When Jen SluMac set out to write her first book, she knew she wanted to use her life’s experiences to help others.
SluMac — an Illinois native who moved to the Bay Area in 2005 and now calls Brentwood home — published her first book, “Soulnotskin: Becoming the Me I Was Meant to Be,” in April 2019. As a gay woman who grew up in the church and was the daughter of a minister, she spent her formative years trying to reconcile what she felt were conflicting messages about who she was and where she belonged. “Soulnotskin,” she says, is the story of hope she needed when she was trying to find her place.
“The main reason for this book is to tell a story that didn’t exist when I needed to find the story,” SluMac said. “I really could have used a story like this when I was struggling. The darkness can get very dark when we isolate ourselves ... and when we’re living in shame. There wasn’t a gay community that I could talk to about God, and then there wasn’t a God community that I could talk (to) about being gay. It was a very, very lonely place.”
“Soulnotskin” is based on real events in SluMac’s life, but some names have been changed, so it’s not quite a memoir.
“Everybody who I represent in the book is still alive, and many of them are still in my life,” she said. “So I’m affording them an out, if they wanted it. But also being able to tell the story, which for me happened over a good 20 years. The details don’t feel that important to me as much as creating a story that keeps humans connected.”
While SluMac discusses how her struggles led her to alcohol abuse, her story is, above all, one of hope. She has been sober since 2001 and credits much of her recovery to who she is today.
“I think my being in the ‘closet’ as a queer person ... it’s a term that we use for gay people when they’re ashamed to be who they are out loud,” she said. “Everybody on this planet has a closet. I think alcohol was my tool that I used. Fortunately, I was able to turn it around ... Little by little, I’d meet people who didn’t drink anymore, or I’d meet somebody who was out of the closet. In my book, I talk about a gay couple. They were professors on campus. They were also Christians, and they were together. I went to their house a few times, and it was overwhelming to me to see Christianity, gay, comfortable, happy and safe all in one place at one time … Those things impacted me.”
All sorts of readers are connecting with SluMac’s story. She says people who have may little in common with the parts of her she shares — as a gay woman, as someone who struggled with their place in the church or as someone who has dealt with addiction — are still relating to the book’s overall message.
“I adored this book,” Geri Baskind wrote in a review on Goodreads.com. “To see this story as simply a coming of age story does not do it justice. It is a portrait of trauma and conflict and eventual compassion for the author herself. It is also a fearless walk through the darkness into the light for those of us who can relate and an outstretched hand to those who need it.”
SluMac and her wife, Jessie, were married in 2016, and she says their relationship has been integral in the extension of her healing.
“Both of us don’t drink,” SluMac said. “She has a really close relationship with her family, and I have a really close relationship with mine. That mattered. I have a son who I adopted from my previous relationship, and she loves him, and that mattered. She walks a similar walk that I do in terms of trying to be well, stay well and help others. We try to focus on things that matter. We try to live in gratitude. Neither of us is blind to where addiction takes people. I’m grateful for everywhere that I’ve been, but I’m grateful for where I’m at.”