Publication Date: October 6, 2012
This memoir by Scott Terry describes growing up in the 1970s, in a home ruled by a tyrannical step-parent and a restrictive religion. Readers follow Terry to adulthood and through his personal struggle with his beliefs and sexuality.
I was given an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of this memoir for review by the author. Content may have changed prior to publication.
Scott Terry has an elegantly understated way of writing. He and his older sister grew up on the edge without a sense of home. Everything belonged to their stepmother. The house was “Fluffy’s house” and they were only allowed in it by permission. Food was “Fluffy’s food.” In a scene later in the memoir, Terry is 14 years old and on a family trip when he tries Fluffy by taking a Dorito from a bag that his step-siblings are sharing. Fluffy yells at him and he runs off crying. How isolated he was, especially after his sister left, is highlighted. Terry and his sister were unwelcome visitors in the home of their father’s wife. The abuse Terry suffered was poignant in that he doesn’t outline the attacks for us in graphic detail but hints at them. He remembers Sissy screaming and the next day he had bruises on his body and a cut on his head. His experiences resonate with the reader and cause the heart to bleed for these children to whom society and their father seemed to turn a blind eye.
I would think that readers would identify with Terry’s struggles with sexuality and the difficulties of coming to accept himself as an adult. He prays daily to Jehovah to remove the “wicked” feelings. He has girlfriends, misleads team-mates and ultimately he comes to the realization that happiness is being himself. There are people in his life who accept him and those who don’t matter. Terry chronicles his journey to finding acceptance and discovers that there are others out there who are like him with beautiful simplicity. From first feelings to the thrill of watching a gym teacher undress, unseen from a corner of the room, to the first sexual encounter, to the coming out to family members, some of whom accept him and some of whom don’t. Terry doesn’t sugarcoat his mixed feelings and his need to have those connections.
No one could blame Terry if he was bitter and used a memoir as a vindictive rant against an abusive stepmother and a father willing to turn a blind eye. He was locked out of his home for hours in Wyoming in the winter; he was forced to go hungry, accused of stealing and beaten. Bitterness is not the focus. Terry gives a relatable and compelling story of struggle, escape and ultimate success. He is a survivor and this is his story.
What surprised me most about this novel was how similar Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to be to the Pentecostal religion in which I grew up. “The World” is everyone who doesn’t subscribe to the religion, and there must be no association with others outside of the religion. Terry attended public schools, whereas the church in which I grew up, had their own school. College wasn’t encouraged, and in a lot of cases, it was flatly discouraged. If you must go to college, you go to Bible school so that you can contribute to your religion (as the Witness’s religion encouraged people to go to trade schools to rebuild after Armageddon)—the anticipation of the world ending at any moment and how we must defend ourselves against outsiders because their only goal is to corrupt us.
I am also struck, reading Terry’s story, with the feeling of a lucky childhood. Like Fluffy, if my mother found a dish dirty, I would have to wash every dish we owned. We used powdered milk and watched the Wild Kingdom followed by the Wonderful World of Disney. What I had but that was missing in Fluffy, was general affection. My mother may not have said it, but I knew she loved me. Terry did not have that comfort.
Readers will find themselves not wanting to stop reading. There is a need to know that Terry is OK and how his life turned out. His memories are sometimes warm, and other times, painful; the reader is on the journey with him and happy that today, he is living his life as he chooses.
This was a brave book to write. Congratulations to Scott Terry on a wonderful life. Looking into the heart of this memoir, there was a good kid who wanted to be loved, and I’m sure, it is very much cherished today.
Scott Terry is an urban farmer and artist who writes for the Huffington Post’s Gay Voices page. His book was listed as one of the best LGBT books of 2012 by Out in Print and Band of Thebes. Read an excerpt and buy Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth: How a Gay Child was Saved From Religion by Scott Terry on