Former Scientologist shares her saga of leaving the church after coming out.
Looking back on the more than two decades she spent devoting an ever-increasing portion of her life — and her income — to the Church of Scientology, Michelle LeClair experiences a broad range of emotions.
Embarrassment that she was duped into following what she now calls a cult. Worry for those still caught in the web. Relief that she is finally free.
“It feels like another life, someone else’s story,” said LeClair, whose memoir, “Perfectly Clear: Escaping Scientology and Fighting for the Woman I Love,” was released in September and details her time in the church and the aftermath she had to deal with when she left.
LeClair was the poster girl for Scientology, a successful businesswoman who rose through the ranks after joining as a teenager and often served as a spokeswoman. She estimates she donated about $5 million to the church.
Now she’s one of a growing number of ex-Scientologists who are sharing their story — along with the likes of actress Leah Remini — even as the church fights back.
And the church fights dirty.
The Church of Scientology was founded in 1953 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, and some of its roots might have been planted in Savannah. Hubbard lived in Savannah in 1948, volunteering as a counselor in hospitals and mental wards. “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health,” the book upon which the Church of Scientology was founded, started circulating in 1949 and was officially released in 1950.
The church uses its far-reaching tentacles through its companies to recruit new members, especially preying on the young and naive, critics say. LeClair’s mother became involved with the church after working for one of those companies and later recruited her 19-year-old daughter for a job — and eventually to join the church.
New members’ initial auditing sessions are not unlike a therapy session or self-improvement course, and LeClair said she came away from those early sessions feeling great and eager for more.
But rising through the various levels of Scientology — first to attain “clear” status, then to ascend through the Operating Thetan or “OT” levels — requires a seemingly endless stream of auditing and church coursework, all of which is quite costly. Donating to the church gives a Scientologist even more influence, and LeClair rose to L11 status and donated an estimated $5 million during her 20-plus years in the church.
Even when she questioned something in Hubbard’s teachings or a church policy, LeClair was conditioned to see it as a flaw within herself, not Scientology.
“It’s human nature to have a really difficult time saying I’ve changed my mind or something has changed my mind,” she says. “It’s OK to change. It’s OK to wake up one day and say this is not right for me.”
After years of repressing her own sexuality through the church’s “auditing” sessions, which in LeClair’s case wound up acting as a form of gay conversion therapy, she challenged the church’s stance on homosexuality (which it claims to have struck down decades ago, but others insist it still enforces) after falling in love with record producer Tena Clark.
She choose love, and the church didn’t take it well.
“I knew the rules, but I recklessly talked myself into believing that, because I was a top donor, contributing millions to the church, my relationship with a woman would be tolerated, or at least ignored,” LeClair wrote in the opening chapter of her book. “I couldn’t have been more mistaken.”