Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein

A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein.  Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.  247 pps on an e-reader

I first encountered Kate Bornstein via one of her other books called Gender Outlaw.  I liked it a lot and was thus pleasantly surprised to find A Queer and Pleasant Danger.  This latest book is a treasure.  Kate addresses her life in Scientology's Sea Org as a male, her transgenderism, family relationships, her ongoing bout of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (C.L.L.) and her gender identity with equal aplomb.

Kate was born in a male body and Jewish.  Kate found her way through childhood and adolescence in Jersey haphazardly.  In Denver she encountered some young Scientologists who had a message and pizza.  Being trans, Kate was sold on the idea that she was a thetan assuming a human identity.  Since thetans were also purported to be genderless, that solved Kate's gender dilemma for a bit.  She hung out at the Scientology org in Denver, took a few courses there, and then converted, went off to Sea Org where she lived on the large Scientology cruise ship, got promoted a few times and got married.  Once her first wife Molly got pregnant, they were commissioned to start an org in New York City.  The hotel where they had their offices was a dive and people kept flying past their offices on the way down to death on the sidewalk below.  The baby came and life went on that way for a couple of years.  Kate's first wife was ordered to the West Coast when their baby girl was two years old.  When their baby was four, she boarded a plane to visit with her mum [Kate's first wife] and never returned.  Mexican divorce papers came shortly after that.

Kate and wife number two found each other as both continued to work for Scientology.  Through a series of promotions, Kate found herself traveling all over.  There was a problem at a Swiss bank.  Kate was then ordered to return stateside where she faced officers from Scientology's financial police org in Clearwater Florida.  After hours upon hours on the e-meter, she was informed that she could opt for three years of hard labor or leave Scientology.  She had a neck problem by then which was painful so she chose to leave.  She was excommunicated and packed out.  Kate gave her second wife the car-- she was now considered an S.P., or suppressive person-- and went back to her childhood home with her parents.

Kate's dad who was a medical doctor promptly began treating Kate's neck problem  Kate slept a lot and after a bit got up and began to do life again.  Several months later, Kate was offered the opportunity to return to Scientology in good standing.  She was told that the financial police org was corrupt and was now a goner.  She declined and got on with life.  Kate read some decent science fiction [that is to say not any sci fi by L. Ron Hubbard which some percentage of us sci fi freaks consider to be garbage or at least substandard], got into acting, went through gender reassignment, mourned her daughter who she is not allowed to speak to, became an activist, wrote books, fell in love a few times with various women, got in touch with the idea that she prefers to be the masochist in the S & M lifestyle.  Today she identifies as a tranny rather than as male or female.  This of course irks bunches of people such as some trangenderists as well as bunches of lesbians and Pope Benedict.  Kate has decided to her credit that she is NOT inherently dangerous.

sapphoq reviews says: Anyone who does not care for reading about happy transgenderist folks probably should skip this book.  Folks who enjoyed Kate Bornstein's other books and/or who are fans of Pat Califa [that's a big yes from me on both counts] will like this different and fascinating take on life as a Scientologist and life as an ex-Scientologist.  Highly recommended.

Cult: A Love Story, Alexandra Amor

Cult, A Love Story (Ten Years Inside a Canadian Cult and the Subsequent Long Road of Recovery), Alexandra Amor.  Smashwords, 2011.
511 pps on e-reader, including footnotes, a glossary of loaded words, resources, and appendix.

Author Alexandra Amor chose to tell her story of cult involvement by utilizing a changed name for the woman who is the leader.  In the book, the leader is referred to as Limori.  In early chapters, Limori appears as a benign but somewhat wigged out psychic teacher of meditation to a small circle of Vancouverites one night a week.  Limori channels.  The identity of the channeling spirit is at first the light of "God".  But something changes and Limori becomes the mouthpiece of "God".  Amor does not possess enough self-trust to identify Limori as a malevolent leader and so she stays on.  

The meditators get used to Limori's outlandish claims in varying degrees and begin to accept her as their guru-- chief human in charge of their spiritual development and as the one who is in tune with "God" and able to speak to what this "God's" will is.  The "God" that Limori claims to channel has many opinions, chiefly involving any wealth obtained by any of the group members and its redistribution to Limori but also including more mundane happenstance such as who shall sleep with who this week.  Limori and her followers eventually wind up at a fishing resort/meditation center left to one of her followers in a will, although of course "God" wants the will for the camp to be signed over to Limori's name.

Alexandra Amor doesn't like it when Limori singles her out for special negative attention.  [She is not real fond of some of Limori's special "rewarding" attention either].  Limori is given to chastising members in front of other members and punishing them in various ways. Still she remains as an unpaid staffer of Limori's camp, just like everyone else.  Amor leaves after Limori steals away her lover by divine commandment.  

sapphoq reviews says: Cult: A Love Story  was difficult to read because the author is very skilled at conveying her pain and distress during the ten years or so that she was involved with Limori and Limori's cult.  Amor is very knowledgeable about her subject matter and taught me how to tell the difference between a religion or organization that has symptoms of being cultish or cult like and one that doesn't.  She refers to The Guru Papers and also to books by Robert Lifton and by Steven Hassan.  Cult: A Love Story points up the danger of accepting another human being as one who has a special hot-line to the deity of choice without question, thus yielding to authoritarian rule.

Amor does not leave the reader with a few words about how she got out of the cult.  Instead, she gives information from experts in the field of freeing people from thought control.  She also indicates that she has herself done the work required to free herself as suggested in the following paragraph which I quote from her book:

          pp.406-407    "Time alone heals nothing.  Let's be
          clear about that right up front.  Walking away from
          any sort of traumatic experience, including being in
          a cult, and pretending that it didn't happen will leave
          your wounds festering and weeping forever...healing
          is work and we have to work at it and if we don't, no
         matter how many years pass, it will be as if the trauma                       happened yesterday."

I highly recommend this book without hesitation to anyone who has been caught in a cult, large or small, as well as to students of psychology and those who have a personal stake (such as family members belonging to a malignant group) in the subject matter.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

Jesus Land (A Memoir) , Julia Scheeres.  Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2005. e-book, 274 pps.

Julia Scheeres is from a white fundamentalist Christian family.  They lived in Indiana, mother, father, a coupla kids.  Dad made a good living as a surgeon.  Her mom and dad wanted to adopt a kid, but the agency said the kid they wanted was already taken.  The agency pointed out that there was a bunch of black kids in need of a home.  Being Christians and all, mom and dad felt like they could not refuse to adopt a kid on the basis of his skin tone.  First they adopted David, a child a year younger than Julia.  Then they adopted an older black boy so David would have someone else in the family who was black.

Prejudice runs deep even in religious places.  David and his brother attracted their share of nasty comments from the other school kids.  Julia and David stuck up for each other and were fairly inseparable.  Eventually there were several falling outs and the Scheeres adults decided to dump David at a fundamentalist Christian school called Escuela Caribe in the Dominican Republic.  This school was run with the assumption that all of the teens attending there were messed up and evil and had done stuff like having premarital sex and thus deserved to be there.  Julia was astonished to find her mother clearing out David's room one day.  That was the day that Julia learned that David was being x'ed out of her parents' lives on a permanent basis, good Christians that they were.

After a bit, Julia's parents discovered that she had premarital sex with a boy.  She wound up being dumped off at Escuela Caribe as well.  The school sucked.  There was abuse there, just as there had been at Julia's home in Indiana.  Julia and David both got out after a time.  Julia found that she was no longer a Christian.  I won't tell you what happened with David.

sapphoq reviews says: Jesus Land is an outstanding memoir.  It illustrates what happens when religious dogma becomes more important than loving others.  Highly recommended.

Escaping Cult Entrapment by Gabriella Gallo

Escaping Cult Entrapment: (Our Journey to Victory), Gabriella Gallo.  Bloomington, IN.:WestBow Press: 2012.    e-book, 190 pps.

Escaping Cult Entrapment is about one cult: The Children of God which later changed its' name to The Family or The Family International.  This book is a testament to the author's mother.  The author's parents (the Santinos) were young and poor with a couple of kids and one on the way.  A commune ran by The Children of God took them in.  Sometimes the mom wanted to stay in the cult and sometimes the dad did.  The dad was into flirty fishing and sharing partners.  Mom wasn't.  They lived in a few C.O.G. communes and in a bus and at times in a car.  There were some more kids born and the Santino family became COG missionaries in Mexico.  Dad dumped Mom with all of the kids and took off for parts unknown.  After a couple of false starts, Mom and all nine kids settled in Texas in their own rickety trailer.  They were firmly out of the cult by then and a local non-cultish Christian church helped them fix up their trailer.  The author and her brothers and sisters grew up.  Through the actions of a younger now adult sister, their dad was found to be living in another country with a new wife and nine more kids and still in The Children of God cult.

Throughout all of the bad stuff and the poverty, the author's mother remained committed to her children and did the best she knew how with them.

sapphoq reviews says: Gabriella Gallo says she is not a professional writer.  She more than succeeded at communicating her experiences growing up as a child in a cult and later a child out of a cult.  Highly recommended to any former members of The Children of God and anyone else interested in reading about cults.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Saving the Schizo Kid, Waln K. Brown

Saving the Schizo Kid: (Reflections on Divorce, Mental Health, and Recovery), Waln K. Brown.  Tallahassee: William Gladden Foundation Press, 2011.  approx. 1 mg on an e-reader.

Waln K. Brown is the founder and C.E.O. of the Willian Gladden Foundation located in Tallahassee Florida and on the web at  .

Harrisburg State Hospital is still in operation.  Several years ago, on our way to the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers Conference, some friends and I met there to wait for the next chartered bus.  One friend had spent several years there once, and then another almost-year some time later after going off of her psych meds.  [N.B. the Citizens Conmission on Human Rights with its' vigorous anti-shrink and anti-psych meds stance is an organization which is run by Scientology].  She pointed out various buildings to the rest of us.  We studied what patients we could see, the carefully manicured lawns, the unappetizing smells belching from some kitchen window.  At the conference we did a skit about a cockroach funeral on the ward.  Only it wasn't a fiction.  It happened.  My friend had lived it.

Waln K. Brown had also been there, to Harrisburg State Hospital.  He was escorted there by the police.  Harrisburg State Hospital had been vetted to Brown's divorcing parents as a place where their troubled son could get the help that he needed with his temper.  And so the decision was made.

sapphoq reviews says: Saving the Schizo Kid was all the more real to me because my friend had also been there as a patient.  I never got the chance to ask her if she knew Waln K. Brown-- she is dead now.  Waln K. Brown's authentic voice rings clearly throughout the pages of this book.  Highly recommended to those with an interest in personal mental health stories.

Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman

Inside Scientology: (the Story of America's Most Secretive Religion), Janet Reitman.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.  approx. 424 pps., inc. bibliography.

Inside Scientology is a thorough history of Scientology and an introduction to many of its' key players.

sapphoq reviews says: Anyone who is reading any books written by ex-Scientologists will do well to also read this book.  Although this review is short on words, I highly recommend Inside Scientology.

My Billion Year Contract by Nancy Many

My Billion Year Contract (Memoir of a former Scientologist),
Nancy Many.  Somewhere in California: C.N.M. Publishing, 2009.  approx. 360 pps.

Prior to reading My Billion Year Contract, I knew very little about Scientology.  I'd heard that a relative of an acquaintance had mortgaged and re-mortgaged her home in order to pay for Scientology courses.  She lost that home, I'd heard.  And I knew that Scientologists do something called "auditing" with something like a lie detector in order to "clear" out junk in someone's psyche.  And I had read about Lisa McPherson's death.  I knew that there was a bunch of Scientologists living in Clearwater, Florida.  And that the guy who made it all up was a sci fi author.  [N.B.  I consider all religions to have person or persons behind them who "made it all up"]. And that the collective Anonymous stage lots of protests against Scientology because of human rights and censorship issues within the organization.  And that the higher up Scientologists have a rep for throwing lawsuits and harassment at their detractors.  But not a whole lot more than that.  I didn't know about the Sea Org or the Rehabilitation Project Force or even about the traveling ship.  My Billion Year Contract provided me quite an education along with a feel for how things were for Nancy Many when she was a Scientologist.

Nancy Many had her first known encounter with Scientologists at an Org in Boston.  Within months, she joined up with the Sea Org, signing the typical billion year contract.  She immersed herself in her work, dropping out of college.  Nancy was shuttled to orgs in California, New York, and Clearwater Florida.  She got married and got pregnant.  When she was two months pregnant, she was ordered to undergo a "voluntary" stint on the punitive Rehabilitation Project Force (R.P.F.).  Folks in R.P.F. slept on bunk beds in a crowded room in a basement, wore a dark jumpsuit, and were assigned to menial tasks like scrubbing toilet bowls.  After her son was born, she was assigned once again to R.P.F.  Only this time she and her husband both refused to sign the paperwork noting that their transfers to the R.P.F. were voluntary.  After a few days, Nancy Many and her husband departed, taking their young son with them.

Working in Sea Org is not a great way to make money.  Sea Org workers are generally paid less than fifty dollars a week.  Nancy and her husband were virtually penniless.  Family and friends helped them get on their feet after they left the Sea Org.

As a Scientology, Nancy had gone through numerous auditing sessions utilizing a quasi-lie detector known as an E-meter.  She had a psychotic-like break during one of her sessions.  In contacting other ex-Scientologists, she came to understand that there were others who had had similar breaks with reality during an auditing session.  The lack of compassion exhibited by her auditors plus the death of Lisa McPherson caused some cognitive dissonance which Nancy could no longer ignore.  Once Nancy got free of Scientology, she has helped other folks looking for their way out.

sapphoq reviews says: Nancy Many is very courageous in openly discussing what happened to her along with some of the whys.  My Billion Year Contract gave me a sense of Nancy Many as a human being.  Highly recommended to folks who are interested in controlling leaders and groups and to folks who like to read autobiographies dealing with emotions.

Kingpin by Kevin Poulsen

Kingpin (how one hacker took over the billion-dollar cybercrime underground), Kevin Poulsen.  New York: Crown Publishing, 2011.  approx. 288 pps.

N.B.  Kevin Poulsen is currently the news editor at the Wired website .  He has served his time in prison for his hacking crimes and thus has paid his debt to society. Poulsen deserves many kudos for writing the code which identified a bunch of convicted pedoheads on something which some employee or other of MySpace had stated publicly could not be done-- back around 1995 or so.

Carding is the act of stealing credit card data with or without the reproduction of fake credit cards and fake i.d.s to go with them.  It is a crime that the public in general may not know an awful lot about.  I've seen one brief mention on a television show about frauds.  It was a shot of a waitress using a device to steal the credit card numbers off the cards of her customers.  She ran the card through the device after pretending to drop the card on the floor.  As she picked up the card, she slid it along the back of her shoe before going off to the register with the card.  There is a whole lot more than that to carding.  There are forums with dumps-- list of credit card numbers-- for sale along with R.D.I.F. makers, card makers, hologram makers.  There are folks being paid to swipe cards in order to steal numbers like the waitress on teevee.  And folks who use the fake cards in stores to buy high end merchandise.  The merchandise is then exchanged for money.  The receiver will then sell the high end merchandise on various black markets.

Kingpin introduces the readers to Max Butler, the man behind the Max Vision legend who took over several carding boards and made a ton of money doing it.  Unfortunately, Butler left behind two wives and the possibility of a decent future on the outside of prison walls.

sapphoq reviews says: Because Poulsen was himself at one time a hacker involved in criminal activity [Not all hackers are criminals], Kingpin lacks the preachy tone that other tomes about cybercrimes possess in strident abundance.  Kingpin is fast-paced and gives a good feel for the world of carders and their ilk.  Highly recommended to techies and true crime aficionados.

Freedom of Mind by Steven Hassan

Freedom of Mind: (Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs), Steven Hassan.  Newton, Mass: Freedom of Mind Press, 2012.  approx. 266 pps. inc. extensive footnotes.

N.B.  Steven Hassan has a website at which is very much worth checking out.

At age 19, Steven Hassan was recruited into the Moonies.  After he got out, he began to help others to exit cults.  He has developed a system which does not involve kidnapping cult members and keeping them locked up in hotel rooms with one or more programmers.  He offers counseling which goes beyond "exit counseling" for former cult members who are endeavoring to live their lives free and apart from their cults.  Steven Hassan is a recognized authority regarding cults and their negative influences on their members and on the non-cult families of their members.  

I really learned a lot from this book.  I have a close friend who is currently heavily involved in a pseudo Hindu cult.  The biggest takeaway for me was to listen respectfully to her telling of her mystical experiences and to gently help her tap into her non-cult self memories when able.  Freedom of Mind taught me how to distinguish movements that rob folks of their free will from those that don't.  [N.B. Many religions are not cults].  Through the website, I was able to identify specifically which group she belongs to.

I myself in younger days narrowly avoided being sucked in by The Children of God a.k.a. The Family a.k.a. The Family International but I did spend a couple of years seesawing between drugs and fundie Jesus.  Several kids in the high school I attended were heavily involved in C.O.G.  One had taken me to a commune in a dark rambling warehouse somewhere in lower Manhattan.  She showed me some Mo letters and talked about flirty fishing.  Flirty fishing was too much for me.  I couldn't see how screwing horny businessmen for fundie Jesus was Biblical [It's not].  And I didn't buy the argument that once a businessman from a foreign country slept with a C.O.G., his soul would automatically become ripe for the picking.  Another classmate killed herself after her family had painted over the Psalm verses she had stenciled on her bedroom walls.  A third one learned Chinese in order to "disappear behind the Iron Curtain" and win souls for fundie Jesus.

In Freedom of Mind, Steven Hassan carefully reviewed the four major types of cults-- a religious cult is just one of the four types-- and the signs that a given group may have some cultish features.  He explained several varied approaches to the loved one who is involved in a cult.  Instead of "deprogramming", Hassan urged his readers to treat their family member or friend with respect and love.  Hassan suggested a series of mini-interventions which are far more casual than those popularized on television to get someone suffering from addictions to agree to go into treatment.  I was able to forgive his frequent mention of his own availability as a professional.  Folks who are worried about a loved one being under the control of a toxic leader need someone to say, "Hey there is help for this and I can help you."

sapphoq reviews says: Freedom of Mind has information and clear illustrations which make this book a valuable addition to the library of anyone who has a loved one in a cult.

Your Next-Door Neighbor is a Dragon by Zack Parsons

Your Next-Door Neighbor is a Dragon: (A Guided Tour of the Internet's Strange Subcultures and Weird Realities), Zach Parsons.  New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2009.  approx 272 pps.

Zach Parsons of has written a horrifying and humorous book.  Your Next-Door Neighbor is a Dragon deals with some of the Internet denizens that I've also encountered-- fake alarmist medical "doctors," Otherkin, and furries-- and a bunch that I haven't.  I found the fake alarmist medical "doctors" to be annoying, especially with their use of pseudo-science.  I've found the furries to be sweet-- even if some of them are hung up on yiffing.  And the Otherkin I've interacted with were all well-spoken and well-educated, unlike the ones in Parsons' book.  I'm glad that I haven't met the two Otherkin detailed in the book.

There was a rather adolescent Dragonkin in the book and an older fella who fancied himself as an elf.  Both claimed exceptional powers.  As is the case with many folks wanting to be special snowflakes, they both failed miserably when it came time to demonstrate their otherworldly powers that each of them had boasted about.

sapphoq reviews says: Parts of the book ran a bit slowly for me.  Nevertheless, Parsons' book produced quite a few belly laughs.  Recommended for all who like the something awful website.