X men. I’ve found value in these weekends, but admittedly don’t fit in with a decent contingent of the other men there.
I also met with a reparative therapist during my senior year of college for regular sessions at least twice a month. The actual therapy I went through in college was somewhat helpful, but not really. I had much better progress through counselors I’ve had since then.
So yeah, a lot of feelings and history there. I guess I don’t want to be triggered by watching it. Maybe I’ll work up the courage and take a look one of these weeks.
I can certainly share that my perspective has changed since I was a senior in college, and since dabbling in the Side X community for a time. While I treasure my side X friends and have found value in my associations with them, I personally have no intention now of changing my SSA.
Sexually, one of my goals in life now actually is to BE same-sex attracted, without any of the shame I’ve carried about myself or my sexuality. To diminish lust while increasing brotherly love. And finally to allow this experience and other life experiences to direct me to Jesus and help be better follow His example.
I’m fairly confident Jesus won’t ask me at the judgment bar what my sexual orientation is, but rather if I followed Him and accepted Him as my Savior and served others, as one who has taken on His Name.
Heya Brad. Yeah my story is somewhat similar to yours. I dabbled in the Side X world for a while myself even though I didn’t do any therapy. Immersing myself in the ideology of it I think did cause me a little bit of harm. My obsession with the possible causes of SSA made me mad at myself for not connecting with men at an early age and that I felt I’d made myself gay. Realizing I could live with my sexuality yet could be a happy person with brothers was a humbling and sobering moment for me.
I rented it and will be watching it either tonight or later this week. I’m intrigued enough now to view it from the zoom room discussion.
To be fare, I have not seen Boy Erased nor have I read the book. I did read a good review that was fare. I think this film should make people think and discuss. So, I’m for people watching it.
I read the comments and my comment is related to what YOBBERS said about “conversion therapy”. First of all, the phrase conversion therapy is the favorite phrase used by LGBT activists to try to discredit any change efforts. They paint a picture of change in terms of torture or shaming and definitely as harmful. Boy Erased does not depict real therapy to help people with SSA which qualified and trained therapist use with good results.
Reparative therapy, SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts) and SAFE-T (sexual attraction fluidity exploration therapy) are names used by trained and licensed therapists who help people with unwanted SSA.
Are these therapies harmful, shaming, ineffective?
Here are the results from a short scientific study from a Catholic Medical Association, Read the full text at the URL.
Effects of Therapy on Religious Men Who Have Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction
Survey by the Catholic Medical Association
Of the 125 men that comprised the survey, 68 percent self-reported some to much reduction in their same-sex attraction and behavior and also an increase in their opposite-sex attraction and behavior. *That’s 2/3!
For this survey group, contrary to the null hypothesis, SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts) is neither ineffective, nor harmful, conflicting with APA (American Psychological Association) findings. On the basis of this survey, religious clients could be told that some degree of change is likely from SOCE, and positive change in suicidality, self-esteem, depression, self-harm, substance abuse, social functioning should be moderate to marked. Also contrary to the null hypotheses, social pressures do not predominate as reasons for entering SOCE, and effect sizes are not clearly less than for standard psychotherapies.
Degree of harm is zero to slight and about typical of harm for therapy for other unwanted problems.
Here’s one thing I’ve noticed about many Repairative Therapy organizations. Often the clients or therapists will advertise that they’ve “left homosexuality/ are former homosexuals/ no longer gay.” However there’s a twist to it. What they really mean is that they no longer have gay sex or live in the Side A world. One little detail they often leave out is if they’re completely straight our not. Its often a lot of misleading advertising or testimonies.
Thanks for adding your perspective to the mix, Alan. Glad to hear you’re for people watching the movie. It’s been illuminating for me to hear more stories of reparative therapy, even within our community — that, so far, I’ve not heard from anyone who experienced anything remotely close to what was portrayed in the movie. That’s important to recognize. Not everyone’s experience was awful. Ineffective, maybe. But not scarring.
But it’s also worth giving space and honor to this particular story. And others echoing it. I wrote in the post of my inner conflict to want to see my story well-told and well-represented but also to respect Garrard’s hard story, along with countless similar ones.
I’d like to see a movie where reparative therapy was a good thing, or even if orientation shifts/changes indeed happened. I’d like to see those real-life stories represented, too. But let’s also not minimize this particular person’s story, especially in the church. We all need to be aware of the harm Christians have done in the name of Christ, from reparative therapy to whatever other avenues we’ve creatively taken the Christ out of the equation.
Thanks Thom! I guess it is important to know that the movie represents true misguided efforts of well meaning Christians (without professional therapy training) to “cure” homosexuality and as such could be harmful. The book and the movie are different. Some abusive events portrayed in the movie did not really happen (like the scene with the people hitting the participant with Bibles). So, take the movie as representing possible harmful and abusive conversion therapy, but it is not a factual representation. And so-called “conversion therapy” does not equal therapy by trained therapists who use the same therapeutic methods to treat their clients (such as shame reduction) that are used in all other standard forms of therapy.
I would also love to see a movie with a public showing (and maybe big stars playing the key roles) that showed reparative therapy or SAFE-T therapy in a positive light. I do suggest the documentary film from voicesofthesilenced.tv. You go to this website and subscribe for free to watch their movie with testimonials of men and woman who have changed. https://www.voicesofthesilenced.com
I read through your link and I would say that it does appear that some people are helped and not harmed by certain types of sexual orientation change therapy.
I only have a BS degree in chemistry, so I am no expert in analysis of this type of therapy. Still, it appears that valid statistical methods were used and it is actually true that some men we able to shift a little toward heterosexual attractions and away from homosexual ones. Harm occurred but not for most.
The problem is in the details. It goes back to the old joke about therapists. How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but it also takes 10 thousand dollars, 2 years, and the light bulb has to want to be changed!
The men who reported change had invested a lot of money and time into therapy and only acheived small changes in attractions. Around one third had no change at all and very few had the kind of extreme change they were really aiming for.
Are these results worth the time and money? Probably not.
Also, the methods that worked the best were things many of us here at YOB have advocated all along, such as building non-sexual same sex friendships and experiencing non-sexual touch!
I think most therapists would agree with what you advocate. Yet 2/3 of the men report positive outcomes for their unwanted SSA. That’s hard to argue with. I agree that therapy is not affordable for many. That is why YOB and other support groups are needed. Also, we need grace fillled churches who understand the issues and offer love and support.
If I were on the fence I would want to compare this study with others that APA’s guidance is based upon. What are their comparative sample sizes? How were participants selected in the APA-cited studies versus the one above? How did the contents of the survey differ? Have there been any studies done on minors who were involuntarily subjected to this kind of therapy? Mainstream scientific research is not without its bias, but what would lead us to believe that the Catholic Medical Association is less biased?
To complicate the situation, the social and psychological sciences have been in the midst of the so-called “reproducibility crisis” in the past decade. All of the research that the APA relies upon should be taken with a large grain of salt, but also so should this. Even if this study is an apples-to-apples comparison with APA-recognized research, the difference in results merely confirms the reproducibility crisis rather than disproving the APA’s position.
However, there is more to the world than science and there are other standards by which we can judge SOCE. Is it beautiful? Is it necessary? Is it true (e.g., to how God appears to have ordered the world and to how God says He’s working in it)? The authors of this blog argue “no” on all three accounts; readers who want to know our reasons are invited to read the rest of the blog.
Finally–and especially saliently, in a discussion of this particular movie–I would add that it’s one thing to argue an adult should feel the freedom to pursue orientation change (nobody is arguing otherwise), but another thing to argue that parents should feel the freedom to try to change their child’s sexual orientation. To defend compelling a child into SOCE, or even just talking them into it, you have to show all the more that SOCE passes the clinical standard of “does no harm” and that it is true or beautiful or necessary. So far I haven’t seen those receipts.
The APA, which has been dominated by gay-affirmative therapists, addmits that change is possible and therapy is not harmful. Those numbers of people who report harm from change therapy are similar to the numbers who report harm for any other kind of therapy. A small number of people in any type of therapy for any problem report harm. By far the majority who have therapy with trained professionals report positive results. Here’s a link to the APA on the current findings about fluidity of sexual attraction, benefits and harm: http://www.therapyequality.org/american-psychological-association-says-born-way-cant-change-not-true-sexual-orientation-gender-identity?fbclid=IwAR3LkzXo0nDMSG1aRLAKUw1E-vrRcT_hQdO2bCSHEecUmdpRh1aVefi6zug. Check it out.
Thanks, Alan, for pointing us to research. I guess I’m wondering aloud when I ask this, but do you think the old adage is true that the squeaky wheel gets oiled? I mean, if the numbers that are harmed are actually small comparatively, could it be that they are the most vocal on the outcome, and therefore public perception gets skewed? Just wondering what you think about this. For obvious reasons, those with positive outcomes may not be all public about it, because they were ashamed of the struggle in the first place.
Dear Kirk Daniel,
I agree with your assessment that the squeaky wheel comment. The harm reported is typical for any kind of therapy (not just SSA therapy). LGBT activists are the loudest voices with political power and adequate funding. They want to make gay-affirmative therapy (GAT) the only choice for people with SSA. They do one hell-of-a job with their PR to convince others that one is “Born Gay”, when the real science doesn’t prove that.
These activists ignore legitimate therapy for people with unwanted SSA received from trained therapists and try to get legislators to ban all therapies (except GAT) by telling horror stories about forced “conversion therapy”. The activists want everyone to believe that any “change therapy” coerces people with SSA against their will and that all “change therapies” use torturous and harmful techniques. These are lies, but repeat a lie long enough and loud enough (the squeaky wheel) and people will believe it.
The problem with all of this is that in any therapy the client is the one who determines the outcome and goals of the therapy, not the therapist. By banning all therapy except GAT, legitimate choices for men and women with unwanted SSA or for parents whose children may have been homosexually molested are also being taken away and made illegal.
This is not true choice in a democratic society. If GAT is the only choice, we live in a totalitarian society. There is not tolerance for people who disagree with LGBT goals and worldview.
As one who was sexually abused as a child, I can definitely see the benefit that the type of therapy you have been describing could have provided for me. As it was, my mother was very affirming (my older brother was an out-and-proud individual), and she was only too happy for me not to go to therapy at all. This is something I have written about on my own blog. Now, the therapy I started to go to was specific to the sexual abuse, not reparative therapy or anything approaching it. At that time, I had laid hold on faith in Christ, and thought that alone, along with the “support” from the church I went to at the time (which was basically nothing) was enough to process and deal with the abuse. It wasn’t. I spent decades running from it and the resulting SSA, not processing or working through any of it at all.
For one thing, I never understood it to be abuse. What a revelation that was to me, and I only realized it a few years ago. So, now I am processing it and working through everything in my forties. I have tremendous spiritual and emotional support in the fellowship I am a part of, and that has been life from the dead to me.
But even so, I wish I had benefited from therapy when I was younger. I didn’t want my mother’s affirmation. I wanted her love, and I wanted to be free.
Dear Kirk Daniel, I just want to say thank you for sharing. I understand your pain only partially, though I feel great sadness each time I hear or read about a brother who was abused. One of my very best friends was molested very young. It brings tears to my eyes.
I pray for your recovery and for those who love you and support you! Glad that you have a great church Family now!
I wish I had known about therapy for my unwanted SSA when I was in my early 20’s. I tried to ignore my SSA, but it didn’t go away until I began to face it when I was 56. Never too old to start, right?
God bless you dear Kirk Daniel!
The issue remains in forcing minors into such therapy programs where they don’t have much/any say in the matter. Sure, grown adults are free to invest financially/emotionally in whichever programs they deem best for themselves. But forcing kids into these programs…or creating a culture that requires such therapy for young adults to belong/thrive in their families, churches…that’s a hard no for me and more of the focus for this conversation.
Sure. Agreed. No one should be forced or coerced by anyone into any kind of therapy.
I know some guys with unwanted SSA who have gone to therapists who told them that GAT was their only option. That’s not client choice either.
I do think parents of minor children shouldn’t force their children into any unwanted therapy, but I don’t think it is wrong for parents to seek the therapy of their choice in line with their values and beliefs to help their children if those children have been molested by a sex offender.
I am not talking about the kind of “help” that was presented in the movie, The Boy Erased. I wouldn’t agree to that kind of conversion camp nor the pressure put on the participants to attend. Absolutely wrong. No argument.
I agree with all your points. I am not for anyone (parents, pastors, friends, family, teachers, etc.) compelling, coercing, forcing, etc. anyone (adult or child) into any kind of therapy against their will. I am totally for client choice in determining the outcome of therapy. Whether that is gay-affirming therapy or sexual attraction fluidity exploration therapy, I absolutely believe that the client should make his/her own choices.
I do think that parents have the rights to seek help from a therapist when a child has been abused by a sex-offender. I think that is rather different that talking about SOCE, Reparative Therapy, SAFE-T, etc.
I don’t support any kind of “conversion” therapy at all as represented in the film, The Boy Erased. But I do support client choice and therapy by trained professional therapists.
“EUGENE: The scene where students and family members take one of the students, Cameron, and physically beat him with Bibles in a sort of “mock funeral” was hard to watch. I should note that this scene is not in the book. I highly suspect it to be a separate Love in Action incident made to paint a bigger picture of that organization’s craziness.”
But John Smid has this to say about such scenes: “The film shows a strong, loud leader and many forms of abuse of clients. It’s easy to be angry about the negative portrayal of Love In Action based on the overt extremes of the film. But honestly, this was not Love In Action’s personality, or reality.”
To be honest, I don’t know. People’s stories aren’t interesting enough on their own to make a motion picture, and so Hollywood always has to spice them up a bit. And multitudes of people are going to come away from this, not merely as ones who “highly suspect”, but as those who are 100% certain that it happened. Despite the disavowal of John Smid.
Truth matters. It matters. It matters. Embellishing a story to make it more hellish than it was does the truth no favor. And there is no excuse for it.
As a fictionalized retelling of real-life events, creative license is allowable. Though anyone could agree/disagree on what you include/don’t. If this were a documentary, the Bible-beating scene would obviously be unethical to be included. Even if you remove that scene, though…it was already a pretty hellish environment that I’d want nobody to experience.
Not minimizing the hellish parts that are true, TMZ. Just pointing out that the Bible beating scene is problematic, and while educated people like yourself and Eugene can come away from a movie understanding that the scene was invented (though, Eugene surmises it does represent true events), others will not. The general public will not, because the movie is based upon a true story. Some people, that’s all they need to hear. Eugene said that was one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. If it is a fabrication, then it does more harm to the young man’s real story.
Just my observation.
I get what you’re saying, Kirk. As another memoirist, I don’t pretend to be 100% okay with the scene’s usage if it wasn’t actually true to Garrard’s story. I just don’t think the Bible-beating scene would have pushed anyone in the general public “over the edge.” It’s not like LIA was any kind of fantastic oasis of a place before that scene. No…that place looked like hell regardless.
I’ll echo a bit what Tom said. Artistic license does need to be taken sometimes, even in the very best of biopics and true story movies. If the changes still properly communicate the message and intent of the original story without any unethical or manipulative methods to garner audience sympathy then there’s no harm done. Like Tom said, without the Bible beating scene Love in Action still seemed like a pretty screwed up and horrible place. Showcasing a true event done by the same organization (though at a different time) to show how REALLY crazy they could get was important. Like Jared’s experience was only one piece of the pie.
One thing I tried to be careful about when watching it was not to view it as a documentary about LIA. I’m afraid many people received it that way, however. Is this the filmmaker’s fault? It’s not presented as a documentary, so I’m not sure.
Truth matters, but we use different standards to judge the truthfulness of documentaries, memoir, fiction, and everything in between. A counterfactual or fabricated account of specific historical events and people connected to LIA would be unacceptable if it were a documentary. By contrast, Lord of the Rings is complete make-believe and yet I feel that every paragraph is steeped in truth. This leads me to the other way to read the scene, which is metaphor. I suspect you’ll find far, far more young SSA men who’ve been mercilessly beaten over the head with scripture than ever had bruises to show for it, and no less cruelly and profanely, often by loved ones who thought they were doing the right thing. It need not be factual to be true.
Ugh, I hadn’t even considered that metaphor of “Bible-beating.” The spiritual, emotional bruises launched on these kids…by unwieldy people with Scripture, of all things. Gross.
I’m on a road trip right now, so I don’t have time to put all of my thoughts together on this multilayered topic. My wife and I watched the film together last week and were deeply troulbed by it; we did not think if was in any way unfair in its depiction of Christians. I am at Bethel this week as a YOB friend is leading worship over a couple of days. I thought I was here to see him, but I have spent more time with another young YOB friend that I had never met before. He just happened to learn the day we met that his love interest (female) had just been killed in a car accident. So, we have spent many hours over coffee, hiking in the gorgeous northern CA forrests, and sobbing in worship. As we drove to Burney Falls yesterday, I was sharing SSA histoires with one of his young friends. This young man recently testified before the CA legislature on the bill to end conversion-type therapies in the state. The bill was defeated because of poignant testimony by him and others about how their lives have been enriched by therapy to gain some control over their sexuality. He shared his testimony at lenght with me, and it sounded remarkably like Kevin’s (one of our former writers) in the way the Holy Spirit directed him in seemingly “foolish” ways to overcome his addictions. I have very mixed views on the “conversion therapy” debate. I think much of what passes as Christian therapy for SSA is horrifying and an embarrassment to God. But there are many examples as well of sound clinical work being done, as that which helped this young man.
I watched the movie a little neutrally having read the book last year (thank God for Amazon Kindle; books like this would never be sold in our Nairobi bookshop shelves). Although the performances by the acting leads were stellar, I would rate it a flat “B” (with A+ being the highest possible score) I think that (as it is in most cases) the book was better than the movie. In it, the author was able to narrate his life story better and in more detail over three hundred and fifty pages than the 2 hour movie run. Some critics found the film lacking in depth and just seemed preoccupied with bashing gay conversion therapy at the expense of the rich potential of the Conley/Eamons family storyline and I tended to agree. I found the rape scene enactment more shocking than it had been described in the book. The scene towards the end where Jared has a confrontation with the Jon Smid (Victor Sykes) character and then calls his mum to rescue him was also amped up for dramatic effect. I guess that’s why movies always have the “based on” disclaimer moniker applied so that license may be taken with the dramatization of a story to package it for wider viewer appeal. Whilst I did feel some empathy for Jared and the psychological/emotional bullying he encountered while attending the LIA programme, I think that in a number of ways he wasn’t inescapably chained to it so it didn’t come across to me as tragic or horrific a situation as he made it out to be. He also had his mum’s love and support all along more or less and eventually his dad’s too (maybe just the love bit) and there are lots of stories of people who went through far worse than he did in their efforts to become or be made “straight” . Since gay themed films are becoming increasingly mainstream nowadays, as a movie buff I tend to evaluate them more from an objective quality movie perspective (i.e. the quality of the acting, script, screenplay, direction, etc) and if we are talking about this genre, I found movies like “Moonlight” and South Africa’s Inxebha (the Wound) capturing the emotional anguish and pain of the struggle to repress one’s true self in order to conform than this one did.
I’ve only seen clips and have no 1st hand knowledge of conversion therapy. Below is a 6 min interview with the real life Garrard Conley, the guy in the film, and his mother Martha. It sounds like it was a horror show.
I’m left to wonder if this has anything to do with Christ. Or is it well-meaning Christians using unspiritual means to reach godly ends? Isn’t that how the church has failed thru history with greater questions than sexuality?
‘Conversion therapy’ has become an umbrella term by Garrard Conley et al. It covers the LIA stuff but that umbrella extends in discounting even mocking the Bible. Yes, LIA bad and that was sad. But the alternative of Conley is good? He’s living in New York with a husband. Is that good? What isn’t presented is who decides what’s “good”. If LIA was wrong we are to believe Conley et al is good? Buyer beware! I’m glad for YOB which endeavors to present an alternative not invented by finite fallible mere humans.
Read my reply to Ryan above and the link to the APA findings. There is more balance in the APA today.
I have both read the book first and later saw the film. The book saddened me, in reading what he had gone through and in the thoughts and actions of those who were ostensibly there try to ‘help’ (to put it at its highest). It also slightly frightened me as, although the location and many points was different, there were other similarities – the similar age and thus cultural landscape, the intersection between religious thought and feelings that I was struggling to understand, let alone come to grips with and circles that did not respond positively for him and would then have not for me (let alone now, not wanting to take the risk). I think it would be too far to say that the book is wholly amazing, and without the subject matter being of at least some…relevance, I’m not sure I would have picked it up.
I was surprised at the film, at how much the hype (from some quarters) did not match what I saw in it (purely quality wise). But the story and some common points as indicated above made it challenging, albeit not wholly unwelcomed, viewing. As another person has written, but for a few moments of difference, this could potentially have been so similar to my life (although in my case, I’m sure different in different ways, including for different local conditions, social circles etc.).
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