Gay Conversion Therapy: Movies and Memoirs

Below are recommended movies and memoirs about being victimized by gay conversion therapy, which is defined in the opening to Netflix’s new documentary Pray Away:

Reparative or ‘conversion’ therapy is the attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender by a religious leader, licensed counselor, or in peer support groups. All major medical and mental health associations have denounced the practice as harmful (emphasis mine).

I. Pray Away (2021)

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times: “…(T)he main storylines center on four former leaders of the ex-gay movement from a generation ago….skillfully interweaves present-day interviews with archival footage of these prominent figures in the movement — all of whom have renounced their roles and are now living as out gays or bisexuals.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: “A sobering account of Christian intervention rooted in toxic homophobia.”

Dan Callahan, The Wrap: “…(W)e see footage of many so-called ‘ex-ex-gays’ when they were being tortured by their ministries alongside footage of them looking far happier after they escaped.”

II. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

Gay conversion therapy at a Christian center is what the title character of The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is subjected to when “caught” being a lesbian teenager in the 1990’s. The Emily Danforth novel on which the film is based came out in 2012.

III. Boy Erased (2018)

Based on Garrard Conley‘s 2016 memoir of the same name, Boy Erased has a similar theme to The Miseducation of Cameron Post. As Peter Debruge (Variety) states:

If ‘Cameron Post’ served as a useful tool for teenagers, ‘Boy Erased’ feels like its greatest value will be to parents, particularly those with LGBT children of their own…So often, parents view this news as a reflection on themselves, searching to understand their own failings, or else looking for a way to repair the problem. For Garrard Conley, sharing his story was the key to repairing things with his parents.

IV. But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

This is fictional, a satire starring Natasha Lyonne as Megan, a teenage cheerleader who is forced to go to True Directions, a camp that aims, via a form of gay conversion therapy, to deprogram the gay right out of its presumably misguided attendees.

V. Two Additional Memoirs (Not Films)

One of These Things First: A Memoir by Steven Gaines (2016)

Meghan Daum, New York Times, summarizes:

For Steven Gaines, growing up as a ‘homo’ in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s meant being ‘a freak, nature’s mistake,’ so at 15 he tries to kill himself by punching through the windowpane of his grandparents’ bra and girdle store. Threatened with hospitalization in a dumpy state mental facility in Queens, he talks his way into a six-month stay at the famed Payne Whitney clinic, in the ‘Ivy League of psychiatric hospitals,’ where former patients have included Marilyn Monroe, Carson McCullers, Jean Stafford and William Burroughs.

Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began by Alex Cooper (2016)

Another 15-year-old, this time female, another wrongheaded attempt by society to fix the gayness. Cooper’s Mormon parents took her to church authorities who placed her in “an unlicensed ‘conversion therapy’ center in the Utah desert” that was mentally and physically abusive.

Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights: “Alex’s engrossing and shocking story is the triumph of courage, authenticity and hope over shame, bigotry and ignorance. The nightmare of Alex’s story is a key reason we will soon succeed in ending the cruel and dangerous practice of conversion therapy.”

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