Gus Kenworthy
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How Troye Sivan Made 'Revelation,' Boy Erased's Ode to Coming Out

Troye Sivan

In one of the few tender moments in Boy Erased — a new film that showcases the horrors of conversion therapy — the still-closeted Jared (Lucas Hedges) chooses to lie in a bed with another queer man. The scene is chaste but intimate; Jared, who was raised in a conservative Christian family, is not struck down by hellfire — despite his worst fears. For the first time, he is allowed to be himself with another person like him.

"It's rare in this film that there's a moment of relief," said Troye Sivan — the gay singer and actor who appears in a supporting role in Boy Erased as a member of the conversion therapy group. Indeed, much of the film is a brutal review of the damaging effects of the discredited practice, including the physical and emotional toll it takes on a person and a family.

So when Sivan was asked by director Joel Edgerton over breakfast to come up with the lyrics for a song arranged by the musician Jónsi to accompany this "moment of relief," it led Sivan to contemplate the meaning of the word "revelation."

In fact, there are two primary definitions of this word, according to Google dictionary. First, a revelation is "a surprising and previously unknown fact, especially one that is made known in a dramatic way." The second is a biblical meaning, "the divine or supernatural disclosure to humans of something relating to human existence or the world."

Sivan's lyrical interpretation is a melding of these two definitions, as the scene weds Jared's faith with the understanding of his own identity; it also personifies the meaning, as, in the scene, the vision is delivered through another person. The song begins, "You're a revelation / Won't you liberate me now? / From a holy bound / You're a revolution / I will liberate you now / As the walls come down."

"That moment is a revelation to him and that person is a revelation to [Jared]," said Sivan, who called the act "one of the first bricks that's laid for this foundation of self-confidence and self-assurance, and maybe a moment of coming out and coming to terms with who he is."

Coming out is a revelation, attested Sivan, "especially when you come out to yourself for the first time ... and those moments where you have that first experience with someone of the same sex." This revelation can be a "terrifying" experience, he said,  "where your heart is pounding out of your chest ... but also again, really right at the same time, those are really foundational, pivotal moments in an LGBT person's life. And so the song is about that moment and the beauty of it."

Sivan, 23, came out to the public through a YouTube video in 2013, although he had told his family three years prior. To The Advocate, he vividly recalled the life-changing moment when he had his own revelation about his gay identity. 

"I remember specifically going to the bathroom one time and looking at myself in the mirror and being like, You are gay, you know? I think for me it was something that I was always aware of in the back of my head ... but I didn't know what it was. Gayness or queerness was always something that was for other people ... [until I had] that moment where it's like, No, this is your reality. And it is probably going to be a reality for the rest of your life."

This self-awareness can be scary for many LGBTQ people, Sivan said, as it forces them to rethink everything about themselves and a future that is unknown and uncertain. "Your life will never be the same," said Sivan. "You will have to adjust so many things in your head. This plan that you've got of getting married and having kids and just the traditional pathway doesn't seem so laid out for you anymore. You have to figure things out on your own a little bit more."

Sivan also hopes that Boy Erased, based on Garrard Conley's memoir, is a revelation for its viewers about conversion therapy. To date, an estimated 700,000 people have been subjected to this harmful practice in the United States, according to a report from the Williams Institute; only 15 states have bans. 

The goal of Boy Erased, in addition to making a good movie, is "passing bills in all 50 states to prevent conversion therapy," said Sivan, who at the time of this interview was wearing a pin representing this intent. "This movie is like a tool in that campaign. And so it feels really much bigger than just trying to make a great piece of entertainment."

Would that make Sivan, whose music and now film work addresses queer identity, an activist? "I'd be hesitant to use that word, because I don't know, I feel like you really have to earn that word. I'm trying my best, but I don't know if I have yet," he said.

But Sivan is not only cognizant of the impact Boy Erased can have in the United States. He is one of several Australian actors in the production, including Edgerton, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe, which gives this message a global reach. "Hopefully, it's something that a young Australian who's into the arts can look at it and be like, Yeah, I can do anything," said Sivan.

Sivan also praised how Kidman and Crowe are using their star power to shine a light on the important LGBTQ issues addressed in the film, reflecting on "how thankful I am that these huge name actors who have this enormous pull are donating their time and energy and talents and skills to telling a specifically queer story. I think that it's really lovely."

For better or worse, Boy Erased debuts during a turbulent time for the LGBTQ movement. The Trump administration is reportedly threatening to erase federal recognition of transgender people, and the nation has been rocked by a series of hate crimes, most notably the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Sivan hopes that Boy Erased — and its story about parents who love their son, but make a misguided decision that harms him — doesn't just preach to queer viewers. He sees the film as an opportunity for people like the parents of Garrard Conley to learn about the practice's consequences in a time when it is difficult for those with different political beliefs to speak with one another.

"I think what this movie does really well is it hosts a genuine conversation, which is something that I think is really tough to have," Sivan said. "Sometimes, it's easy to get frustrated. It's easy to paint the other side as the enemy or as evil or ignorant,or whatever, and it's kind of easy to write them off. I think that happens a lot and it's easy to do that, and I am 100 percent guilty of that as well."

"The fact that this movie does not vilify anyone and explains the story really empathetically from all sides? I think that that's really, really powerful and helpful," Sivan continued. "And so I'm hoping that anyone can watch this movie, no matter where you stand on the issue, and hopefully all arrive at the same place."

"I understand that you're not sending your kid off to this place because you're evil or because you want them to be in pain," he would tell parents who believe in conversion therapy. "You're doing this because you love your kid and you think that this is the right thing for them. I understand that, but now let's play this out. Let's play that out for a second and let's see what happened to Garrard, who wrote this book, and let's see how he ended up, how the people around him ended up. And let me hold your hand and take you through that process. And do you see where we ended up and how much damage [it] did? Has that changed your mind?" 

"I think the movie is a really powerful tool and an education piece," Sivan concluded. "So I'm hoping that again, in such a turbulent time where it feels so divided — you're on this side I'm on that side — it feels nice to have something that hopefully is a little bit more patient and a bridge to help people get to where we're trying to get them to."

Boy Erased is out Friday in select theaters. Watch the trailer, which includes the track of Sivan singing "Revelation," below.

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