Sunday, 17 June 2018

Undivided by Vicky Beeching - A Review

Reading through Vicky Beeching's memoir Undivided is an emotional experience. It cannot be read from a neutral position because none of us are robots and all of us have opinions on faith, LGBT+ issues and mental illness. Many of us also have our own experiences of these things. The thing about Vicky's book is it makes clear that whilst some feel free to be vocal about these things for others they are subjects of fear. To state my position from the start I am a progressive evangelical queer woman married to a f to m transman who is also a Methodist Probationer Minister. I work in a church too. So I'm sympathetic to the view she is espousing in the book.

Now I've got all that out of the way we can look at the book. It's an honest looking back on her journey and the way she wrestled not only with her own identity but also with the demands of being a successful Christian musician.

It's a book which shows that whatever one's view of the "celebrity LGBT+ Oxbridge elite" her journey has been very costly in both emotional and financial terms. Yes, she is part of that elite but it provided her with a support network which she needed around her coming out. I'm noting it but not knocking it in her case.

What I found interesting about the first parts of the book, including her time in Oxford were the way she used institutionalisation for safety. I was struck by the choice of Oxford College she describes, and am aware that it was a similar choice that she made when she went to Durham an experience briefly mentioned later in the book. (Aside here one of the most embarrassing moments of my life was realising what a twat I'd been when I'd been chatting to her and others in a bar in Durham on the day of my viva (one of the very few times I've met her by the way). I don't have a great gaydar and that day I had a total failure, which resulted in me giving a version of "the only gay in the village" spiel when the exact opposite was true). Anyway I digress back to the review.

This institutionalisation which many Christian young people get caught up in and which many of those of us in churches actually collude with in ways intended to be helpful and can lead to great opportunities, but which may also be deeply damaging is something which challenged me in reading the book.

In Vicky's case it was this which enabled her to have her song writing and performing career. Something which has to be applauded, but it was at a cost of conforming to a damaging Christian stereotype.

The LGBT+ narrative which is a central theme to the book is important because it is a story which needs to be told and shared widely. I believe that this book quite honestly has the power to save lives and that cannot be underestimated. There will still be young Vicky's who may at times feel the same suicidal pressures that are talked about in this book and to have a role model is important.

More than that though this is probably the easiest to read discussion of the scriptural arguments I've come across. It's a book I'd be happy to recommend to people as a key resource.

The discussion of chronic pain and illness is also important because it is through the sharing of these stories that progress is made.

I referred earlier to the Oxbridge elite and that is something I find interesting about this book and about some recent developments in both the Christian and secular LGBT+ worlds in this country. There is an elite and make no mistake they are doing a great job in pushing for equality but they are also clearly there and integrated into the institutions of this country. This book along with other developments I'm not going into here show that there is a change happening which is not primarily grass roots but taking place in the wood panelled or glass clad rooms of this country. This book is here because it fits into that world, but it is also here because as I've indicated it's a valuable resource.

So I recommend giving it a read and then giving time yourself time to reflect on it. I think for many it raises as many questions as it answers but thank you Vicky for writing it and for your bravery. This is a book that as I've said will help others but has clearly come at cost.

Just as a help if you've happened upon the book or this blog and you are looking for support as a LGBT+ Christian who is not out or who is not connected to other LGBT+ Christians can I recommend Diverse Church which has sections to support different age groups and parents of LGBT+ people.