“Of course, this was not easy to talk about”

91-year-old Charterhouse resident Stanley Underhill released his memoirs last week. Image: The Chart

91-year-old Charterhouse resident Stanley Underhill released his memoirs last week. Image: The Charterhouse - Credit: Archant

Stanley Underhill, one of 41 ‘Brothers’ at The Charterhouse, Islington, tells his fascinating story in Coming Out of the Black Country

The cover of Underhill's book, which is published by Zuleika

The cover of Underhill's book, which is published by Zuleika - Credit: Archant

“What has astonished me in recalling these traumatic events, bearing in mind that some of them occurred over eighty years ago, is the feeling that they happened yesterday.”

Such a quote, lifted from the preface of Stanley Underhill’s recently published memoir Coming Out of the Black Country, hints at the anguish to follow in the rest of his extraordinary tale.

Underhill – who is one of 41 ‘Brothers’ currently in residence at the Charterhouse Almshouse in Islington – takes to the following pages to tell his life story.

Though he covers many interesting topics throughout – his plight at being born in to poverty, falling victim to bullies at school, working for the Royal Navy and as an accountant, before becoming ordained in to the Church of England in 1981 – one topic leaves an especially lasting imprint on the reader.

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“My book is dedicated to all those who have been hurt or suffered persecution because of homophobia, and to those who have helped to bring awareness and acceptance of homosexuality to communities, Church and State,” he says.

“For years, I couldn’t accept my homosexuality, and because of the prejudices of society I went through several ‘cures’ which didn’t work.

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“These stressful situations made me very depressed. The idea of writing an account of my struggle with my sexual orientation was suggested to me by a therapist called Charles Neal – he thought it could be cathartic.”

Underhill, 91, became a Brother at Charterhouse in 2003 and began composing his life’s work five years ago.

Though troubling in many instances – the author underwent Freudian psychoanalysis and was injected with testosterone in a bid to ‘treat’ his homosexuality – this is an incredibly courageous piece of writing about reconciling sexual orientation with devout Christian beliefs.

“Of course, it was not an easy thing to write,” Underhill adds.

“I had to disclose things for the first time that I had never told a soul – the stories about being bullied at school and homophobic abuse. We often wear a mask and don’t tell people how we really are.

“I think gradually the Church is changing its mind, but there are still pockets of homophobia with conservative Christians. Of course, modern people don’t think anything of it – they accept it and there is no problem – but the idea that you are born with it rather than it being a choice is still a bone of contention for some at the Church of England.”

Underhill enjoyed the support of his Brothers at Charterhouse during the course of writing his book, with some helping to proofread his work.

Coming Out in the Black Country quotes Hamlet’s Polonius and his immortal line: “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

“It’s a lesson that I have learned of course,” continues Underhill.

“When I discovered I was homosexual, I pretended to be otherwise and I wasn’t being true to myself. It’s a lesson we all have to learn, if you are suppressing who you are then how can you be happy with yourself?”

Coming Out of the Black Country by Stanley Underhill is available to buy now. For more details, click here

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