In the inspirational coming-of-age memoir, Finding Sunlight (Wise Ink, Fall 2023), Chrissy Holm separates purity culture, LGBTQ religious trauma, and a patriarchal father-daughter relationship from all the possibilities of meaningful love.
Homeschooled at church and raised by a devout father, Chrissy Holm internalized scripture’s strictest messages. She suppressed her bisexuality and followed all the teachings of purity culture. When she turned sixteen, her parent’s divorce flipped the script. Devastated and unsure of her values, Chrissy jumped from one relationship to another, searching for commitment and solace from a depression that crept more to the forefront every day.
Readers who grew up in evangelical or fundamentalist religious communities will find themselves in these stories as Chrissy, now 37, seeks meaning in her religious upbringing—finding forgiveness for her dad, her past relationships, and ultimately, herself.
Raw and hopeful, this liberating memoir is an intimate look at how one woman found the courage to question what she was taught to believe to uncover her own truth and navigate love with pride.
What was the inspiration behind Finding Sunlight?
Chrissy Holm: Since I was little, I’ve always wanted to write a book (inspired by many authors before me), and in 2018, I was hiking in the Grand Tetons, finding a million excuses not to write it. One of the people on the hike suggested one simple solution, which flipped the script in my head, and I dedicated myself to writing it. Initially, I wanted to explore why my parents divorce hit me so hard and wanted a space to reflect on why I made certain relationship choices. For many years, I felt alone in my struggle and wanted to be vulnerable and connect deeply with others.
For those who aren’t familiar with purity culture, what does that phrase mean?
Chrissy Holm: Purity culture often is related to conservative religious practices of promoting abstinence before marriage, emphasizing traditional gender roles, and discouraging any form of sexual expression outside of heterosexual marriage. Typically, there are strict rules around how one should dress (i.e., girls have long hair and wear dresses) and limited sexual education (i.e., abstinence-only approach). It also includes other ideals, such as women being responsible for men’s sexual behavior.
What advice would you give to others who are struggling to find their true selves, queer and otherwise, within the church?
Chrissy Holm: Finding your true self can be challenging in general, whether within the church, outside of it, queer, or not. So first, acknowledge that it is HARD work and self-discovery is a lifelong journey! Some things that have helped me are engaging in personal reflection (i.e., journaling and writing this book), leaning on a community that supports the multifaceted layers of me, and prioritizing my mental health and well-being (one of which I still struggle with). If you stay within the church or religion, find one that supports and affirms you. If you choose to leave, know that you can still have a meaningful spiritual life outside traditional religious institutions.
Please enjoy this excerpt from Finding Sunlight.
In the winter when I was seven, I played my first game of truth or dare with one of my church friends, Ava, and her older brother during a sleepover. He dared me to kiss him. I pecked him on the cheek and dared him to give me a token of our love: a bunch of safety pins strung with beads to look like the American flag. When I got home, I stashed it in my journal for safekeeping.
Once, Ava came over by herself. We closed my bedroom door, started the game again with a few truths, and then dived into the dares. Because dares were always more thrilling.
She leaned back in my beanbag chair and brushed her fingers through her long, dark brown hair. “I dare you to marry me.”
I paused, took a breath, and then asked, “Wait, can we do that?”
Even though I knew we were playing a game, I thought of what the pastor had said in church—love was between a woman and a man. I hadn’t fully understood what he meant by that at the time, but I wondered if God thought this was okay.
“Of course. We can pretend!”
I grinned, pushed out the thought, and agreed. I had pretended before when I was baptized.
About a year earlier, when I was six, I prayed to Jesus to be my savior. I trusted in Him, promised to be faithful, and follow in His footsteps. And though I wouldn’t admit it until more than twenty years later, part of it was also to please Dad.
A couple of months after accepting Jesus in my heart, I was baptized in front of my family and a full congregation.
In the tub behind the altar, the youth pastor dunked me underwater, signifying the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. When he lifted me out of the water, it mirrored resurrection and walking into a new life.
All that was pretend, so I could do it again with Ava.
Plus, I had a genius idea. I lifted my pointer finger to say one second and ran to my desk drawer. Inside, a fake ring sat inside a ring box. Perfect. I held it behind my back so Ava couldn’t see. I had seen men propose in Hollywood movies and knew I was prepared.
“Okay. Let’s do this!” I said and then bent down on one knee. “Ava, will you marry me?” I whipped the box from behind my back and giggled into my other hand. She gasped,
chuckled, and said yes. She said yes! Ava placed a fake veil over her face, and we strolled down the imaginary aisle toward my bed. We stood at the end, face to face.
“Okay, now what?” I asked.
She thought for a moment. “Well, when my mom got remarried, she said a lot of words. Like better and worse and richer. Err, something like that.”
I nodded and then repeated her. Afterward, I looked toward her for guidance.
“Then, I take off my veil. And you now have to kiss me. Like you did with my brother last time.”
My stomach tickled with a combination of nerves and excitement. I recalled the Hollywood marriage smooch and reflected on the kiss I had with my neighbor the previous week, boosting my confidence. Ava and I leaned in and kissed each other on the lips. A rush filled my body.
“What’s next?” I asked, excited to see what would happen.
“Well, do you know what happens on the first night?”
“We have to get under the covers, and I’ll show you.”
My stomach flipped with giddiness. We slipped into bed and flipped the covers over our heads. The warmth from her body radiated next to me.
“Okay,” she said as we settled next to each other. “I dare you to take off your pants.”
I swallowed. This seems okay, right? I quickly ignored the thought because though I was nervous and unsure, I was also enjoying it. I giggled and slipped mine off as she did the same.
“We have to take off our underwear too.”
My palms sweated, and my heart beat faster. We slid down our underwear and shifted closer to each other. Ava grazed her hand across me and then grabbed my hand to slide across her hips.
We maneuvered around, rocking our pelvises against each other. My heart lit on fire, and I had
the urge to kiss her again. I didn’t want to stop.
As if she heard my thoughts, all of a sudden, she stopped.
“That’s it! We’re married.” The actions under the covers stopped, and in a swift motion, she pulled her underwear and pants back on. She jumped out of bed, and I slithered behind, replaying the scene in my head. My pulse slowed a bit, and Ava cut off my thoughts.
“You can’t tell anyone about this, Chrissy.”
My heart sank. I sat silent, clasping my hands together.
“I, uh, I don’t think we should’ve done this,” Ava whispered.
I gulped. I trusted and believed her. “Not even Nina?” I asked about our other best friend
“No way. Especially not her.”
Nearly ten years later, Nina would post bible verses on social media and say that gay people were destined to go to Hell. Similar to what Dad preached for years, Nina would beg for “them” to repent.
Even from a young age, we knew she wouldn’t have approved of what Ava and I had done. It was the words and messages from people like Nina and Dad that put fear in me, and it was that fear that convinced me to push down my sexuality for as long as I did.
I held my breath. I wanted to keep a secret between Ava and me, so I agreed with my pinky finger.
The next time she came over, I hoped we could do it again. I craved that connection and feeling. We played truth or dare, and I kept choosing “dare” to lead us in that direction, but it never happened.
A few weeks later, Ava moved away. Before she left, she made me promise not to spill to anyone. Not my friends, my siblings, and definitely not my parents. I buried the secret into the depths of my heart. I figured I could cover it in soil and would never have to unbury this secret again.
Wise Ink Creative Publishing is a creative publishing agency for game-changers. Wise Ink authors uplift, inspire, and inform, and their titles support building a better and more equitable world. For more information, visit wiseink.com.
About the Author
Chrissy Holm (she/they) is a writer, editor, and project manager. She is the host of the podcast Stirred By Words, where she talks about words, writing, and wellness. Her writing has been featured on Everyday Health, National Council on Aging, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, and more. She is an alumni at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, where she studied Public Health Education and Promotion. Chrissy lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and daughter.
For more of Chrissy’s writing—and support on your own creative projects—connect with her on social media @chrissyholm_ or visit www.chrissyholm.com.
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