Boy Erased: A commentary on the evils of Conversion and Aversion therapy practices


Trigger Warning: this post contains language related to sexual assault and conversion therapy.

The following review reflects the opinions of the author only.

While sitting in the Salina Art Center Cinema during the viewing of this film, I sat in the midst of a range of emotions. To my left, a very vocally upset friend of ours who just so happens to be a lesbian and to my right was my boyfriend, “shooketh” as his eyes were drenched by salty tears. Don’t let my opening fool you; these negative emotional responses were not that to the quality or execution of the film but rather to the cruel reality of the topic stimulus. Boy Erased lacked in some areas of masterful cinematic technique, but what it excels in is the honest story that needed to be told — that of a boy who is forced to endure abuse after the sad realization that he is gay.

Conversion therapy is a tactic used to deal with Homosexual or Bisexual men and women in the hopes that they will become Heterosexual. This type of therapy is a modern example of pseudoscience and is pushed through “Psychological” or “Spiritual” means. It is/was often coupled with aversion therapy measures in order to condition desired traits and extinguish undesirable ones. The concept was based on simple punishment operant conditioning tactics. Aversion therapy in these circumstances would involve a person with an affliction or addiction, (Homosexuality being considered in this case) and (most of the time) a positive punishment being applied when the said person exhibits the aforementioned affliction.

Don’t let the word positive fool you, it is far from that. Some of these “therapy sessions” would involve the patient being forced to view images (slides) that would elicit their “behavior” and the behavior would be paired with the unpleasant response. According to the Huffington Post:

“In the more brutal therapy sessions, the shock was delivered directly to the male patient’s genitals every time the patient experienced any form of positive response to the slides being shown to him.”

The film doesn’t go to the extremes of trying to shock the gay out of the young men and women, but it does show the depth of harm any form of these types of “therapies” can do to perfectly normal young people and the trauma they have to deal with for the rest of their life. That is provided they have a “rest of their life” given suicide ideation and suicide is exorbitantly high among LGBTQ+ youth.

Boy Erased tells the story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), who is the son of a pastor and his wife. He goes to college and starts to develop an attraction to a same-sex partner and is raped by a former friend (who happens to be male) who had deeply entrenched internalized homophobia. Jared was his second known victim. The film tells of Jared’s eventual delivery to the Love in Action facility — a now-defunct conversion therapy location. His interaction with and exposure to other gay youth (Gary played by Troye Sivan and Jon Played by Xavier Dolan)  apparent “ex-gay” ministers (Victor Sykes played by Joel Edgerton, and his mother (Nicole Kidman) are the main focus of the film.

Sivan’s character Gary gives the protagonist a word of advice “fake it until you make it, right?” to get out Love in Action. This was followed by a warning as to what would happen if he didn’t.

“You don’t want to end up in one of those house’s for any amount of time, I’ve heard the stories and they’re not good”.

This is the type of looming fear all of these gay youth had running in their minds, but it wasn’t just fear — it was hate — only acquired through going to Love in Action. Hate towards themselves for being made wrong, hate towards their ministers who were forcing them to go against their integral being and hate toward their attraction.

There is a scene where Jared smashes an advertisement on the side of a bus stop, featuring a man he is attracted to out of frustration towards himself. This type of heated emotional burst is something that manifests in much gay youth. Especially those who have been exposed to religious conditioning. Jared initially yells “f*** you!” at the image of the man, then at himself, and then at the sky. This shows the stages of understanding in some homosexual people.

They are taught at a young age to “hate the sin” (Jared swearing at the advertisement), hating the attraction and not seeing himself as gay but these feelings are just a bump in the road. As time goes on he beings to realize that this isn’t just a phrase or lifestyle, that it is something he cannot help or change about himself. Thus he feels trapped with no hope (Jared swearing at himself). Finally, in the case of much religious youth he turns to his God, who made him this way wanting him to desperately take it away, and when he doesn’t (because he can’t) he begins to hold resentment towards his faith (Jared swearing at God.)

The association of Homosexuality and, in many cases, individuality with sin is centuries old, Jared’s father preached of the evils of the Homosexual. These two scenes show that path a multitude of gay youth goes down. They are told they are messed up, that they will go to hell, that they are like rapists and pedophiles and eventually they start believing the abuse or hating themselves for not being able to help their biological desire. Jared still had a chance.

Eventually, the abuse would have to stop, Jared made his escape by grabbing his things and hurrying out. He called his mother but she was locked out of the room the group was in so Mr. Sykes could try to get him to stay. Eventually, a boy Named Cameron (Britton Sear) helped him get out. Sadly we later find out that Cameron, a boy who was subjected to psychological (be forced to look at a coffin and being asked if that’s how he wanted to end up), physical (being beaten by a bible by his ministers, family, and fellow Love in Action students), and verbal abuse (being consistently mistreated by Mr. Sykes), killed himself after Jared gets out.  

The icing on the emotional cake was the performance by Troye Sivan of his song exclusive to the movie, “You’re a Revelation”.

At the end of the film, we see that Jared is still working on his relationship with his father. He has found a man and he accepts his identity as a gay man. The value of a film like this is that it tells us that there is hope for those who deal with homophobia and that people can stop injustices. Even Mr. Sykes ended up in a Homosexual relationship later in life. The film shows us that no religious belief, person, or association is worth a damn if it tells you to not be an experience who/what you are. If you believe in a God who hates people for their sexuality (yes that means the “hating the sin, not the sinner” crap too.), then you are wrong and should maybe find a different belief. After finishing the film we left emotionally shaken. This film teaches everyone that our love is the same as theirs, that we exist and matter, and that it is more than okay that we are gay.

If you need help, the following resources are available.

I give this film 10/10 highly raised and bright Pride flags, for masterful storytelling, excellent music, and my personal emotional catharsis.

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