Gays Reading

Garrard Conley (All the World Beside)

March 26, 2024 Brett Benner, Jason Blitman, Garrard Conley Season 2 Episode 45
Garrard Conley (All the World Beside)
Gays Reading
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Gays Reading
Garrard Conley (All the World Beside)
Mar 26, 2024 Season 2 Episode 45
Brett Benner, Jason Blitman, Garrard Conley
Jason and Brett talked to Garrard Conley (All the World Beside) about how we reinvent ourselves when we challenge the status quo, the pros and cons of “adulting,” and making our own rules.

Garrard Conley is the New York Timesbestselling author of the memoir Boy Erased, as well as the creator and co-producer of the podcast UnErased: The History of Conversion Therapy in America. His work has been published by The New York Times, Oxford American, Time, and Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. Conley is a graduate of Brooklyn College’s MFA program, where he was a Truman Capote Fellow specializing in fiction. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at Kennesaw State University.


**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Show Notes Transcript
Jason and Brett talked to Garrard Conley (All the World Beside) about how we reinvent ourselves when we challenge the status quo, the pros and cons of “adulting,” and making our own rules.

Garrard Conley is the New York Timesbestselling author of the memoir Boy Erased, as well as the creator and co-producer of the podcast UnErased: The History of Conversion Therapy in America. His work has been published by The New York Times, Oxford American, Time, and Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. Conley is a graduate of Brooklyn College’s MFA program, where he was a Truman Capote Fellow specializing in fiction. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at Kennesaw State University.


**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Brett Benner:

We went over to our neighbors who are on the other side to look at their plans to redo their backyard and had a few cocktails and I was like, guys, I have to go. So I made

Jason Blitman:

So you're a little toasted right now?

Brett Benner:

I'm a little toasted and I made chip run with me from the other side and it's do you have wind today?

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, very windy today.

Brett Benner:

wind. So we were running like, my heart rate was. Excellent.

Jason Blitman:

Oh

Brett Benner:

I've got two minutes. But anyway, so we didn't even play pickleball because the wind was so bad.

Jason Blitman:

Okay, that's so windy.

Brett Benner:

we couldn't play.

Jason Blitman:

What what cocktail did you have?

Brett Benner:

I had a vodka cranberry, but it was a sparkling cranberry

Jason Blitman:

A vodka cranberry. Are you 20?

Brett Benner:

Yeah. No, I understand.

Jason Blitman:

I feel like vodka cranberry and rum and coke was my early drinks of choice.

Brett Benner:

I know.

Jason Blitman:

can never have rum ever again.

Brett Benner:

I know. I remember too. If you said to me, like for me, it was back in the day, it was a fuzzy navel. That was the thing. Do you know what that even is?

Jason Blitman:

I have heard of it. What is in a fuzzy noodle?

Brett Benner:

Orange juice and peach schnapps.

Jason Blitman:

No, that's disgusting.

Brett Benner:

It wasn't in the day. I remember when my brother got married, I got my sister totally crocked on them because she was like, this is delicious because it's so sweet. You can't taste the alcohol. But anyway, I got a great taste of what retirement would be like today So your sister's here, your sister's here now,

Jason Blitman:

Shout out to Amanda. I

Brett Benner:

And say hi to Amanda.

Jason Blitman:

I will. I will. I said, do you want to come be on the intro of the next episode of Gayle's Reading? And she said, absolutely not. But thank you for the offer.

Brett Benner:

I would have loved that.

Jason Blitman:

I

Brett Benner:

would have loved that.

Jason Blitman:

Did you see the fan email that we got?

Brett Benner:

I don't know that I did.

Jason Blitman:

We got a fan email from Finland.

Brett Benner:

Wow!

Jason Blitman:

Yes.

Brett Benner:

That's amazing.

Jason Blitman:

Hello to our Finnish listeners.

Brett Benner:

That's amazing.

Jason Blitman:

I'm grateful for our Finnish listeners, Finlandians,

Brett Benner:

Yes.

Jason Blitman:

And to all of our listeners. And as always, if you like what you're hearing, please share us with your friends here, there, everywhere. Rate us and review us wherever you listen to your podcasts and check out our merch page. The link is in our show notes. Check out our Patreon. The link is in our show notes. And, all the fun stuff. We are, we're so close to the end. Of March, we are about to announce our April guests, and I can't wait to share those with everybody!

Brett Benner:

And our Patreon listeners will get a sneak preview of that before the rest of the group, which is

Jason Blitman:

They will, and if you're following us on social media, you will certainly get to see that very soon as well, at GaysReading on Instagram.

Brett Benner:

Yes.

Jason Blitman:

Do you have any books you want to shout out?

Brett Benner:

There's two books I want to shout out because it's, they happen to be alumnus, alumni of the Gaze Reading Podcast, whose books come out today, which is Alexander Tanner's Worry And Ursula Vidal Ria Mora's book Like Happiness. Both of those books are hitting the shelves today, which is very exciting, as well as today's guest.

Jason Blitman:

Yes. Today's guest, Garrard Conley. I'm thrilled that he joined us to talk about his newest book, all the World Beside, all the world beside. Here's a little about Garrard. Garrard Connolly is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir, Boy Erased, as well as the creator and co producer of the podcast Unerased, The History of Conversion Therapy in America. His work has been published by the New York Times, Oxford American, The Time and Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. Conley is a graduate of Brooklyn College's MFA program where he was a Truman Capote fellow specializing in fiction. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at Kennesaw State University.

Brett Benner:

Fantastic.

Jason Blitman:

Fantastic. With all that said, I'm Jason

Brett Benner:

I'm Brett.

Jason Blitman:

and enjoy this episode of Gays ry.

Do you have any questions?

Garrard Conley:

Hey y'all,

Jason Blitman:

garrett! How's it going?

Garrard Conley:

Great, how are you?

Jason Blitman:

Good,

Garrard Conley:

y'all for doing this is so fun.

Jason Blitman:

No, thank you. And we haven't even started! Have you worked in elevator pitch for the book yet?

Garrard Conley:

Okay. Let me see. It was so easy with boy erased. Cause it was just like, my dad was a missionary Baptist preacher. He sent me to conversion therapy. It didn't work like spoiler alert. That was like the way that you did that. This is I think it's a little longer. So I would say, queer Puritan shenanigans. We have a grand love story. It's got an epic feel, but really the thing that interested me most in this, you can already see how the pitch is failing, right? What interested me most was the way that we spoke about queer people in the past when we didn't have, The identity names that we have today. And how do you do that? Like I, I taught this senior seminar and queer fiction at KSU here. And I got all the queer kids. It was such a great class. And we decided to choose texts that were all like closeted, or at least, they were at the time we were writing around queerness. We were reading the Bostonians by Henry James, which is fantastic. We were reading like. Nightwood by Junior Barnes is certainly not that closeted, but there are, like, ways that queer characters are spoken about that are really interested. It was fun to teach a bunch of 18 and 19 year olds. I guess there were, like, 20. All about the closet, because I think that they found it very surprising that people wrote that way, which I'm like, that was happening when I was in, living in Arkansas in 2004 people were still being told. But there, it's just such a different world now that it's almost like a strange lost art that's being taught writing around queerness and writing subtly about queerness. queer experience often out of necessity, in the case of those books, but I willingly took it on because, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself in that way. So you can see if I say that as a pitch, no one will listen to me after a while.

Jason Blitman:

I started reading it before Brett did, and I said to him, it's the Scarlet Letter meets The Crucible meets Book Back Mountain meets Grace and Frankie.

Garrard Conley:

I'm going to use that. Perfect.

Brett Benner:

It really is.

Garrard Conley:

will capture every, like anyone who has that intersection of interests will love the book. If you don't have those exact references that you love, you'll hate it. No, I'm joking.

Brett Benner:

No, but the thing is, it does, but it moves beyond there, sir. At the central point of this book, there is the love story between the two men. But what I found also equally compelling was the reverberations and the relationships with everyone else, especially with the wives and these children and the kind of lasting effects and what this did between what is spoken and what is unspoken. It's really fascinating.

Garrard Conley:

See there, you already did a better pitch right there. I, Yeah, I didn't, I don't know what I set out to do. I think that, I had a very ambitious idea, which was, I wanted this sort of proto queer family who actually happened to be, biologically connected, finding themselves within this very high pressure environment, and finding love and moments of beauty. Even in the face of a lot of extreme difficulty and for the most part, I think I succeeded in doing that, obviously When you're writing something that has to feel true to what might have been the case, we, all of this is so speculative. I did a lot of research, but filling in the gaps of imagination are really where the novel kind of stands out. And in doing that, you have to follow a certain line of like plausibility, but there were moments in the book where I just thought, okay, could all of these queer people. Have found each other and existed in this place. And every time I thought that question, it was like, oh, why am I thinking that? Of course, they could have, of course, we have throughout centuries. Of course, that has to be true on some level because we've survived this long. And we have. Our ancestors who we know of, but there are our ancestors that we don't know anything about. And it was just like, the challenge became how do I hold all these truths to be equal and how do I navigate these different characters as they navigate their own queerness? Like I don't have exact labels to match every character, but like my younger character, Ezekiel to me reads as non binary today. Or trans, even trans, I wasn't sure. I let Ezekiel speak to me in a way. And I didn't want to define it for our modern audience. I wanted them to just experience Ezekiel as a human being without a label. But to honor that lived experience

Jason Blitman:

Brett and I had a whole conversation about Ezekiel after reading it. I think just because Ezekiel didn't have words to define who they are, right? So they just got to live. And we then took our modern

Brett Benner:

yes, sensibilities.

Jason Blitman:

it upon Ezekiel. So you go on to say, A question that you're asking in the novel is how did queer people exist, survive, and even thrive, and love, in centuries other than our own? is there something that you discovered?

Garrard Conley:

Yes. For me, there was one letter that just unlocked it all for me. Because it's not only a letter that's shocking when I found it. But it's shocking the way that historians framed it, and then it was shocking the way that Larry Kramer went so hard after this one quote, and I'm gonna tell you about it real quick. There was this guy named Virgil Maxey, who was in love, I'm putting my own gloss on this, okay? I think he was totally in love with this man named William Blanding, and I went to the Massachusetts Historical Society to find these letters to see if there was anything else in them, but, What I really found was what I was hoping to see, in the flesh was this declaration that Virgil wrote to William and he said something like, sometimes when I'm alone in bed, I get to thinking about hugging you and feeling your doodle, which I looked up etymologically. It is what you think it is the dick. And then.

Brett Benner:

It's not the dog.

Garrard Conley:

yes, exactly, which he said that would be disturbing he like said he gets confused whether or not it's a doodle or a bed post, which then, you're like, okay, that's not, that's a big doodle, right? And also it's not in a state of repose. That is a very erect doodle. And so then I was like, okay, great. So that seems pretty obvious. Men slept together in beds often while traveling. So there's nothing new there. Seems maybe you got away with some stuff that wasn't written down. But so I was still kind of like, that sounds good. But I don't know. Then, VirgilMaxxie signs off with, VirgilMaxxie's already a pretty gay name, so I feel like I'm in the right place. So he signs off with, Your Cunt Humble. Okay, that's something you can find on Grindr right now. Someone calling themselves a cunt? It's I'll be your cunt. I was just like, wow, okay, this is really clear. And of course you can never truly know it could have been an inside joke, it could have, whatever, but see, this is what pissed me off, is whenever I was reading all these different accounts of it, I think it was Richard Godbeer which is a great name too he wrote this gloss on it, right after he said, he signed off with your cunt humble, he wrote the line One cannot help but wonder, one cannot help but wonder, okay, so you're gonna look at all of these declarations of love between straight people that are, not even nearly as filthy as that, and you're gonna assume As a historian often does that they were having a relationship yet. One cannot help but wonder when it comes to these two men who are like, clearly talking about hard dicks and like things like that. And then I read, I was like, okay, somebody has written about this. Somebody's got mad and it was no other than Larry Kramer who got mad about it in the gay and lesbian review. And he wrote this whole long, how he always went on like a Screed he always got mad.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. Very

Garrard Conley:

was wrong like 50 percent of the time, but I still loved him every time he went on a rant,

Jason Blitman:

Listen, when you're passionate about something, people listen.

Garrard Conley:

yeah, and he's a hero. He's brilliant. So he went on this long rant saying, Straight historians have whitewashed our history and blah blah blah, and I felt all of that, but I also felt okay this is the same guy who says there's no way Abraham Lincoln is not completely gay, and I feel that, but I also don't think that There's a it's you hit a dead end on some of that stuff, because if we're gonna justify our existences based off of whether or not famous people were queer, I just don't think that's the best way. It's a short win, but we should just have dignity for everybody. We don't have to prove it through history. I don't so I by going deep into that strange period of history where people were, angry at this it taught me what I didn't want to do in the novel, which I didn't want it to be preachy in any way. But I did want to have these characters be as dignified as they could be, given the circumstances, and to always think of them with that dignity.

Jason Blitman:

You talking about, you don't need to prove through history and through historical figures that we exist, I think is an important thing for us to remember now. But also, And I talk about this all the time on this podcast, how just binary in general has become so problematic. I think it always has been, but as you reflect on our history, you can see that there was more of a spectrum and fluidity. And so there is this really unfortunate unfolding as time has gone on, at least within the LGBTQIA plus community. Because in the book, there is this sort of clear, longstanding tradition of telling people what to do.

Garrard Conley:

Yes, definitely.

Jason Blitman:

And, the idea of just history repeating itself,

Garrard Conley:

Oh, I think we're in a huge moment of Puritanism.

Brett Benner:

100%.

Garrard Conley:

right? It's just so obvious.

Brett Benner:

I. I just get tired of, it's always, when you're looking at a political trajectory, and especially when you're coming up in an election year, that we're in 2000, 2024, 2024, and we are still falling back, or I should say conservatives are still falling back on the same arguments that they've been having forever. Now we're just effectively substituting, which was in the seventies, gay is now trans,

Garrard Conley:

for trans, I know.

Brett Benner:

happening now. And that's the argument. So there's just. And with abortion, like so many of these central themes in terms of gender identity, women, the subjugation of women, how they're treated. Jason, you had spoken about, telling people what to do all under this guise of Jesus and the church. This it's so prevalent right now.

Garrard Conley:

They, I've experienced this so closely because of my own, involvement in politics, I've been doing so much for, to end conversion therapy, and we've done a lot, when the book came out, there were maybe two states who had bans on the books, now we have more than half multiple people have cited Boy Erased and our work. As part of that change, and it's been so exciting to realize that literature does that. On the flip side of that, it has been so incredibly frustrating to know that my childhood hero, JK Rowling, has ruined so much of my work. Because whenever she went out and started saying, oh, the trans industry or whatever is conversion therapy for gay people, how do you think how does this woman get the nerve to say something so uneducated, because first of all, trans people have been systematically chosen for conversion therapy on a much grander scale than cis gay men, or, and she's trying to pit us against each other, first of all, and she's ignorant of the fact that there already is conversion therapy For trans people, like they're already, it's not Oh, this is like something else. No, there already is conversion therapy trying to change trans people. So like it was, yeah, it was probably one of the most disappointing moments of my life when she said that, I'd been seeing all of her TERFy comments and like trying to give her the benefit of the doubt because nobody wanted to believe it. And then suddenly she went out with that and I was like, okay, now it's personal. Fuck off. And I, I'm not, obviously I'm not a purist about anything, everyone makes mistakes I, I'm even, on the left I get in trouble for caring about terrible people and stuff, so I don't exactly fit in my own political identity, but, all that being said there are some really terrible actors out there that are out there. Yeah, I can no longer see them as ignorant. I see them as actually evil. And there, there is the way that people are treating the most vulnerable among us, it's just, it is pure evil. I think it's like, there's no, you know what you're doing at this point. You're just scoring political points and you know that you don't actually believe any of these things because if you believed any of them, you would be looking at statistics and you'd be looking at facts.

Jason Blitman:

another theme of the book is the truth, right? And I think there's a character that says something that they're pleased to hear someone saying aloud what they've been thinking. And I think there's so much fear in not just telling the truth, but also speaking your truth. What? I think. And why do you think that is?

Garrard Conley:

Why do you think it's hard? Because there's so many ramifications for doing it. I knew when I published Boy Erased that half, more than half my family would never talk to me again. And that proved to be true. And, that was a cost. It's not, I'm not saying was in a liberal space at the time I'd escaped. So like I had support and I don't think I could have done that without support from an outside community saying, actually, this isn't so bad. And I remember there was this really informative moment for me when mom and I were at the film premiere of Boy Erased and the Toronto Film Festival, and It was such a great moment for her really she, she got to dress to the nines. She looked great. And we get in this car, and we're about to we're about to go to the theater to see everything. And she sees people wrapped around the block wanting to see it. And she looks at me, and she's that can't possibly be for our movie. Because, like, how could there be that many people that support us right now? And I said, Mom that's A lot of the world does support us, actually especially in urban areas. And so she got to feel what it was like. To be in a room full of people who celebrated her for making the decision that she made to take me out of that horrible place. And I think it changed her entire mind. Like she went back to her smaller town and felt more secure. It's not that it wasn't hard, but she felt that. And I think, my mom was a perfect example. Like we paved the way both of us paved the way for each other to exist, right? Like we gave each other permission in a community where we weren't allowed to. My mom was criticized for wearing her bright floral tops instead of some ugly denim skirt, she's a preacher's wife, and she's gonna go in Looking like Dolly Parton and people are going to make fun of her and say you're shallow, you're blah, blah, blah. But to mom, just like to Dolly in a way, like their identity is tied to their ability to be free, expressing who they are. And I felt so much of her journey in mine. And I guess what I'll say is it took my mom, what, like almost 50 years to get to that point, to get to where she spoke her truth in a community that Did not want to hear it. And I think it takes incredible bravery, much more bravery than I had because I had a support system outside, and so I think that the question is almost the wrong one. I think it's a great question, by the way, but I think it's almost, I've come to the conclusion that it's the wrong question, like, why do we do this? I don't know. I don't think there is an answer. I think the only answer is that we're all so much more susceptible to our environments than we ever thought. And I have so many nice mothers that come up after an event for boy race or something. And they say, this will be in like New York city. And they'll say Oh, I would never do that to my child. Like I would just never do that. And I'm like, I know you wouldn't because you grew up here. That's why you wouldn't. But also there's a conversion therapy camp right down on the road, still functioning. Did you know that? And they don't because they're in a bubble. And I think that we have to Stop being sanctimonious about the left has to stop being sanctimonious about our virtues. We have plenty of great virtues. We do. Genuine virtues. But we, it's just not gonna work because that's not how people are. People don't listen. Until you speak a kind of language that they understand and deign to get down from your, western city and talk to them. And I, I know that there are bad actors in all of this, but there's no other way forward. We're just gonna fall apart as a country if we aren't capable of recognizing that we ourselves could be murderers, monsters, whatever. It's all possible.

Brett Benner:

Jason had asked about the truth. I just am curious you said your father had challenged you to write the truth about God. What is that? What does that mean? What did that mean to you? And what

Garrard Conley:

dad's always giving me these crazy challenges, I love him. We actually gotten really close over the years and it's gotten better, but. He has, he still has this very, one way of looking at the world and one of the things that he says all the time, which annoys me, and I finally told him to please stop saying it, is like, when are you going to write a book I can tell people about? I'm like, Dad, you can tell people about any of my books whenever you want to. It's a free country. When are you going to not be ashamed of your son is really the question that I would not ask him because he'll just go into tears again. And he's, he's a very sweet person and gets hurt easily. This was not always the case, he's grown into a much kinder person. He'll say, I dedicated your life to God. It's like my mom lost her first child. It was really tough on the family. It was like a stillborn stillbirth. And so when I came along, it was possible that mom could lose her life. She had really high blood pressure. She decided to have the baby anyway. And of course dad prayed over me and all that stuff. And then he wrote this letter that was basically a dedication to God. And I've always known about this. Like I've been dedicated to God since my birth. And that's a lot of pressure, right? You're already a preacher son, but then it's you're meant for great things because you survived and I prayed to God and he gave. He gave us you and I'm an only child, so that just all those stacked up and he loves to give these little reminders like, okay you're really here for God. You're here to write. You're here to use your talent for God. And. I don't know where I stand on faith at the moment, but I do believe in a higher power. I just can't shake it. It's just started my understanding of the world and I am like a Buddhist Christian, a stereotype of, a certain type of gay, but I'm happy with it. And when dad said that, I was like, okay, let's take this seriously. You want me to write For God, I'll write for God, but I'll write it in a language that I understand in the language that I think a higher power would understand. And it's the language of sacrifice and it's the language of beauty really, and love, and so I wrote a book, my real challenge, behind everything else, you tell them in Aries, my real challenge behind everything else is Can I speak in a language that I think God would understand, that would feel like it was in conversation with God in some way. And there are tussles, so I wanted to have this cast where, a reader could approach the book and feel honored by it, like a Christian. Who wasn't close minded could find beauty in it and a lot of who I was trying to write toward were queer Christians who I met on book tour with Boy Erased who would come up to me and say, thank you so much for not, spitting on religion because we still have this faith and we want to reclaim it and it's okay, more power to you girl. If you can make this place that has felt very hateful, okay. Much better for other people than let's go for it, And I think those queer Christians are sacrificing much of their lives to do that

Jason Blitman:

people aren't, just trying to make it work for themselves.

Garrard Conley:

I know I like it's more beautiful to just think that they're like hanging on because they want to change it But

Jason Blitman:

think that's true for about so many things though, right? Like we're selfish creatures.

Garrard Conley:

we are

Jason Blitman:

For better or for worse. That's how we've survived.

Brett Benner:

yeah, but I also think people want to believe they want to believe in something they want to believe that they're, they want to believe in many people, but look at, It's funny because I read Boy Erased and found a lot to identify there because my parents, when I came out to them, Which I was 22, 23 and my mom immediately called and said, I could have someone at your door tomorrow and they wanted me to go through Exodus International, which is, a subset of what you did and, and I remember it was my father who was the one who really you know, started to ask questions of that organization and say, I'm not sure this is it. And of course I was like, what are you talking about? There's no way. But I think for my mom, it was trying to, reconcile what I was telling her with what she had been taught and what she believed in and what, moreover, the bigger thing was, and I think this is so prevalent in the church. What everyone else was going to say, there's so much of an identity that's revolves around, our family is perfect. Everything that we're putting out there is this very, we love God. We have good children. We are following the rules and that's why we all excel. And we all know that's just, it's just a sham. There's a million other things within that, but I do think people are looking for something to grab hold of. And I think people are looking, I don't know. It's just, it's a weird.

Garrard Conley:

That's a really good point though, I mean I've been thinking about You I think we all tend to take everyone's ideological concerns more seriously than we should. Because I think that people are driven by a need for community and a need to fit in more than anything else. I think with rare exceptions. And so the way that we think that this is actually about oh, let's keep trans kids out of the bathroom or whatever that these people are saying. It's not really about that. It's about signaling, right? And so if we take them seriously on the face of things, which I guess we have to. To make sure that laws don't pass that ruin our lives, then we're failing automatically because that's not what they're asking for. They're asking for inclusion. They're asking to be heard. And I, that's a fucked up thing to say, right? But I think it might be true. I think that they're crying out in these ways that they know liberals will respond to, and I don't know the answer to that because we feel attacked. They feel attacked, we're right. They're wrong. Yeah,

Jason Blitman:

your mom. It's, there's this like self preservation thing going on. And again it's about being selfish. It's not about you. It's about how she's being represented in the greater

Brett Benner:

That's exactly right. That's exactly

Garrard Conley:

that's what they care way more about.

Brett Benner:

yeah, it's horror. It's like what we had, cause I'm married and I have my husband and I have, we have two kids who are grown, like my son is, will be 21 this year and she's in, he's in college and my daughter's 17. However, when we told my parents that we were going to have, a baby that for my mom almost undid her because it was a solidifying of our relationship that wasn't that this is going to keep going right and that kind of upped the ante because suddenly how my mom was always someone who very much loved grant her grandchildren all of those things was very much a great grandmother but this put another color on it for her because How was she creating an identity when her friends would say, how's Brett in California? It was very easy to say, he's fine and gloss over and not say, even I'm in a relationship or any of those things. But a child and it became a huge thing with our family and my oldest sister, who I'm very close to. She, I remember cause my mom didn't want. Our extended family to know we found out my father had told everyone in the family about my relationship with chip about our kid. All of this had never told my mother. So my mother is continuing to put up this fiction of things are fine and not talking about anything like true wasps. And all of this stuff was existing. So this whole construct had been built up and it was like, just the walls and

Garrard Conley:

So

Brett Benner:

and ridiculous, like who cares?

Garrard Conley:

well that's the key to so much of the book that I wrote because it's like, You tell one lie, you, you invite someone else into your life and it just creates these walls. And it's there's no way out either way. If you tell the truth, you're screwed. If you don't tell the truth, you're screwed. And that was, that was such a hard thing to go into because. That's still true of Mountain Home, Arkansas, where my parents live, right? Like, when I go back and I see a genderqueer person handing me my popcorn at the local tiny movie theater with some pink hair, I'm like, oh my god here's another queer person. And then they'll say to me, this is, it's happened twice, talking to folks they'll say something along the lines of Yeah, like we were so happy that like your book was successful and blah blah blah. But it all feels like a fantasy because they're viewing all of it through their phone screens through their through multiple screens And none of it's happening around them. There's no like gay bar or anything to go to And they're like, okay. It just feels like I have to escape and there's only fantasy And the same is true of the past in some ways, right? There were places in London where you could go, this is very restricted because you had to be like a wealthy white dude, but like you could go to a Molly house, which Molly houses were like these incredibly debaucherous sort of drag shows. And that's how we would put it today. Some of the accounts saying that men were like dressed in wedding dresses, having fake ceremonies and pouring pig's blood all over them because they wanted to mock the idea of marriage. I mean, that could happen today. That could happen today by some Brooklyn queer, and you'd

Jason Blitman:

probably does.

Brett Benner:

Yes. And it's called performance art.

Garrard Conley:

probably every day. And we know historically there were different pockets of queerness that were allowed to exist at different times. So I almost feel like it's, a geographical problem, but it's also like deeper than that. It almost feels like when I go back to mountain home, I am in a different time. I am in a different world. And. It's a world where they do Trump parades on a lake every summer with their pontoon boats.

Brett Benner:

There is a certain level of privilege that exists for people that say, if you don't like it, just change your location and not

Garrard Conley:

hate that shit.

Brett Benner:

most people aren't capable of that. That's just not a reality for people to say, uproot your life. You're making no money. Maybe you're working at the Walmart and, move to New York City.

Garrard Conley:

just move.

Brett Benner:

that's just not a reality. So unfortunately for a lot of people, they are in a situation that they can't necessarily escape from.

Garrard Conley:

it's not a reality for a lot of reasons. One is that you have to save the money, which I guess feasibly someone could, right? It is possible. But then when you get there, how do you think that those Brooklyn queers are going to treat somebody who just walks into a bar and doesn't know anything? How do you think that's going to go? And that's where we have to take account of where we are as a community. Like we don't like to be reminded of our trauma from a small town in America, right? Like we don't, and I know this so deeply because I wrote Boy Erased and there are a lot of queer people who don't ever want to talk about that book or that movie or anything associated with it. And I get it right. But also when someone does want to enter our community and feel safe and find a found family, we have to be willing to extend grace to them. To say Hey, you are a mess right now. You're saying all the wrong things. Like you're triggering the fuck out of everybody in this bar. Let's go take you over here and help you out

Jason Blitman:

We need to start like a big brothers, big sisters, big nibblings

Garrard Conley:

Yes,

Jason Blitman:

for baby gays all around the country that don't have other people to

Garrard Conley:

Yes.

Jason Blitman:

something that you talk about in the book is like people knowing things about somebody else before they do just by observation and like the amount of people in my childhood that basically told me I was gay before I knew it. I think on one hand was like traumatizing, but on the other hand, I think really helped kick me out not in a bad way.

Brett Benner:

How old were you, Jason? When you

Jason Blitman:

I came out, I was like 12.

Garrard Conley:

Whoa. You came out earlier than either of us.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. I started telling people at 12 and,

Garrard Conley:

Ooh, that's amazing.

Jason Blitman:

Also living in, I got to do it like via instant messenger, there was this, there's a safety there. Where you can have this buffer. Yeah, something that I completely changed the gears. Cause I just looked at the time and I want to be respectful of getting out of here. But something used something these. characters talk about. There's a line in the book what we're doing in this room belongs only to us. We have just invented it. And it was my favorite line in the book. I'm like, sorry, listeners, you'll still appreciate it in the moment. But we're constantly talking about on this podcast, how as gay men, as members of the LGBTQIA community, like we are, we have to make our own rules. We're always making our own rules.

Garrard Conley:

I love that line because it does so much strange work in the book. In the context of that, without giving too much away, like Whitfield, our sort of, main character preacher he's making an argument to his lover, his sort of lover, Arthur no, you can't compare our love to the past, to the Greeks or anything like that, because we just created this right now. There's no, on one hand, it's a very dark line, right? There is no abomination. As extreme as the one we just made because we just made it like, we're the ones who just created this abomination and so there's a dark element to that. But there's also something beautiful in that line. I think where it's we're constantly reinventing ourselves and so what if we did just invent it? And so on one hand, it's a really dark moment. And on another, it's maybe we are inventing something new. And there are other moments of it in the past, but we have to constantly reinvent it. And I think we have to reinvent ourselves when we dare to challenge the status quo and love somebody that we're not supposed to, right? And and I think that's such a beautiful part of the queer community, specifically the gay community that I grew up in. This idea that Okay. So what you want us dead? You want us like dragged out of our houses and put on an Island or whatever the fuck someone says okay, great. Try it. We're just going to reinvent it anyway.

Brett Benner:

We're going to make an amazing island.

Garrard Conley:

We'll make an amazing Island. I want to go to that Island right now before the election. But but yeah, I just, yeah, I'm so glad you mentioned that line. That sequence was really hard to write. The dialogue had to have this playful, post coital, joy to it but also Whitfield's just like a regular gay virgin, he's gonna go into his whole life story and share everything and be like, yeah, here's my daddy's story. And it was a hard one to write.

Jason Blitman:

It also goes back to just telling the truth and making our own rules is scary. Like all of these things are scary, which leads me to another theme in the book that I was so inspired by. is that Sarah, who's a young person at the beginning, a very young person at the beginning of the book, she desperately wants to know, like, how adults live, like the secrets of adulting. And it comes out we all need, we all want to figure that out.

Garrard Conley:

exactly. Go ahead.

Jason Blitman:

I was just gonna say she can't, and, the adult in that moment can't get the hang of it. And I feel like that's, again, a very universal truth.

Brett Benner:

Sure.

Garrard Conley:

that's like careful what you wish for, right? In Sarah's case, she's I want to be an adult. I want to be an adult. Don't make me not an adult. And then she finds out what it's like to be an adult woman in this time, right? We're like 40. We're like 40 years out of Salem in the Salem witch trials in the book. So she's entering that world where, you know, Anne Hutchinson, almost a century earlier, Yeah. Yeah. She was fighting against all these men in her interpretation of the Bible. What happened to her? She got banished, and then scalped later because she was like in an area where she shouldn't have been. And that's what they did to her, right? So she's I want to be a grown up woman. And it's okay here you go.

Brett Benner:

and her relationship with Martha, and what Martha grows into not, again, not giving anything away, but that's a whole other dynamic that's so fascinating

Garrard Conley:

dodged a bullet with,

Brett Benner:

Yeah. Yeah. No it's really fascinating.

Jason Blitman:

And sometimes growing up, it does get better. Like I,

Brett Benner:

It does, Jason. It does. It

Jason Blitman:

No. I was just going to say on what, no, like it gets better in quotation marks, like the campaign yes, being a queer adult definitely is easier than being a queer child. But what I really mean is we have to think about what to make for dinner every night. What are we doing for dinner every night? That sucks. And yet what I will say the other night, I was like, you know what? I'm gonna have nachos.

Garrard Conley:

Exactly. That's the best part.

Jason Blitman:

Cause I'm a fucking adult and I could do what I want.

Brett Benner:

Yeah. And see, I can't do that because I have to also cook for a 17 year old. Who I could

Jason Blitman:

17. She could cook for herself. Maddie cook for yourself.

Brett Benner:

Yeah, but, okay. You say that and I understand that. But when you have children, then come back and tell me that. When you're 16 years old and you're 55 standing over a stove making broccoli and beef. You tell me, no, she should be cooking for herself. Come on. I understand what you're

Garrard Conley:

True,

Jason Blitman:

kid is going to cook for themselves or they're not going to eat.

Brett Benner:

Yeah, I know. You say

Jason Blitman:

They're going to do their own laundry too.

Brett Benner:

yeah, my kids do their own laundry. I don't do that. But I'm telling you, our particular family is from a tradition of we cook, we eat together, we sit together. That's just a ritual that we have.

Garrard Conley:

It makes sense. And that was those were the only like

Brett Benner:

okay. That's okay. Yes. Don't do your homework. Get down there cooking.

Garrard Conley:

I'm never going to have children, so I don't have to worry about this.

Jason Blitman:

There was a video of you in conversation with someone while you're on your book tour for Boy Erased. And you talk about, your mom, and you basically say things have really changed, and then you go on to say some things have, and some things haven't. And I think that is a really interesting summation of this whole conversation, right? I think from the Puritan 1700s to now, things have really changed. Some things have, and some things haven't.

Garrard Conley:

I know it. Things go underground for a long time, and they come back. And I think for me, I think in the Obama era, like marriage equality celebration, It was easy for everyone to think, okay I guess progress really is going one way, like we all saw the inequality still, but. It was like we're on an arc, right? And that's so naive now. It's so silly, but I don't want to fully give up on the dream. Like I, I'll probably always be writing about religion and sexuality because that's what has shaped my life and it's my vocabulary. And I hope that the world gets a little better because of the way that I write it. I don't know, like in a small way, but is it, I want to believe that we are still on a path to claiming our own value as a society, because, a lot of people are waking up right now, especially politically, to what's happening in Palestine, and I think, of course it's all complicated, but one thing that's not complicated is the machinery of war. That seems really clear to me, right? Like the machinery that we have built, the world that we have built is not built for us. It is not built for us to be happy or to survive. It's built for a bunch of warmongers who want to spend a bunch of money on that instead of education. And that to me is disgusting. I think it's an actual evil in the world. Our government is partially to blame for a lot of that. And I love this country. I love everything about it in so many ways. But I just hope we can. I hope we can like, it sounds so cheesy to say this, but I just hope we can build a better future because I fucking hate going into my classroom and my little cute, sweet babies that are like wanting to be writers. I have to tell them the truth about how hard all of this is and how hard it is to be an artist in the face of so much cynicism and just pure evil in the world. Like, how do you stay? Yourself in that and I don't always have the answer to that because I don't want to be I don't want to give them a shallow answer because I don't know the answer But I know that it's in community and I know it's in love, right? Like I know the reason we're here. I believe the reason we're all here and doing okay Is because of other people who helped us in times that were really dark and kept us alive and kept us fed and happy. And I think that's, that, that has to be the solution. It must be the only one.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, and frankly, I think that we also impact people in ways that we don't even know. And so it, I'm like, a lot of my background is in theater and theater for young audiences. And something so important to me has always been teaching empathy in an artistic, creative way. Because if you're just nice to people. Who knows how, what lives you're changing that day,

Garrard Conley:

yeah, I think it works honestly.

Jason Blitman:

Someone posted a poll on Instagram yesterday asking If you hold a door open for somebody without them asking you, do you expect a thank you? And I was saying, yes, because it's just nice. It's just

Garrard Conley:

Yeah, it would be nice to get one, but I don't expect it.

Jason Blitman:

Expect. I don't know that he said expect. That, is, it's

Brett Benner:

I do the same thing if I let someone in, if I let someone in on traffic, when you're like, go ahead, you can go ahead. And if they don't respond, I'm always like, yeah, like

Jason Blitman:

Oh, traffic is a different thing. I don't let people

Garrard Conley:

I've decided to just I have this thing where I just protect myself. Cause I'm like, okay, I know no one's going to be nice. So I just have to like, I just have to be okay with them not being nice. I live in academia right now, so you know how it is, you pass certain people in the hallway and they're just like, jerks to you just for your very existence. You're like, I'm sorry that your article that only five people read makes you hate me, but

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Have a good day.

Garrard Conley:

it's just you just have to be like, nice anyway.

Brett Benner:

They have chicken soup at the commissary today.

Jason Blitman:

That same video that I mentioned my absolute favorite comment on it, which I don't know if you read the comments, but this is worth it, I'll tell

Garrard Conley:

do not, but I want to hear one.

Jason Blitman:

So this was about boy race, and this person said, Such a sad, shameful story. Feels so sorry for all these kids. Anyway, he's so gorgeous.

Garrard Conley:

That makes me feel good.

Brett Benner:

Oh,

Garrard Conley:

A little bit of joy.

Brett Benner:

perfect. That is

Jason Blitman:

I know. I was like, oh, this is amazing. I need to write this down.

Garrard Conley:

I

Jason Blitman:

And it was the anyway, I peed in my pants. So

Garrard Conley:

I think that once a day, at least like where I'll just be like thinking is really dark thoughts. Oh, the world's on fire. And I'm like he's gorgeous.

Jason Blitman:

Anyway, he's so

Brett Benner:

And And then you look at your search page on Instagram and you're like whatever.

Garrard Conley:

Oh, I'm not going to do that. No. Ever since I got attacked by President Bolsonaro in Brazil, he like attacked before he was raised at one point and sent all these completely crazy right wing like people to my like Instagram and Twitter. Now I have it all on lockdown. I'm like, you have to follow me before you do. So I never read any comments because like for a while they were just like burning hell forever.

Jason Blitman:

No, I wouldn't have shared that with you.

Garrard Conley:

I know it would have been a bold move. But like reactions.

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

No, but if you ever come out with Garrett Conley merch, you should have a mug that says, anyway, he's so gorgeous.

Garrard Conley:

Oh my god, I would have to be a true egotist for that.

Brett Benner:

I wouldn't see the face of that person writing that, like just typing it and be like, anyway, he's so gorgeous. Like it's the anyway, it's literally that choice of

Jason Blitman:

Listen, she was speaking her truth. I think maybe it was a man. They were speaking their truth.

Brett Benner:

Oh, yes.

Garrard Conley:

yeah let me see if I can find it and see if they're cute.

Brett Benner:

That's exactly right.

Jason Blitman:

So funny.

Garrard Conley:

Anytime they give you a comment, you just look up to see if they're cute and you're like, okay, maybe we'll talk.

Jason Blitman:

I know. And then you said, anyway, he's so

Garrard Conley:

Yeah, anyway,

Jason Blitman:

Congrats on a novel. This is a big deal coming out of Boy Erased.

Brett Benner:

It really is.

Garrard Conley:

We'll see how it does. You know how these things are. They're always like nerve wracking and crazy. But

Jason Blitman:

Sure. But even still, I think getting to put it down on paper, something that isn't your own story, quite literally, is great. I'm sure very exciting.

Garrard Conley:

yeah, it was exciting to get to talk to y'all. I love what y'all are doing.

Jason Blitman:

thanks.

Brett Benner:

you. We appreciate it.

Jason Blitman:

We're very happy to have you. Congrats on the book. Also, wait, you're in Aries. When's your birthday?

Garrard Conley:

April 15th.

Jason Blitman:

April 6th.

Garrard Conley:

Oh,

Brett Benner:

Look at you guys.

Garrard Conley:

This makes sense. Yeah. Same energy.

Jason Blitman:

Garrett, thank you for being here.

Garrard Conley:

Thank you both, Jason and Brett.

Jason Blitman:

Such a pleasure. Everyone check out his newest book, All the World Beside, as well as his OG memoir Boy Erased,

Brett Benner:

Also made into a feature with Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Yes.

Jason Blitman:

And Lucas Hedges as the boy erased,

Brett Benner:

Lucas Hedges. I think he's so crazy talented.

Jason Blitman:

erased talented and that, and we'll see ya

Brett Benner:

In April. Yeah, that wraps up March.

Jason Blitman:

wraps of March. Okay. Bye.

Brett Benner:

Bye.

You're welcome. Bye bye. Bye bye.