Jane Czyzselska chats to Vicky Beeching about her new memoir, Undivided
BY JANE CZYZSELSKA
When the poster girl for evangelical Christianity realised she was gay, Vicky Beeching felt torn in two. The global church saw her sexuality as sinful – would she have to sacrifice one for the other? In her newly published memoir Undivided, she tells her powerful and courageous story. Jane Czyzselska met up with her to find out more.
DIVA: Undivided opens with a Preface that tells us that the book is about you and also not about you. Can you tell us what you mean by that?
Vicky Beeching: I wanted to write about my personal journey, but also about themes that affect most of us regardless of our sexuality, gender identity or religion. So I made sure to say that at the start of the book: Undivided is about my story but it’s not solely about me– it’s also about many of our stories; our shared human longing to be loved, to be accepted, and to belong within a community. It’s a coming out story, but it’s also about facing fears and pursuing authenticity – so it’s hopefully a book that will engage a wide range of readers.
How long did it take you to write and was that a challenging process?
It took a while! Three years to be exact. I signed the contract with HarperCollins in 2015, but got diagnosed with M.E. and Fibromyalgia that summer which put the brakes on my life and my work. Because of the chronic fatigue these conditions cause, I had to write the book in short bursts whenever I had energy, and alongside all the other plates I was spinning – including my year as a DIVA columnist (which I loved) – so it was a slow process! I’m delighted it’s finally finished and published.
It’s a very revealing book, telling stories that you’ve never shared before in columns or interviews. Was it painful to revisit those difficult memories?
Yes, very much so. There were things I’d rather forget forever, but I felt like I needed to tell my whole story – including the extremely difficult parts. Publishing that personal material feels really vulnerable. During the writing process it did feel painful, but I just kept focusing on my overall goal – to help others feel less alone if they are facing the same fears, or mental health struggles, or homophobia, and to help straight parents or friends understand what some LGBTQ people go through.
There are many themes in the book – facing fear, choosing authenticity, searching for belonging. One of those themes is faith because it’s played a big role in your upbringing and your career.
Yes, Undivided is a book about being made to choose between important parts of who you are. In my case that was my sexuality and my Christian faith. It’s not a book primarily about religion, in case that makes anyone lose interest! Faith is just one theme, illustrating the forced choice I had to make and how I found the courage to unite those aspects of my identity. I also address some of the arguments that anti-LGBTQ+ people of faith use and the ways they use the Bible, and the strong academic scholarship that proves those homophobic arguments are not based in an accurate understanding of the Bible.
You write with painful honesty about the exorcism you took part in as a teenager and about the time in Oxford when you were assaulted by a trainee priest, as well as the many times you heard ministers denounce homosexuality. Do you believe the church has harmed you?
Sadly, I’d have to say that yes, the church has harmed me, and it has harmed many other LGBTQ people too. I had that exorcism-type experience because I believed being gay was sinful and I’m still recovering from it all these years later. It was also very damaging to be around priests who preached one thing and yet had totally different sexual ethics behind closed doors. Young people put a lot of trust in spiritual leaders – I certainly did – and to look back and feel that trusted was misused is hard to process. But the church has also been a place of support too over the years, so it’s also helped me, which balances things out a bit.
Many people might expect you to reject faith entirely because of all that you’ve been through…
I decided that I shouldn’t let bad examples of Christian faith push me away from my own spirituality. My beliefs are important to me so I don’t feel like I need to give them up. The church has great people in it, and also people who give faith a bad name, but I don’t think I should have to give up on Christianity because of those who misrepresent God. Thankfully, I feel able to separate God from the church – I think God is as grieved by the harm done to LGBTQ people as we are. The book talks about the way I processed all of this and finally managed to unite my faith and my sexuality.
As well as the serious and challenging moments in the book, there are moments of levity and humour – tell us about those.
I wanted the book to make people laugh, as well as sharing a lot of pain and struggle, so I made sure to include the funnier moments of my journey too. I lived in the US for almost a decade and culturally I made a few slip-ups, which I talk about in the book. My musical touring also brought with it some amusing moments that you literally couldn’t invent if you tried. There was even some laughter involved in the difficult conversation of coming out to my Mum – involving Clare Balding – which again felt like I couldn’t have orchestrated it even if I’d wanted to! So the book will hopefully make people smile.
Raising awareness about mental health is a focus in the book and has become a big part of your work these days – what are your goals for that?
Mental health is still a taboo in many parts of society, especially the corporate workplace. I give a lot of talks on diversity and inclusion at places like KPMG, Price Waterhouse Cooper, and the headquarters of Co-op and Sainsbury’s, and those talks also include a focus on being more honest and open about mental heath at work. Personally, I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety throughout my own journey, and the more we can talk about these things with our work colleagues and bosses, the more we can care for each other and help each other go the distance in our careers.
When you look back at August 2014, when you came out publicly, what do feel now? What have been the losses and gains of coming out for you?
Looking back, mostly I just remember how terrified I was! I had no idea what my life would look like after speaking up, and whether I’d have any friends, colleagues or family who wanted to remain in my life. When the interview itself went live, I was literally hiding under my duvet. The gains have been amazing – finally feeling able to be myself and the huge relief of that, and the freedom to date and to campaign for LGBTQ equality. The losses have been big too though… letting go of my entire music career, having to start again with a different livelihood, and rebuilding a new community. Overall, I have no regrets though – I just wish I’d done it sooner.
Has the book been well received so far? You’ve got some impressive names endorsing it – Clare Balding calls it a “must-read book that will make humankind more humane”. Brian May from the band Queen says it’s “a life-changing book”. Were you encouraged by these?
I was delighted at the people who were willing to endorse my book. Clare Balding’s words meant a huge amount to me, as she’s such a great role-model showing you can be openly gay and pursue a successful career and a happy life. I love Queen’s music, so Brian May was a lovely surprise. The broadcaster Nicky Campbell and the columnist Owen Jones also gave great quotes, as did Susan Calman. I’m so grateful to everyone who’s shown me support.
Your memoir talks a lot about “radical vulnerability” – I love that. Tell me more about what that means to you.
Vulnerability is often seen as a weakness, when actually it’s a strength. It takes courage to open up and let others see who you really are, and to talk about your fears and struggles. So it takes a strong person to be vulnerable and I think we need a change in perception on that. Rather than something to run away from, we should embrace it as it deepens our relationships at home and at work. “Radical vulnerability” is the kind that goes beyond the norm, choosing to talk about our deepest fears and struggles, in hopes that it’ll help others feel less alone. It didn’t come easily for me as I’m a private person, but I think the more of us who speak up about things like mental health and our own LGBTQ coming out journeys, the more others will be empowered and find courage.
This interview originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!
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