Children of Scientology: Life After Growing Up in an Alleged Cult - 2019-06-24
Scientologists have special words for the people gathered at a sleek Airbnb townhouse on a mild day in September. They're irrational, or "banky." They're putting off bad vibes, or being "downtone." They're full of negative energy, or "chargey," and they won't contain it — they won't "get their TRs in." But the people sprawling on the living room's vinyl wraparound couch don't use those words to describe themselves anymore. Growing up in Scientology, they say they were constantly told to be stoic. Now that they've left, they're tired of jargon about repressing emotion. Instead, they're looking for new words to describe themselves—new ways to express the psychological consequences of their upbringing—and they've traveled all the way to Brooklyn to tell their stories. They've already landed on one new way to think about themselves—a phrase that helps illuminate why it's so hard for them feel things. They call themselves the Children of Scientology. Psychologists call them SGAs, or Second Generation Adults.
Christi Gordon is an SGA, meaning that she — like everyone she's invited today — grew up immersed in Scientology before eventually cutting ties. SGAs aren't like people who join and leave cults as adults. "Many first gens choose to leave their families," Gordon explains, "but ours were stolen from us. Scientology hijacked our parents' hearts, minds and time, and it hijacked our childhoods." Gordon was never taught how to be a kid. Instead, she was expected to be what Scientologists like to call an "adult in a small body," taking care of herself, by herself, and repressing the fear, grief and loneliness that came with that. She says the experience is like bending over your whole life, trying to avoid hitting a ceiling someone assures you is there. And once you realize there is no ceiling, you've already grown up crooked. Gordon believes that people transitioning out of Scientology don't just need a home, or a job—although they often need that. They also need a support group, a community where people can put new words to real emotions and experiences. And that's what the meetup today is all about.
As more people leave Scientology, more people like Gordon are speaking out. They call the church a cult, and claim that it uses the promise of self-improvement to control and abuse its members. They also accuse the Sea Org — an elite group of the religion's most dedicated members — of being a front for forced labor and surveillance, and criticize the church for tearing apart families, demanding that parents disconnect from children who oppose the religion. As these accusations have snowballed, the church has held its ground, continuing to deny that the church has anything to do with forced labor and family separations. It claims that its beliefs and practices help members to "freely experience their emotions and live life to the fullest." It calls the Children of Scientology an "anti-religious hate group," full of people that they say have a vendetta against the church, and accuses this magazine of "pandering to anti-Scientology propaganda" by publishing the group's claims. But for Gordon, Children of Scientology isn't about hate, or vengeance. After a lifetime of bending over, Gordon is trying to show others — and herself — that it's possible to unkink what's crooked so they can finally stand up straight.