Excerpt from Boy Erased by Garrard Conley, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Boy Erased

A Memoir

by Garrard Conley

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley X
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2017, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Mollie Smith Waters

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MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2004

John Smid stood tall, square shouldered, beaming behind thin wire-rimmed glasses and wearing the khaki slacks and striped button-down that have become standard fatigues for evangelical men across the country. The raised outlines of his undershirt stretched taut beneath his shirt, his graying blond hair tamed by the size-five hair clippers common in Sport Clips throughout the South. The rest of us sat in a semicircle facing him, all dressed according to the program dress code outlined in our 274-page handbooks.

Men: Shirts worn at all times, including periods of sleep. T shirts without sleeves not permitted, whether worn as outer or undergarments, including "muscle shirts" or other tank tops. Facial hair removed seven days weekly. Sideburns never below top of ear.

Women: Bras worn at all times, exceptions during sleep. Skirts must fall at the knee or below. Tank tops allowed only if worn with a blouse. Legs and underarms shaved at least twice weekly.

"The first thing you have to do is recognize how you've become dependent on sex, on things that are not from God," Smid said. We were learning Step One of Love in Action's Twelve Step program, a set of principles equating the sins of infidelity, bestiality, pedophilia, and homosexuality to addictive behavior such as alcoholism or gambling: a kind of Alcoholics Anonymous for what counselors referred to as our "sexual deviance."

Sitting alone with him just hours before in his office, I had witnessed a different man: a kinder, goofier Smid, a middle-aged class clown willing to resort to any antic to make me smile. He had treated me like a child, and I had relaxed into the role, being nineteen at the time. He told me I had come to the right place, that Love in Action would cure me, lift me out of my sin into the light of God's glory. His office seemed bright enough to substantiate his claim, the walls bare save for the occasional framed newspaper clipping or embroidered Bible verse. Outside his window was an empty plot of land, rare around this suburban subdivision, an untended grassy mess peppered with neon dandelions and their thousands of seed heads that would scatter across the highway by the end of the week.

"We try to blend several models of treatment," Smid had assured me, swiveling in his office chair to face the window. An orange sun was climbing its way up the back of the hazy whitewashed buildings in the distance. I waited for the sunlight to spill over, but the longer I watched, the longer it seemed to take. I wondered if this was how time was going to work in this place: minutes as hours, hours as days, days as weeks.

"Once you enter the group, you'll be well on your way to recovery," Smid said. "The important thing to remember is to keep an open mind."

I was here by my own choice, despite my growing skepticism, despite my secret wish to run away from the shame I'd felt since my parents found out I was gay. I had too much invested in my current life to leave it behind: in my family and in the increasingly blurry God I'd known since I was a toddler.

God, I prayed, leaving the office and making my way down the narrow hallway to the main room, the fluorescents ticking in their metal grids, I don't know who You are anymore, but please give me the wisdom to survive this.

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Excerpted from Boy Erased by Garrard Conley. Copyright © 2016 by Garrard Conley. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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