THIS is an important and moving memoir about the struggles of being bisexual. At the heart of it is Epping Forest, which, for Luke Turner, becomes an ever-shifting symbol of sexuality and selfhood, of longing and loss, of his past and his present, and, ultimately, of his own, integrated identity. His brave, often poetic prose encompasses the pastoral, the confessional, and the erotic.
Patriarchy shows us how to be masculine, feminine, and heterosexual, but not how to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Growing up in a loving and Christian environment, with a Methodist-minister father and a conservative, Brethren mother (the book is dedicated to them), Turner, nevertheless, felt confused and insecure about his inner life and sexual feelings.
The natural world of the Yorkshire Moors and Epping Forest (“there are no morals to nature”) comes to reflect his restless desire for men and women. He hides himself in furtive and promiscuous sex, suffers overwhelming guilt, and develops an almost inescapable sexual addiction.
Turner is inspired by the forest and its many associations: from its roots in the Latin “foris”, or “forestis”, meaning “that which is outside”, to its being a “spiritually radical” place for his parents, as well as a place of ancestral mystery, escape, retreat, sexual encounter, and death. But he also finds the “forest” in the nightclubs of London and Berlin, music, pornography, his dates via the apps Tinder and Grindr, the breakdown of a long-term relationship, and through being sexually abused when he was 14 (a haunting episode of conflicted wanting and regret).
Throughout, Turner’s sense of God never leaves him, “a curious spark that comes from beyond the human”, helping him to piece together who he is, and fashioning a faith that, finally, finds a way out of the woods, and gives shape to his troubled experience.
The Revd Dr Paul Edmondson is Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Out of the Woods
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30