Monday, June 7, 2004
John Smid stood tall, square shouldered, beaming behind thin wire-rimmed glasses and wearing the khaki slacks and striped button-down that have become standard fatigues for evangelical men across the country. The raised outlines of his undershirt stretched taut beneath his shirt, his graying blond hair tamed by the size-five hair clippers common in Sport Clips throughout the South. The rest of us sat in a semicircle facing him, all dressed according to the program dress code outlined in our 274-page handbooks.
Men: Shirts worn at all times, including periods of sleep. T-shirts without sleeves no permitted, whether worn as outer- or undergarments, including “muscle shirts” or other tank tops. Facial hair removed seven days weekly. Sideburns never below the ear top.
Women: Bras worn at all times, exceptions during sleep. Skirts must fall at the knee or below. Tank tops allowed only if worn with a blouse. Legs and underarms shaved at least twice weekly.
At times this memoir was uncomfortable and shocking, mainly because I could not believe that ‘conversion therapy’ still existed in our modern world. The timeline in the front of the book shows how the organisation has grown to be a global company and it is unbelievable that a therapy that claims to ‘cure’ homosexuals and those with other ‘sexual deviance’ has expanded across the globe.
It is archaic in its approach to treatment and its views, yet Conley’s honest version of his life doesn’t pass judgement, it lets the reader do that for themselves. Conley’s writing is compassionate, at times beautiful demonstrating an emotional depth that you do not always immediately realise is there. Surprisingly, there is no hatred or anger towards the people in his life, instead it reads as a honest account with a cathartic undertone.
This is by no means a happy read and on reflection it may have benefited from a little humour, but this is a novel that stays with you and refuses to leave. It is hard-hitting, moving, shocking, uncomfortable and wrenching but I truly believe it is a must read. The relationships between Conley and each of his parents is interesting and relatable.
This is a book that must be read and shared; it is a novel that brings awareness to his barbaric ‘therapy’ and changes all readers, no matter their gender, sexual orientation or beliefs.