IS IT ABOUT THAT BOY? is a troubling memoir that rips the bandage off deeply personal wounds to reveal unsettling truths about man’s inhumanity to man or, in this case, man’s inhumanity to gay teen. A lifetime trip down a soul-shattering rabbit hole begins with one innocent act: a cry for comfort from a heartbroken teenager who happens to be gay. That pivotal moment, which author Jeremy Gavins deems in retrospect as his “biggest mistake,” is the catalyst that sets into motion decades of unfathomable suffering that define one man’s journey toward wellness, peace and self-acceptance.
After reaching out to a teacher for compassion in a time of abject need, Gavins is subject to a cruelty meted out in the form of aversion therapy. His tale of woe begins with a frank accounting of coming to terms with his sexuality as a youth. He gives a forthright accounting, recalling his sexual encounters with honesty and an authentic voice. The circumstances of his life create a perfect storm for disaster as a teenage Gavins moves through the stages of self-discovery in 1970s England. Not only does he find himself persecuted by a society still in its infancy where homosexual understanding is concerned, but he must also contend with a threatening school environment and parents that are firmly rooted in their rigid Catholic faith.
But it’s the aversion therapy prescribed and carried out by the Catholic Church that inflicts the deepest, most abiding injuries, literally and figuratively. Stripped naked and strapped to something akin to an electric chair, this 16-year-old boy – who confided in a teacher that he was mourning the end of his relationship with Stephen, his first love – is subjected to electric shocks each time he sees images of same-sex encounters flashed on a screen or admits to having feelings for Stephen. The goal is to program him to associate same-sex feelings with pain, thereby making opposite sex relationships more appealing. Of course, such “treatments” are now known to not only be ineffective, but to cause permanent emotional scarring. Unfortunately, the author learns this in the hardest way possible.
As if things could not get worse, Gavins experiences the loss of Stephen in a way that plunges him into a lifetime of confusion, despair and self-recrimination. His mental health is compromised and keeping it together becomes a lifelong battle. He eschews romantic relationships, but develops enough self-reliance to eventually see him through adulthood independent of his parents or any firm support system.
His skills as a dry stone wall builder are Gavins’s saving grace, holding him in good stead throughout the years, providing a livable wage and opportunities to travel and indulge his love for the outdoors and nature. A dedication to his craft and the friendships he forges with co-workers and his dog, Boady, are a steadying force as he contends with what he identifies as two facets of his personality: Jeremy, the guilt-ridden, love-struck youth, and Jerry, the adult who continues to view Jeremy with contempt and suspicion.
Gavins’ not only volleys between identities, but also between wall-building gigs and a line of therapists and doctors who treat him for PTSD and various physical maladies. This sometimes results in information overload, making it difficult to keep the timeline of events in clear focus. Still, there are plenty of stand-out moments, from devastating setbacks to uplifting epiphanies. There are lots of ruts to navigate as well as pinnacles from which to fall. But the author’s drive to continuously climb up from the darkest despair, to keep striving to understand his past so he can reach a place of peace and joy, is unstoppable. It underscores, perhaps, the greatest irony and triumph of his story – that a man who spends his life tearing down emotional walls, masters the art of building real ones that open up the world around him.
In the memoir, IS IT ABOUT THAT BOY?, author Jeremy Gavins gives an unflinching, first-hand account of shock treatment as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality in a story that both troubles and inspires, plumbing the depths of human despair and soaring to the heights of spiritual triumph.
~Libby Wiersema for IndieReader
IS IT ABOUT THAT BOY? can be purchased here.