I’ve been reading Kate Bornstein’s new book and I highly recommend it. It is tremendously entertaining and often laugh out loud funny. Her transgender journey from Al Borstein to Kate Bornstein is fascinating enough but the trip detours through Scientology and the Sea Org and gives us a unique perspective of what it was like to be on the High Seas with L. Ron Hubbard. Tony Ortega did a cover story on Kate back in May for the Village Voice.
There have also been quite a few books published recently by former church members.Nancy Many, in My Billion Year Contract (2009), wrote about the mental anguish she experienced after splitting away from the church she had served for decades. In Abuse at the Top (2010), former high-ranking church executive Amy Scobee wrote that she’d been raped as a teenager by a senior executive, but the crime had been covered up. Jefferson Hawkins had one of the most unique careers in Scientology—he marketed church founder L. Ron Hubbard‘s essential text, Dianetics, as the church experienced its greatest expansion in the 1980s. His account of becoming the man who sold Scientology to the world, Counterfeit Dreams (2010), is a fascinating tale. And perhaps the most dramatic of the bunch, Marc Headley‘s escape narrative, Blown for Good (2009), turns his years working at Scientology’s secretive desert international headquarters in California into a cinematic yarn.
I’ve read them all, interviewed the authors, and talked to many other former members about their lives in the church as I’ve covered Scientology closely on the Voice‘s news blog.
And that’s why I can say with some confidence that none of these recent narratives captures and conveys the hardcore Scientology experience quite like Bornstein’s book.
Kate describes, perhaps better than anyone has before, what it was like to become a dedicated Sea Org member during Scientology’s more freewheeling heyday.
Al Bornstein joined Scientology in 1970, sailed the ship Apollo with L. Ron Hubbard in 1971 and 1972, and was driven out and declared a “suppressive person”—Scientology’s version of excommunication—in 1982. By then, his wife, Molly, whom he had met in the church, had left him and taken their daughter, Jessica, with her. Molly, Jessica, and Jessica’s son and daughter are all still members of Scientology and are required by the church’s policy to have no contact with any “SP,” including Bornstein.
And that’s why Kate has never met her own grandchildren.
In the early chapters of the book, as Kate describes growing up as Al in Interlaken, New Jersey, and trying to live up to the masculine expectations of her father, Paul Bornstein, she gradually introduces concepts about Scientology and makes Hubbard a sort of parallel figure to Paul who is lurking in the background (both manly, pudgy father figures).
Kate’s relationship to both was consuming and complex. Dad, for example, wanted a sports-minded, skirt-chasing son and was alarmed enough about young Al’s virginity that he paid a prostitute to do the honors. (Al balked and ended up talking to the girl instead.)
In college, Al fell hard for JoBeth Williams, but he slept around a lot (“I fell in love with every woman I had sex with”) and was also cruising guys so that he could feel like a girl. Having discovered tranny porn, Al increasingly nurtured his desire to look feminine and feel pretty.
By the time Al stumbled upon Scientology—at a mission in Denver following a soul-searching mountain-climbing excursion that almost ended in disaster—he’d been questioning his own ideas about men, women, boys, and girls for years.
At the Denver mission, he met a woman named Molly who started to help him understand the basic concepts of the religion: L. Ron Hubbard had discovered that we are immortal beings called thetans and that we have lived countless times before in other bodies—male and female—spanning a past that is trillions of years old. Our minds are cluttered with obscuring material—the result of past traumas—and only through Hubbard’s mind-clearing process called “auditing” could the thetan begin to see its true situation.
It was a lot to absorb, but Al was struck hard by one thing in particular about Hubbard’s scientific-sounding ideas.
“Thetans have no gender. Can you imagine a more appealing theology for someone like me?” Kate asks.
Almost immediately after posting this, I saw over at Tony Ortega’s blog that Kate is battling lung cancer. She has an update on her condition over at her blog and, as far as cancer news goes, this seems to be something the doctor’s think they can handle. Kate’s partner is making a difference in the fight, too.
The wonderful news is that the docs found it by accident, and the tumor (singular) is very very early in it’s development. The cancer is deeply embedded in the upper lobe of my right lung. That means that all the doctors have to do is take out the upper lobe of my right lung (Your left lung has two lobes, your right lung has three. Did you know that? I didn’t, not before this.) Assuming they’re right, I won’t be needing any chemo or radiation. They’ll just take out the chunk of lung that has the tumor, along with the lymph nodes that are hooked up to my right lung, et voila! Healthy Auntie. And the funnest part of this news? The surgeon is gonna use ROBOTS to do the surgery!! How cool is that?
I’ve been through batteries of tests over the last couple of weeks. They show that my lungs are super strong, and my heart’s in great shape. So, I’ve got a green light for surgery. The date is set for October 25th—with 3 to 5 days recovery in the hospital afterwards. Given that my immune system is already compromised by my CLL (chronic lymphatic leukemia), it’ll most likely be the full five days, and I’ll be out in time for Halloween! Then, it’ll be another couple of weeks recovering at home, and I’ll be up and around and back to pro wrestling. I’ve always wanted to give pro wrestling a try.
Read her full health report over at her blog.