Kate Bornstein's former life in Scientology

First aired on Day 6 (22/06/12)

Kate Bornstein is a transsexual writer, performance artist and outspoken activist. But that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of her fascinating life. She spent more than a decade as a member of the Church of Scientology, even becoming one of the organization's highest-ranking members. In her new memoir Queer and Pleasant Danger, Bornstein opens up about her time in the controversial group and how her life has been since she was excommunicated.

kate-bornstein.jpgBornstein was born in 1948 in New Jersey and was raised in a conservative Jewish home. But she never felt comfortable with being male, she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury. In the late 1960s, Bornstein had been struggling with gender identity, fighting the desire to live as a female, and had been exploring different philosophies and religions, including Zen Buddhism. Then she found Scientology.

One of the central concepts in Scientology is that humans derive their identities from thetans, immortal spiritual beings that inhabit the body. Bodies may have genders, but thetan souls don't. Bornstein became enamoured with this idea and quickly found herself deep into Scientology. She wasn't open about her transgender identity with most of her fellow members, believing the church's canon to be homophobic and transphobic, but she proved to be a dedicated follower and worked her way up the ranks. Bornstein became first mate on the private yacht of leader L. Ron Hubbard.

"He was daddy and he was charismatic," Bornstein said of the late novelist and Scientology founder. "I won't say he was charming. He wasn't an attractive man. He was big and he was imposing. He didn't indulge himself except in his indulgence of power. He bossed everybody around and that must have fed the guy."

She recalls sailing around the coast of Portugal and Morocco, delving deeper into Scientology, and feeling a sense of belonging. Bornstein even fathered a daughter with another member.

"[Critics of Scientology] laughed in my face and that was just fine because I knew I was right.
People talk about the science fiction element of Scientology and that's actually one of the good elements. It was a great adventure. We were saving planet Earth. What it all came down to though is that he wasn't a very good science fiction writer. Pretty poor. And there are so many more better science fiction writers that don't need to make a religion out of their work."

Bornstein eventually became disillusioned with Scientology and was increasingly interested in seeking gender confirmation surgery. When she decided to leave she was accused of being a spy and a "suppressive person" intent on harming the reputation of Scientology. Bornstein was excommunicated and barred from seeing the family she'd been part of as a male.

queer-pleasant-cover.jpg"That was trauma. My whole life was shattered. Every friend I had, my daughter, an ex-wife, a current wife, they were all gone to me. I was shunned by everyone. I was so scared and I had nothing. All I could do was go home to my parents."

Bornstein set to rebuilding her life. During this process, she found that she enjoyed being around non-Scientologists more than the people she had spent much of her life with. "Not to say that Scientologists are bad people, but to say they are driven and their priorities don't include you unless you are also saving the planet."

Bornstein still does not see her daughter, who is a Scientologist, and part of her motivation for penning this memoir was to send a message to her.

"I'd like to let her know that her dad is out here and that my door is open for her if she ever wants it."

And does she expect that day to ever come?

"I'm not holding out any high hopes for that."