What are the long-term effects of church-sponsored conversion therapy programs aimed at forcing queer people to become straight?
The answer is explored in Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s latest novel, Tell the Rest, which came out March 7.
The novel follows the lives of two teens who meet and ultimately escape from a church conversion therapy program and examines the consequences of how such therapy affects them later in life.
Berkeleyside interviewed Bledsoe about why and how she was drawn to the subject, the rise of LGBTQ hatred and “managing the rage” she felt during the Trump years. Her answers have been condensed and edited.
Q: What drew you to the topic?
A: People who call themselves Christians are driving some of the most hateful campaigns in this country. I wanted to tackle that, not by arguing, but by showing how community and friendship and love overcome hate. While I personally wasn’t subjected to conversion therapy, I do feel the hate speech against queer people as a daily violence, and it’s escalating all the time. I think of this as a continuum, from the hurtful things that politicians simply say all the way to the practice of conversion therapy. I decided to go to the belly of that beast and expose it.
Q: At your March 2 Books Inc. reading, you talked about “the question of how to manage rage” during the Trump administration. Please explain.
A: I was feeling so much rage at the harm the people on the right were (and are) causing so many folks, and also at the extreme hypocrisy. Rage is not an emotion that I commonly experience! It was frightening. I was also aware of a lot of other people’s rage, and that also made me very uncomfortable. So I decided to look that rage in the eye. By writing a story about two young people who use their friendship, creativity, and love to heal, I helped myself find a way out of the rage, too.
Q: In the book you drew parallels between how Christianity is about love and community and that’s also what the two main characters seek in the queer world, even though they’re both coming from very divergent positions.
A: Yes. What really struck me as I did research for this book, including interviewing a lot of survivors of conversion therapy, is that a large number of folks actually choose to stay in the church. They don’t turn on their faith; instead they look for churches and Christian communities that are inclusive of queer folks. I wanted to show a range of choices in response to the conversion therapy experiences of my characters.
Q: You also mentioned during your talk that this is meant to be a story or surviving, not trauma porn. How did you accomplish that?
A: A lot of contemporary fiction and nonfiction right now really delves into the details of trauma. I’m interested in thinking about, and writing about, how people connect and survive. So I set the story 25 years after the trauma occurred. My main characters have done good jobs of healing, building successful and satisfying lives (for the most part). Tell the Rest is about this next phase of healing, and about finding their way back to the core friendship in the story.
Tell the Rest, Akashic Books, 320 pages. $28.95