I'm intermittently closeted. I'm not out to anyone except a handful of friends as far as queerness is concerned, though I don't make any effort to hide it or self-censor around strangers. But coming out has generally resulted in weird interrogations about whether I've had surgery, or whether liking women involves literal attraction (for seriously) and suggestions that I'm somehow reinforcing the sex-gender binary by associating a masculine appearance with a masculine personality. So instead, I'm going to talk about coming out as an atheist to my parents.
My scientologist parents.
Warning: this post contains some religious jargon that you probably have not encountered. I'll attempt to point it out with quotes etc., but it comes naturally to me so I may not catch myself. Let me know in comments if there's a word or phrase that needs further clarification.
My mother grabbed my shoulders. It was fairly late in the day, and I had been busted doing something or other that 17 year olds tend to do. "You chose me. You need to listen to my guidance."
As scientologists, my parents raised me to believe that we are all immortal fragments of an abstracted awareness of awareness that caused the MEST (that is, "Matter, Energy, Space, and Time") universe, forgot it did that, and thus became the effect of its own cause. We are not our physical bodies (also called Genetic Entities). Instead we inhabit bodies of our own choosing. L. Ron Hubbard didn't die; he just left his body and moved on. Similarly when we die, we will not cease to exist, but will be able to go find new bodies. My cats, when they died, frequently came back to our family as other cats. One cat in particular has had four or five incarnations.
Much of scientology is about returning to 'cause,' the state where you have ultimate control over MEST. In scientology, the clearer you are, the more power you have. You can postulate – like praying, but not to a deity – what you want to happen and what happened in the past, and by doing so, you can actually reshape it. You can 'as-is' objects and make them vanish. Once, I inadvertently did this to a set of holographic pokemon cards. Six months later, they poofed back on my shelf like a massive quantum fluctuation. I had to be careful to not fully grok any object – to constantly alter-is, so that existence would persist.
Illness was a transient spiritual crisis. When I was a child, my father suffered a traumatic brain injury. After his recovery, he underwent scientology 'processing' to figure out why he had 'pulled in' the illness. My mother spent many years trying to hold our family together with a partner she no longer recognized and two very young children who had their own difficulties as well.
The night I came out, we'd had a massive ARC break. ARC stands for Affinity-Reality-Communication, and, the story goes, if one of those three things diminishes, so do the other two. We no longer shared the 'reality' that scientology was true (everyone gets their own version of reality), and my mother was trying to communicate and was showing affinity by holding my shoulders to repair it.
You have to understand, I was taught all my life that before my birth, I had deliberately chosen my mother to be my mother in this life. And she had chosen it also. I had previously tried to be born a decade earlier, but the pregnancy didn't come to term. She has told me she feels guilty for not having me sooner – and that this is why I am always angry with her. I had been waiting along the sidelines of her life to be born for some great purpose. I had, after all, chosen a scientologist family. Clearly I was a more powerful being than the average baby. My prodigious absorption of language and literacy actually reinforced this, because of the special place words and literacy hold in the church (one ability attained through scientology is "superliteracy." Another is "the ability to converse effectively with anyone on any subject.")
Here's Hubbard conversing with a tomato. "Tomatoes," he said, apparently, "scream when sliced."
"Mom, I'm atheist." She knew I was atheist, actually. But what I said next damaged our relationship in an irreparable way. "I don't believe that bullshit."
"You don't believe you chose me?!" I'll never forget how wounded she sounded. It was, for her, a complete and utter repudiation of the spiritual bond I'd once felt, that she taught me would always be there. At that point, I hadn't really believed in it for several years, but seeing my mother's face when I told her I was no longer scientologist hurt. The closest analogy would be the fear a parent feels that their child has renounced Jesus and is destined for hell.
Our relationship has recovered somewhat in the years since then, but though she knows I do not believe I have the power to heal myself and that I'm not on a mission from Theta to rescue this prison planet from the tone of death, she'll sneak scientology jargon in here and there. It used to bother me, but we have this uncomfortable detente now where I'll politely listen and then try to hcange the subject. If I'm injured or upset, she'll offer to do a touch assist. If I bang my head, I still will instinctively go through the ritual of the 'contact assist,' where you immediately touch the injury, in this case my head, to whatever you banged it against. If you do it quickly enough, you'll give the injury back to the object. There are many other things about me that stem from my upbringing, things that will probably never leave me. The scientology cosmology still feels instinctively true, though I know rationally that the universe is not old enough for Xenu.
Oh, and like most scientologists, I was never taught about Xenu.
The featured image is of the members of the Sea Org, a scientology organization. This is the one with the billion-year contracts and did involve actual yachts. Hubbard's personal guard , a cadre of 16 year old scientologist-raised girls, on these yachts were called the Commodore's Messengers (Hubbard himself insisted on being called The Commodore). My parents met in the Sea Org.