In a sharp and shocking debut memoir, Conley digs deep into the ex-gay therapy system.
When the author’s parents found out he might be gay, his hometown in Arkansas started to close in on him. The community he grew up in looked at him twice, his principles were blurred by constant self-doubt, and those he once considered friends became distant memories. As people of faith, his parents sent him to Love in Action, a Christian ministry devoted to “curing” those filled with “sin.” “According to the scripture,” writes Conley, “I was no better than a pedophile, or an idol worshiper, or a murderer.” While attending LIA, the author met others struggling with alcoholism, homosexuality, and suicidal ideation, and he was told repeatedly that his inner life was wrong. It needed to be changed for the sake of a higher being Conley wasn’t sure existed anymore. During college, writes the author, the liberal teachings he received constantly clashed with everything he learned growing up. “Sitting there in the midst of my professors’ intelligent conversations, I had felt like both an impostor and a traitor,” he writes. “I smiled at the appropriate moments, made droll comments about my upbringing, mocked the politics of almost everyone in my hometown. Yet it was also true that coming home often made me feel, if not proud of my heritage, then at least grateful for its familiarity.” Those moments of disjunction are unfortunately not frequent in the book though they are absolutely vital to this framework. Readers follow Conley through a very difficult process of self-identification that sheds light on the degrees of intolerance that are still present in today’s world. At times, the text feels a bit passive; some readers may expect more blatant outrage. Nevertheless, Conley has chosen to expose ex-gay therapy as abusive, and that is important.
An engaging memoir that will inevitably make readers long for a more equal future.