Today on the site, I’m welcoming Chrissy Holm, author of the new memoir Finding Sunlight, to discuss find herself and her bisexuality after being raised in purity culture. Here’s a little more on the book:
In the inspirational coming-of-age memoir Finding Sunlight (Wise Ink, September 2023), Chrissy Holm separates the pressures of purity culture from all the possibilities of meaningful love. Homeschooled at church and raised by a devout father, Chrissy suppressed her bisexuality and followed all the teachings of purity culture. But when she turned sixteen, her parent’s divorce flipped the script. Devastated and unsure of her values, Chrissy embarked on a long journey, often making mistakes, until she figured out just exactly who she is and what she believes in. Raw and hopeful, this liberating memoir is an intimate look at figuring out how to forgive–and love–after purity culture.
Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon
And here’s the post!
Imagine soaring in the sky on a hot air balloon ride with an ex-boyfriend, wondering if you should’ve married him while also being interested in pursuing someone else. You feel like you know what you’re doing, yet floating up there, you feel unstable and unable to get down. For me, that state of confusion–while thousands of feet in the air–stemmed from purity culture.
When I was a kid in the ’90s and early ‘00s, I learned from my church that dating was only intended for marriage. That I needed to “remain pure” and abstain from sex before marriage. As a woman, it meant succumbing to traditional gender roles and submitting to men. And it meant that it was a sin to love anyone of the same sex.
But I knew deep down, after a game of truth or dare with one of my friends who was a girl, that this meant I also had to hide my sexuality and desires. As I continued life, I was homeschooled at my church and learned more about “God’s will” and how I could abide by it.
Flash forward a few years when I attended a purity conference with my mom and sisters, where speakers talked about making decisions about relationships and sexual health. They encouraged us to maintain purity, especially in a world that promotes sexual promiscuity. One speaker in particular focused on how she became a grandmother at age thirty-six and blamed it on generations of sex before marriage.
Though romantic relationships were forbidden in my house until I was sixteen, I still sought out connections with boys. And with every relationship I entered, I had to imagine it was my intention to marry them, even at a young age. I also needed to satisfy them and address their needs, as mine came last. And yet, when I had moments of attraction to women sprinkled throughout my teenage years, I had to hide in shame in hopes that no one would discover my secret. If I forced myself not to think about it, I would be safe, and God wouldn’t send me to Hell.
When I turned fifteen, I dated someone who I eventually lost my virginity to. Instantly, I felt shame, guilt, and like I had failed as a Christian. I was going to Hell, and nothing would save me — not even Jesus, whom I had accepted into my heart when I was six. At seventeen and eighteen, I kissed two girls, and those small moments allowed me to slowly unbury that part of who I was, though it would take many more years to express it out loud.
More clarity would start to arrive as I headed to college a few months after breaking up with my boyfriend and the hot air balloon ride. At school, I learned the differences between sex and gender. I learned about gender roles, societal expectations, and sexuality. During lectures about cohabitation, my throat would close, and my stomach would churn, but I realized that it was okay to live together and be in a sexual relationship without being married. It was the first time I had accepted and understood that.
In my college relationships, each moment I embraced sex or intimacy before marriage, I still felt in the pit of my gut telling me it was wrong. But yet, I kept learning and continued embracing my desires. The second night I met my now-husband, we had sex. I had come a long way beyond shame and confusion, and for the first time in my adult life, I felt empowered.
Over the next several years, I learned more about well-being, spirituality, and sexuality. I prioritized my health, set boundaries, sought therapy, and found ways to practice self-compassion. I spent time in nature, hiked, and connected with people who understood the harm of restrictive religion.
On one of those long hiking trips, one person inspired me to dedicate myself to writing a book, a passion of mine since I was little. Over the following five years, my memoir became a space to heal and reflect on these aspects of my life — sex, love, purity, religion, sexuality, and more. And though I stepped away from the church, I built a community and found acceptance and empowerment in who I am. I finally had the courage to share and no longer hide my queer identity.
While there still may be flashes of shame and guilt that sit in my body, it’s finally freeing to know that I can connect the dots and understand where that’s coming from. It’s liberating to know that I can feel stable, get down from that hot air balloon ride, and ground myself with greater clarity.
Chrissy Holm (she/they) is a writer, editor, and project manager. She is the host of the podcast Stirred By Words, where she interviews guests and discusses words, writing, and wellness. Her writing has been featured on Everyday Health, National Council on Aging, 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.