I just got home from seeing Boy Erased. If you’ve not seen it yet, I highly recommend it. No matter your beliefs or your “persuasion,” this movie will make you uncomfortable, but in an enlightening way.
As I watched it, for me, I began to see it as a coming out story. Yes, it was shedding light on the irreparable harm being done to children only due to whom they want to love. Yes, it was shedding light on the process of acceptance, both hard and more easily. And yes, it was a story of a young man struggling with who he is on this planet we call home.
For me though, it was a tragic coming out story that so many experience. It made me thankful, yet again, that my coming out story was not a tragic one, but a loving one.
I first realized I was “different” at the age of five. At that age, you don’t know or comprehend the words gay or straight, you just are. At the age of 12, I more than knew I was attracted to other boys by the slight, what I now think of as a swoon, being around certain guys. At the age of 15, a high school friend (who identifies as straight), seduced me at his house. And at the age of 18, I came out to my family.
The funny thing is, I had always told myself if anyone ever asked me if I was gay, I was going to tell them the truth—this was rural Ohio in the late 70’s/early 80’s, which probably wouldn’t have been very pleasant experience with my peers at the time. But no one ever asked while I was living in Athens.
I never had a girlfriend, although I did have a couple of crushes on some classmates. Never talked about girls or liking them. Never realized when a girl had a crush on me. When I went to the dances, I would dance with just about any girl because I didn’t have to worry about what that might mean. I played football with my male friends. I never ever have had a date with a girl.
It wasn’t until I was 18, riding around San Francisco after meeting the cousin of a friend, that anyone asked. Rob, now known affectionately as Mama or Papa Rob, asked me the question on the very night I met him. Yes, the very night. He didn’t even give a naive young man from the boonies one single night in the big bright San Francisco lights before popping the question.
Remember I had said I would answer truthfully if I was ever asked. So I said yes. Then no. Then yes, yes I am. I was shocked he’d asked. Thankful he’d asked. Scared he’d asked. Now it was all out in the open, no going back.
About a month later, I wrote a long letter to my mom. It was a coming out letter. I wrote a letter for two reasons: 1) She couldn’t hang up on me if she didn’t like what I was saying, knowing I wouldn’t be rejected and abandoned over the phone; and 2) Because I knew she would read it and would share it with my dad, which I had given her permission to do so, and digest it before we talked.
I timed it so I would call her on the day the letter would arrive, giving her time to read it after work before calling. Rob and Joe (aka Papa Joe), sat with me as I made the call, then stayed close after I began talking to her—they have been my rocks, mentors and family ever since we met practically and I can’t imagine life without them. The main thing my mom wanted to know was if I was happy. Nowadays I would probably answer in a sarcastic way because isn’t the word gay synonymous with happy, but I’m getting side-tracked.
That was it. Was I happy? If I was happy, then she would be too, in time.
Coming out was not just me coming out, it was also the family coming out. It was also a grieving process of sorts for all parties, including me. We grieve because who I am was not the picture we had in our collective minds, but needing to create the realistic picture of who I really was now. Not that anything had really changed, just had to view everything through a different lens, a different perspective, and to let go of expectations for what life might have been.
I was lucky, and still am lucky. My family loves me, loves my husband, and loves my kids. The road has had many bumps and scrapes and hard feelings and heartache. But the truth is, all those experiences had to happen to get to where we are now. For that and many other reasons, I love them back.
It was one scene from the movie that really brought back the memories. [Spoiler Alert!] When his mom wasn’t at church, Garred asked why. Her answer, to paraphrase, was she loved God and she loved her son, and the two aren’t always compatible, but she wasn’t going to let one get in the way of the other. This scene was the one that hit me emotionally the most.
Thank you Garrard Conley for sharing your story. I’m sorry what happened to you happened. And I’m thankful as well. Without it, you wouldn’t be where you are today. Thank you too for all you continue to do for those of us who are “different”.
And thank you for helping me to think fondly of my memories.
To everyone else, what are your stories? I welcome and invite you to share.