This past weekend, I drove an hour to another town to the nearest theater where Boy Erased was being was being shown. It’s one of a handful theaters in the entire state of Indiana showing it, which some say is due to funding for a low-budget film. I believe it has more to do with wanting to avoid negative reactions in the less-liberal parts of the state, considering the theaters showing the film are the urban capital Indianapolis and the city of the largest university in the state, Bloomington (I went to the latter).
The movie stars Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as the evangelical Christian parents who send their son to gay conversion therapy after he comes out to them. With two big-name, A-list celebrities starring in the movie, among others, this low-budget, limited-release line doesn’t really hold up for me.
With the limited release in the local areas aside, I was more than willing to drive an hour (and even more than that if necessary) to see this film. From the moment I saw the trailer pre-release, I knew this was going to be an impactful film and resonate with me personally. I didn’t realize just how similar the themes of the movie would be to my own lived experience.
I first came out as gay two years ago in October 2016 to most people in my life, after considering the possibility for a few years before that. Two years later, I came out to family and everyone else that didn’t already know in October this year. The movie’s telling of how Jared struggled to accept his gay identity because of his religious background as well as his family’s reaction have strong parallels to my own experience and the film also gives me hope for the future.
Balancing Christianity with Being Gay
It’s like attempting to stand an egg upright on one end without any support. Some swear it can be done, but it’s near impossible and hard to realize until you see it done. As I was internally reflecting on my identity and exploring who I was as an undergraduate college student, it often came to my raised Christian identity on one side and my increasingly-apparent gay identity on the other. How could I possibly hold both at the same time?
In Boy Erased, Jared resists accepting that he is gay through high school and part of college because he was raised Christian and was the son of Baptist preacher. While I’m certainly not kin to a preacher, the same values and beliefs are there in my family as Jared’s. Even after coming out, Jared continues to try to balance his faith with his sexuality.
I resonate with this piece of the film because I’ve struggled with the same balancing act. Since coming out, I have continued to believe in God and identify as a Christian (though my level of practicing my faith has declined). I believe that few parts of the Bible that anti-gay Christians spout as “proof” that being gay is a sin are taken out of context and are as outdated as the verses saying to not wear mixed materials or any other absurd expectations found in Leviticus. I also choose to focus on where it says in the New Testament that loving one another as ourselves is the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God. For me, that holds far more weight than some Old Testament verse that has been translated and construed to say what people want it to say multiple times over the years.
When I came out fully a couple months ago, it was the first time my immediate family had heard of it (though some had suspicions). Frankly, it went far worse than I anticipated and things still aren’t great – though they are at least civil. The reaction I received was certainly better than what was shown in the movie, but I found parallels nonetheless.
In the film based on a true story, Jared’s parents found out when Jared was a freshman in college after another college student called them and pretended to be a school counselor (and outed him by sharing what the two of them had done). There’s more to that story, but I’ll spare you any more spoilers here. When Jared finally confirmed that he was in fact gay, his parents called in other preachers and found gay conversion group to send him to for help. Jared and his mom went to that town, and stayed at a hotel while was getting treatment during each day.
I have not been forced to go any conversion group and have absolutely no intention of ever going – I’m an adult and can make that choice. But that didn’t stop one family member from suggesting therapy and counseling after I came out to help “fix me.” That was one of the worst things said and pretty much caused me to stop having a discussion about it.
Some other things said to me in the days after I shared this news:
- “Your queer friends will never be welcome in our home.” (And I later confirmed that also meant I was not welcome because I am “queer” too.)
- “Please tell us you are not going to marry this man.” (Somehow people got the idea that I was in a relationship, engaged, and about to get married. Ha, I wish! #SinglePringle)
- “Read your Bible and get back in church. Straighten out.” (Unclear if the straight pun was intended or not.)
- “We are so hurt, ashamed, and embarrassed. This is not the way God wants you to live.”
- “We want you to be happy but not at all this way.”
- “I guess there will never be any grandchildren.” (The reaction when I mentioned adoption or surrogacy as options was priceless.)
- “Please don’t throw the men in our or our family’s face. We don’t want to see them at all
- “Queer” was thrown around as a slur multiple times. I use it as an identity word, just like gay, lesbian, or trans, but that’s not how it was used in this context unfortunately.
These came over multiple long paragraph text messages, phone conversations, and voicemails over the course of a week and weekend. I did later get an apology of sorts and like I said before, things are at least civil now. I imagine they’ll stay that way till the time comes when I am actually in a relationship and prepared to marry another man. We’ll see how that goes (but if folks don’t want to be a part of that at that point, that’s okay with me).
Hope for the Future
Boy Erased wasn’t all negative and it had some rewarding, enjoyable moments and even some comedic relief inserted here and there at key points when the audience really needed it after tough scenes. Any film, including this one, that puts a gay lead character and has multiple gay characters in it is refreshing and a step in the right direction. It’s a step toward proper media representation and in this case it also tells a story that needs to be told.
Seeing how Jared was able to overcome the challenges he faced in the days, weeks, and extended time after he came out gives me hope as well. Knowing that Jared (the real one) is now in a relationship/marriage, as well as others who were featured in the movie, gives me hope. Seeing that Jared was able to establish a relationship that works with his family long term gives me hope. Seeing that the theater I saw the movie in was filled with people of all ages (a lot over 50) who were as moved by the movie as I was gives me hope.
All in all, being completely out is a relief. It allows me to look forward to the future and be ready for what relationships lie ahead for me. And that, too, gives me hope.
If you haven’t seen this movie, I encourage you to find where it is showing near you (recognizing that you might need to make a small road trip) and go see it soon. I imagine it will also be on Netflix/streaming soon after it leaves theaters, or at least on DVD in stores.
If you have seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the themes addressed and stories told in the movie. How did it impact and resonate with you?