In Defense of Garrard Conley’s ‘Boy Erased’ Film + Virtual Hugs, Kisses (or Neither, That’s Cool)

Garrard Conley's Memoir 'Boy Erased' Optioned for MovieGarrard Conley

Garrard Conley‘s debut memoir Boy Erased is being adapted for the big screen, but there’s a problem. Or is there?

On June 8, Deadline announced that the film rights for Conley’s memoir, which traces his experiences at Love in Action, an ex-gay Christian ministry that tries to convert LGBT people, often with traumatic consequences, is seeing a tug of war match between multiple bidders. NetflixAmazon and Focus are all said to be vying for adaptation rights, with no distributer confirmed as of late.

According to reporter Mike Fleming Jr., actor-film maker Joel Edgerton (It Comes at Night) will script the drama based on the real-life events Conley experienced as a conflicted teenager trying to understand his own homosexuality. The author was only 19 when his rapist outed him to his Baptist family, and in turn, Conley was made to undergo conversion therapy to absolve him from his homosexuality.

So far, big names like Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies) are being courted for supporting parts in the film, while Manchester by the Sea‘s Lucas Hedges‘ attachment to the film is rumored to be confirmed.

Since its release in May 2016, Conley’s book has received a myriad of acclaim, including BuzzFeed‘s 18 Incredible New Books You Need to Read This Summer last year, but this recent casting news and announcement has also stirred up a bit of controversy with the film’s direction to cast straight actors in gay roles. One such opposer was actor Charlie Carver (The Leftovers), who took to Twitter to lament Hedges’ place in the film; without precaution, the casting choice could easily be interpreted as yet another indication of Hollywood’s negligence to properly represent LGBT people (with actual LGBT actors).

This is a rational fear, if you ask me, given the cringe list of piss-poor productions that have a history of typecasting gay men as over sexualized, overtly feminine and sometimes-predatory beings whose only purpose is to intoxicate their pain or carry on affairs with married men—take your pick, Hollywood idiots.

Rest assured, however, because Conley hears and understands our concerns. Today, Conley addressed the complaints of his followers as an effort to dissolve any disbelief, ensuring he’s put his heart behind the project in progress and that it would not disappoint LGBT members as well as those who have experienced conversion therapy alike.

“This criticism comes from a great place: people trying to protect my story and the stories of other conversion therapy survivors,” Conley starts in a well-put blog post entitled, “Queer Representation.”

For every Brokeback Mountain (straight actors, director, writer but great representation IMO), there is a Stonewall. Representation matters, and when I was growing up closeted in Arkansas, it was a matter of life and death. I remember seeing stereotyped versions of queer people on the screen, and turning away out of shame. None of us wants to be portrayed in the same hackneyed manner as some of the worst examples (I started to make a list, but the list is endless).

— excerpt from Garrard Conley’s “Queer Representation”

In his post, Conley also assures fans that he’s had total involvement with the process of the film, albeit he does not affirm any role in producing the script or selecting the actor(s) who may or may not portray him or other characters in the film. However, Conley does state in his blog post that he is most certain that predominantly queer participants are being sought to represent the Love in Action population in the film.

lucas hedges boy erased film
Bryan Derballa

Which leads us to Hedges, who is reportedly being eyed to play Conley in the film. Since word got out about the (albeit unofficial) casting choices, it’s created a rather controversial debate surrounding whether or not Hedges’ sexual identity matches that of his character. However, Conley and I share similar sentiments in that the casting process should not be conducive to an actor based merely on sexual identity alone. And honestly, not matter how controversial this may sound, it’s an argument I can stand behind.

I can also say that, when the director approached me about hiring Lucas Hedges to play me, I did not consider the status of his sexuality before shouting “Yes please!” (he MADE Manchester by the Sea IMO). Perhaps some would say I should have. But I can tell you why I didn’t: When I was outed at 19 by my rapist, I was thrust into a world that was wholly aggressive towards me, a world I was not equipped to handle. If I had been equipped to handle it, I would never have attended conversion therapy or wanted to kill myself because of my sexuality. I did not want to directly ask Lucas about his sexuality, and as a former high school instructor (6 years), it is not my policy to do so. I believe you should trust what people say about themselves, and thus far Lucas has not “come out” as straight or gay. He isn’t even on Facebook or Twitter (a rarity for sure) and has mentioned in interviews that he does not want to be on social media. Aside from gossip, I can find no statements on his sexuality, and I’m only guessing when I say he prefers it that way. I have found questions about my relationships and my current understanding of sexuality to be very invasive at times, and I have often balked at the general public’s desire to know every single detail about my family life. All human lives deserve to be treated with dignity, and I believe leaving these questions to Lucas is the best way to handle it.

— excerpt from Garrard Conley’s “Queer Representation”

Sure, we want more queer representation in the film industry, but at the expense of casting out straight actors? That’s nonsense if you ask me; and it’s also a very counterproductive (and frankly divisive) step in the wrong direction. You can’t be part of a marginalized party that has been misrepresented and overlooked and shitted on in modern media and expect to be handed special roles simply because you are part of that underdog group.

In case you still don’t know what the f**k I’m talking about, watch this video:

We gain nothing with this sort of mindset and expectation. Personally, I have no gripe with gay actors and straight actors swapping roles in films. As Conley puts it (though in much more subtle terms), it’s 2017, people! Wake up and realize that things can’t always pan out in everyone’s favor, especially since the very notion will only perpetuate the problem. When in doubt, keep in mind that bias should only be in favor of the more talented.

Of course, I hear you. And this isn’t an attempt at dismissing your feelings on the subject, because as a gay man myself, I can definitely relate. The best thing we can do, as Conley’s followers, is to take his word for how much dedication and conviction he’s put behind this film. It is his story after all.

Feelings aside (and because this is turning into the diatribe it wasn’t meant to be), I’m excited to see this project lift off. My bone to pick, if the rumors of Hedges role in the film are true, is that he looks nothing like Conley from what I can tell. But that’s still to be determined, anyway.

I own Conley’s memoir and I am planning to read it this summer so I can see what all the fuss has been about. Also, as my last, unrelated remark to close, Garrad Conley is officially Top 3 in my list of handsome gay authors, next to Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper. *platonic hugs and kisses*

What do you think about Boy Erased being made into a movie?

How do you feel about the casting gossip for the film so far?

Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to toss virtual tomatoes if you feel so inclined!

Paris Close
the authorParis Close
Founding Editor. Give me Gillian Flynn or give me death.