20 Queer Q's with Garrard Conley
20 Queer Q's with Garrard Conley
The Boy Erased author and UnErased podcast producer sits down for a round of 20 Queer Q's!
The goal of these intimate conversations is to leave you, the reader, feeling like you just gained a new friend, a new perspective, and that you learned something new about or saw a different side of someone—maybe someone that you don’t see online, but someone that’s maybe like you.
This week, we get to know writer Garrard Conley, the author of Boy Erased (the book that served as the basis for the 2018 movie of the same name) and producer of the UnErased podcast. Learn about his advice for LGBTQ+ youth, what Pride means to him, what his queerness has given him, and more!
Name: Garrard Conley
Preferred Pronouns: He/Him
Sexually Identifies As: Gay
What do you love about the LGBTQ+ community?
I love our ability to create a family, especially when our own families can be a real bummer. I still go back to Arkansas and see my family a lot because I want to be reminded of where I came from and I have the ability to do that because I feel like I’m stable enough. I came back from The Governor's Conference in Iowa and it had over 2,500 LGBTQ+ kids from Iowa. Being in that room, I spoke to all of them and it felt that we were the same person. Like when I would talk about my trauma, even if we were in different places on the spectrum, we were meeting there. I think that the queer community is not homogenous like any community, so I tend to gravitate towards people who have survived the South or a small town just because I can kind of make jokes that make sense where if I say it to someone who had a different experience, they’re often uncomfortable. I think being able to create a family is where it's at.
What are your thoughts on PrEP?
It’s a miracle in many ways. You couldn’t even imagine growing up and hearing all the HIV / AIDS stories and all the fear-mongering that was around it. So now I’m glad that we don’t have to live in total fear, though we don’t use that as an excuse to not have safe sex. Anything that liberates us from disease is a plus.
What does Pride mean to you?
I think it’s a celebration of surviving, for me. It’s saying we’re here and you’re not gonna get rid of us no matter how hard you try.
Who is someone you consider to be an LGBTQ+ icon?
Djuna Barnes. She wrote this book called Nightwood and it was published in 1936. It’s this insane uncategorizable lesbian but also super queer altogether text that was way ahead of its time. It was explicit in terms of talking about sexuality. There’s this character called Dr. Matthew O’Connor and she just calls him "The Doctor." In addition to having this lesbian love story where she runs away from her husband and lives with this woman, she meets this doctor who is a cross-dresser and so queer for that time that you don't even know what he is or who he likes and he goes into these philosophical ramblings. I just think about how much courage it should’ve taken to publish it. It feels like subject matter and style light years ahead of its time.
What’s advice you have for LGBTQ+ youth?
You should try to be an activist as much as you can if that’s what you feel called to do. But there are times whenever things are really difficult where the best thing you can do is be a witness to what’s happening to you and other people. Because one day, bearing witness to that can produce a story that can help other people. There have been many moments in my life where I couldn’t act, like there was nothing I could do, and I wish that someone had told me to pay attention, this might be a story someday.
Do you believe in love?
Yeah, I think I would have had difficulty believing that a couple of years ago but the older I get, the more of a sap I become.
Favorite drink to order at a bar?
Old-Fashioned. It’s the test for any bar. I like to choose the same drink in any bar.
What hopes do you have for the LGBTQ+ community in the future?
I hope we can all pick each other up, every member of our community. I’ve been in a lot of spaces with a lot of rich, white gays who are not concerned with other parts of the community and it drives me up the walls. I hope we can all realize that every single problem the community faces is something we all face.
What is something you want to change about yourself in the next 6 months?
I would like to be even more generous. I feel like sometimes, you see so much social media and you think, "Why is everyone so cool?" I think everyone has jealousy as an artist. I currently weaned myself off of social media to reassess and then when I go back to it, to have a spirit of generosity. I think there’s a lot of professional jealousy that people are being honest about now and seeing that too so in addition to improving my behavior towards that.
What’s your earliest memory that you felt you were different?
I think it was in 3rd or 4th grade. I had this really close friend, Nathan, and he and I were really affectionate with each other all the time and I didn’t know it was anything strange until people started saying, "Oh why are you touching him so often?" And he didn’t think it was strange either. Children are inherently queer, they don’t know that there’s this thing that’s looming ahead that how you touch people matters. I don’t mean to make it sound that childhood is innocent when it’s not, but that part is innocent and that’s when I realized things were going to be difficult. Because I think the best part of my personality is being affectionate and open.
What do you feel most insecure about?
My weight probably. It fluctuates and I was really overweight by the age of 17. I was 220 and I lost all that weight in a 3 month period. It was like 75 pounds that I lost, I was basically anorexic. I knew that I was gay secretly so I was punishing myself.
What is the title of the current chapter of your life?
What is the most awkward thing about you?
My extreme empathic responses sometimes.
What is a quality you find sexy?
Fill in the blank: In 5 years I want to _________.
Publish a novel and become the person people turn to when they want one queer author to speak with another queer author.
Who is someone in your life who gets you?
What are the values that you hold near and dear to your heart?
Loyalty, the generosity of spirit.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I received it from Cheryl Strayed and it was at a conference right before my book came out and I was worried that my family might hate me and she told me, "The people who hate you will continue to hate you and the people who love you will continue to love you."
How would you like to be remembered?
I care about being good, but I don’t care about remembered about being good. I care if I moved the heart forward. I care so deeply about ending conversion therapy.
What value has your queerness given you? What have you gained?
My queerness has saved me from a lot of bullshit. It gave me a sense of empathy for other people and I think a lot of queer people who have a lot of privilege stop with empathy at a certain point. When I was doing the Boy Erased stuff, people would come up to me from The Trans Lifeline which would help me to frame my place in the movement and my place as a mouthpiece for other people. So learning to do that is one thing and learning to want to do that is another. You hear that something is going wrong in your community and because everything is depressing you just want to shut the door, but if you learn to keep the doors open and come from a place of vulnerability and understanding, I think it makes you a better person and artist.