It’s especially emotional reading a book about someone’s real experiences when it feels like they could have so easily been my own. As a teenager in Maine during the mid-90s, I came to terms with my sexuality and defiantly came out to my family at an early age. Although it was incredibly difficult and damaging in some ways, I feel extremely lucky that some help was available to me. A counsellor at my school advised my parents that this was healthy and a local LGBT youth support group provided me with connections to other teenagers like me – this was something so important and dearly needed after feeling for so long like I was the only one. Without this institutional support I think things could have turned out very differently. I could have been pushed back in the closet or worse. So it feels like with a twist of fate I could have gone through what the author does in this heartrending and beautifully written memoir. It describes a period of young adulthood when Conley entered into “treatment” at an ex-gay therapy religious organization after he was outed as gay to his parents. He recounts this painful experience as well as the events leading up to them in a way which masterfully examines his development and the way in which it was severely interrupted by this dangerous ill-founded program.
One of the things I found most touching about the book is the poetic way Conley describes a period in his teenage life when he played video games with a hypnotic obsession. Like many teenagers, I did the same. This is an activity many young people devout countless hours to and it’s often remarked that this is a mindless exercise. But Conley gets in this memoir how it’s more like a period of gestation where an adolescent can slip in and out of the self while coming to terms with the reality of new desires. Certainly it can be a way of avoiding reality, but it’d be wrong to think that nothing is going on in the mind of a boy completing adventurous quests on his game console. It’s not so much a way of wasting time as allowing oneself to float free from the constrictions that you’ve only just realized you’re entangled in.
It feels like this is a memoir which has become increasingly relevant considering that Mike Pence will become the next vice-President of the United States. This is a Congressman who advocated for funding conversion therapy and opposed LGBT rights. This ridiculous form of pseudo-treatment has been decreasing in America recently, but it could very well grow again if the prevailing sentiments expressed by the government are anti-LGBT. Conley powerfully describes the perverse way people who enter ex-gay therapy are expected to surrender aspects which are vital to their personality: “We had to give over our memories, our desires, our ideas of freedom, to Jesus our master.” The book movingly works up to the reasons why its author entered this program and how it felt like there was no other option. It drives home how vulnerable young people are and how easily they can be manipulated when brought under misguided influences. This is a book with a lot of heart that has something important to say.