by David-Elijah Nahmod
Bay Area artist and author Scott Terry will appear at Books Inc. in the Castro tonight (Thurs., Oct. 11) in a book-launch party for Cowboys, Armageddon, and the Truth, How a Gay Child Was Saved From Religion, a chilling memoir of his youth.
Terry is a man of many talents. In Hayward, CA, where he lives, he's known as a "gentleman farmer." He owns a small property in the quiet Bay Area suburb, where he rents out two homes and grows a variety of vegetables in the backyard. His produce is happily donated to the local food bank.
Outside Hayward, Terry has been known primarily as an artist. The homepage of his website offers this thought-provoking quote from artist Pablo Picasso: "Art is not made to decorate apartments. Art is an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy." Terry lived up to this creed when he created one of his best-known pieces, the Proposition 8 Project. Proposition 8 is the California voter-approved ban on same-sex weddings.
"The art piece is comprised of 250 wooden blocks, some wrapped in Yes on 8 propaganda, and others wrapped in Biblical text," he explains. "They are arranged in chronological and topographical order, beginning with a miniature Bible in the center and yellow blocks rising out of the chaos, and winding their way through a sea of scripture."
Scripture is a touchy subject for Terry. He spent his boyhood in a virulently homophobic, fundamentalist home. His Jehovah's Witness father was not kind to him. There was a lot of abuse, as he recalls in his book.
"I wrote the book out of frustration with religion," he said. "One of the tenets of Jehovah's Witness is that you have to separate yourself from 'worldly people.' They primarily say we're in the last days – they say it more intensely than other religions. I quote their dogma in the book. People who are in this religion don't have the sense to ask if this is the truth."
Some readers may cringe as Terry recounts the horrifying way he was treated. "At 16, I was only allowed to eat what I was given. Bedtime was at 8 p.m. When you live like that, you think this is how it is. I was just trying to survive." He and his sister were close at the time, and often stole food for each other. His sister has since returned to the faith, and they no longer speak.
There were a few bright spots. His grandparents, who were not "in the truth," reported bruises to the police when Terry was six. His father told them that they'd never see their grandchild again. "It's easy to separate yourself from others when you think the end is near," Terry observed.
He continues to speak highly of his grandmother, with whom he reconnected after leaving the faith. "As with the Prop 8 piece, I got the idea for the book the day my grandma died. She was such a huge part of my life as a kid."
Terry survived his childhood. He walked away from his father and never looked back. Now in a committed relationship, he's a staunch critic of religious fundamentalism and the emotional harm it inflicts on the lives of LGBT people. His powerfully written book has begun to generate buzz. The American Library Association has nominated the book for its Over the Rainbow Award, which acknowledges excellence in LGBT literature.
"We all know someone who was kicked out of the house for being gay. My book is about what I know about this from being a Jehovah's Witness, and being from a cowboy family."
Meet & greet Scott Terry on Thurs., Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m., at Books Inc., 2275 Market St. Info: 864-6777, www.booksinc.net/SFCastro .