When I came out as gay, my dad thought I was possessed by a demon and forced me into conversion therapy. Years later, I'm now a happy gay man.
Ty Autry was forced into conversion therapy when his parents learned he was flirting with a boy.
Autry pretended to be straight several times as a teen to please his parents and his church.
At 17, he accepted himself as gay and wrote a one-person play about his experience.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with 30-year-old Ty Autry. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I grew up in southern Georgia in a deeply conservative, religious family. I was the oldest of five brothers.
In our family, there was strict Bible study every day, and I was initially homeschooled. But everything changed when I finished homeschooling at 14 and started going to a private school.
A boy at school started giving me butterflies
I was in a production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and I started having feelings for the boy playing Joseph. He texted me one day and asked if I was gay. It was the first time I'd heard vocabulary to describe these emerging feelings. We started texting each other a lot. He gave me butterflies.
One day, my increasingly suspicious mom asked to see my phone. I resisted at first but she insisted, so I showed it to her. She saw all our flirtatious texts.
My parents initially tried to stop me from performing in the show, but I pleaded to stay. The agreement was that Dad would watch every rehearsal to ensure my contact with the boy playing Joseph was appropriate. Friends thought it was bizarre.
I woke one day shortly after that to Dad nailing my bedroom window closed so I wouldn't escape through it. I had no intention of doing that — I was such an obedient kid. That boy and I did keep texting though.
I was forced to start conversion therapy
A few weeks later at church, my youth pastor and Dad pulled me aside. My phone was taken from me and my Facebook account was shut down. I was told to clean out my school locker. My family had me write a letter to the boy who played Joseph, telling him he was living in sin and that I changed my mind about him. I had to hand the letter to him. I remember trying to find some way to secretly tell him I didn't believe it. I was heartbroken.
Then Dad drove me four hours to see a therapist; that's when my gay conversion therapy started. It went on for 3 ½ years. At one point, Dad even asked if we could try an exorcism, believing I'd been possessed by a demon. At other points, I was schooled on how to sit appropriately and talk the right way for a boy.
During my later teen years, I went back into the closet and tried to be straight 3 separate times
Each time I pretended to be straight, my gay tendencies rose up, which led to feelings of shame. So I would try again to be straight. I had a girlfriend at one point, even though I knew that wasn't right for me.
My parents decided to move and enrolled me in a new school because rumors were circulating that I was gay, and they felt humiliated.
Just before turning 16, I tried leading a straight life with a secretive double life as a gay boy. I told my conversion therapist, my parents, and my pastor all the lies they wanted to hear: It was just a phase; I'd come to my senses; I don't know what I was thinking.
I was then almost excommunicated from my church
When I was 16, Dad caught me — in a moment of madness — kissing a boy in my driveway.
This time the pushback was more aggressive. My parents confiscated my cell phone. I wasn't allowed on social media. I was only allowed to see friends from the church. Conversion-therapy sessions were ramped up.
Then my church tried to excommunicate me. I was furious. My Christianity was very important to me.
I remember asking God: Why me? I was struggling to understand why I was being punished for being myself. I wondered why the church that I loved and supported was so against me.
Eventually, I learned to heal from the trauma
When I turned 17, I finally said to myself, "No more conversion therapy. This is who I am."
To help me heal, I wrote a play, "A Southern Fairytale," based on my experiences. I've been touring and performing it around the world for five years.
Mom has seen the show twice. The first time, she was upset. She felt it was an attack on her parenting. But we healed our trauma together. Over time, I made edits to the show based on her feedback, reflecting that parents can love their kids so much but sometimes that love can unintentionally hurt. The second time she saw it, she apologized to me.
Dad has never seen the show. I love him, and he loves me. But he is not my friend. He has never apologized.
At 30, I now live my life openly as a gay man and have a good relationship with my mom, who has divorced my dad. My life as an openly gay man is now fabulously brilliant.
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