The Brooklyn Rail, March 2017

In the March issue of The Brooklyn Rail, I review Garrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased, about surviving “gay conversion” therapy.

Practices claiming to convert sexual orientation or gender identity and to cure the mental illnesses or developmental disorders that purportedly cause same-sex attraction have been banned in five states and the District of Columbia. Medical, psychological, and therapeutic institutions, across the board, condemn these practices, declaring their offerings fraudulent and abusive.

Advocates for religious liberties counter that conversion therapy is a form of speech and thereby protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment. In addition to conversion practices being deeply rooted in Christian religious expression, involving group fellowship and personal testimony, “ex-gay” therapy is also modeled after a twelve-step program and similarly includes interventions, talk therapy, and mutual support. Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs are legal.

Why is conversion therapy different?

Conley offers his first-person account of this closeted world. In Boy Erased, Conley reveals the practices of Love in Action, the fundamentalist Christian organization, led by John Smid, where “the sins of homosexuality” are equated with addictions, such as alcoholism and gambling, and evangelist leaders preach the God-ordained steps to curing “sexual addictions.”

For further insight, Conley provided his handbook outlining The Twelve Steps — Tools for Personal Change to The Rail for review. To read my full review that interweaves these steps with Conley’s experience, please pick up a copy of The Rail or see On “Gay Conversion” Therapy.

Alternatively, bear witness to the twelve steps and evaluate their therapeutic value for yourself.

The Twelve Steps — Tools for Personal Change

  1. We admitted we were powerless over homosexuality and compulsive sexual behavior — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that Jesus Christ could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Jesus Christ.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to our Heavenly Father, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have our Heavenly Father remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our relationship with Jesus Christ, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.
  12. Having had the spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we carry this message to others, and practice these principles in all our affairs.