Boy Erased is the true story about a pastor’s son who is sent to gay conversion therapy in his teens. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched, but in order to get into why, I’ve gotta get personal for a bit. Jump down a few paragraphs if you wanna just get to the movie details.
First off, I’m very much an LGBTQ ally, so I am morally opposed to conversion therapy with every fiber in my being. That alone makes this film difficult, but that’s not what made it so personal for me.
I was raised in a very Christian home, not unlike what’s depicted in the film. All through my childhood, I was told what to believe and how to behave. What things were wrong, and what things were right. There’s a lot I missed out on because they didn’t fit some now seemingly arbitrary definition of godly or ungodly, a list too long to go into here. Over time, I’ve come to realize things here and there that I was taught that I simply cannot believe (their stance on the LGBTQ community is a big one).
I’ve had two big revelations recently. One is that I can’t tell what I genuinely believe vs what I was told I believe. There is such an element of fear and guilt in the way that Christianity is taught, it’s hard to untangle from what you truly understand and hold in your core. I was never taught to question or figure things out for myself. I was just presented with the way things were and there was no gray area. There’s a few absolute truths I’m on board with. I do believe in God, and I can point to examples in my life where I’ve felt like him taking care of me. But the details of how it works, or what’s expected of us, are all hazy.
The second revelation was a couple of months ago. My mom told me that she had been speaking with the pastor of the church I grew up with, someone who is very much responsible for my spiritual upbringing. Mom mentioned to her that I have social anxiety, and Pastor completely dismissed the thought. “She doesn’t have anxiety, what are you talking about? She dances and does theatre, there’s no way she has anxiety” and she shut down the conversation and moved on. Um, newsflash, I do have anxiety (technically generalized anxiety with social phobia, but social anxiety is a good shorthand). I have a legit diagnosis from a therapist I’ve been seeing for a year and a half, plus I’ve known for a long time, since I first was able to put a name to it. It’s just a medical fact at this point.
What hurt me about that exchange wasn’t just that she dismissed something that’s true about me (but let’s be real, it did kind of hurt). But how many other people has she dismissed because what they said didn’t fit their views? How many people didn’t get help or treatment they needed? Of course, my therapist would tell me not to worry about others, and just focus on what I need. Well, how many of her lessons, many of which I’ve been on the receiving end, have come from her own interpretation of a situation, and presented as fact to hundreds of people? I’d already been slipping away from seeking out organized religion and Christianity, but this was the last nail on the coffin (or cross?) I still have my faith, but I’m determined to find God in my own way, instead of being told by a church or an authority figure what to do. Needless to say, conversations with my oblivious mom have been uncomfortable and awkward on my end, as she keeps feeding me all the same things I’ve lately started to question.
So what the heck does any of this have to do with the movie? Like I said, it’s about a boy who was in a faith based conversion camp. Pretty much every person he interacted with reminded me of some authority figure in the church I grew up in, albeit a more extreme version on film in some cases. These characters were so self righteous and close minded and so absolutely sure that their views are the only way and there’s no room for different understandings. It brought up all the anger and resentment I’ve been dealing with and it took all my willpower not to run out of the auditorium to try and alleviate the weight in my chest and the literal sick feeling I had. I may not have been to conversion therapy, but the environment I was in was all too similar, the main difference being that at the time I was conditioned to take it all in.
Needless to say, if the film had such a visceral affect on me, it was incredibly well done. The acting was fantastic from all major parties: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, Russell Crowe. I could not have had that emotional response if I didn’t believe all of them and see real people I knew in them. The film really does show the emotional and psychological impact of what these awful places do to vulnerable kids, and I absolutely would not trust anybody who sees this film and does not have a strong empathetic response.
Boy Erased – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/