Author: Michelle LeClair, with Robin Gaby Fisher
$27; Berkley; 289 pages
Michelle LeClair is an openly queer Scientologist who thought she could have it all.
She was very, very wrong.
Perfectly Clear, LeClair's memoir about an adult life in Scientology followed by a life-changing revelation — that she was in love with another woman — opens with a raid. For years since leaving the church ( as she refers to it ), LeClair, her four young children and her partner have been stalked in the grocery store, outside of their schools and offices. In the prologue, the Los Angeles Police Department is invading LeClair's home in the middle of the night, bearing a search warrant, terrifying her and her family.
Yes, Scientology's reach extends to law enforcement.
With co-writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robin Gaby Fisher, LeClair chronicles her relationship with perhaps the most confounding "religion" in modern history. As an 18-year-old Los Angeles transplant by way of Oklahoma, she took a summer job as a saleswoman for a training facility that turned out to double as a Scientology recruitment facility. Young Michelle was pretty, intelligent and had a head for business: looking back, she reflects, she was a ripe candidate for Scientology from day one.
The only hiccup? Back in high school, Michelle once fooled around with another girl.
Scientologists are notoriously homophobic. As an "ethics officer" in the church explains to Michelle, "[h]omosexuals get sick easily. They get AIDS. They cannot procreate. Many have committed crimes of sexual deviance. You don't know one because they hide their crimes. Is that the group you want to be a part of?" Of course, a terrified teenage Michelle says no.
This brief and youthful tryst would haunt Michelle for decades during Scientology's notorious "auditing" sessions, during which church members must plunge the depths of their past memories. If this sounds like therapy, it isn't: first, Scientologists are notoriously anti-analysis, and second, these auditing sessions ( often conducted by young, inexperienced church members ) are meticulously recorded and filed. It's speculated in documentaries like Going Clear that famous Scientologists such as John Travolta have ultimately stayed with the church because of the dark secrets they have spilled during auditing sessions.
But Michelle's secrets would only get darker. After attaining the status of Clear ( which Scientologists define as free of the "reactive mind", and which comes with a price of thousands of dollars of courses and auditing sessions ), Michelle becomes the unofficial "poster girl" of the church. She also endures an abusive marriage to her teenage sweetheart, and grows more terrified as her small family grows. When contemplating divorce, Michelle discovers she's pregnant for the third time. But when she turns to her beloved church for help, Michelle is subject to a litany of double standards — and there's that dirty little homosexuality secret again. Michelle then meets and connects with a wealthy, intelligent music producer — who happens to be a woman — and her persecution really begins.
LeClair, who raised millions of dollars for Scientology's charity group Youth for Human Rights International, deftly exposes the church's blatant money grab from its members — often encouraging broke parishioners to open new credit cards — as well as its nasty treatment of ex-members, or SPs ( Suppressive Persons ). She tells of her own mother, who initially joined the church through a corporate recruitment program and ends up in Sea Org, the highly prestigious Scientology organization that forces its members to live in squalor and do menial tasks for a fifty dollar stipend per week. And she tells in vivid detail of the church's far-reaching influence, especially when it comes to intimidating journalists searching for the truth and fellow outspoken ex-members such as film director Paul Haggis ( who left the church after his lesbian daughter was repeatedly mistreated ).
For those like me, who are endlessly fascinated by this cult of the heart, mind and wallet, some of LeClair's details aren't new. You can't read a Wikipedia article on Scientology without learning about e-meters, silent births and Tom Cruise. What makes Perfectly Clear unique is its queer perspective. Even Haggis, one of the first celebrity ex-members to speak out against the church, can't give a personal account of what its like to be in a forbidden relationship as a Scientologist. LeClair can, and LeClair does. Even those who've read and seen Going Clear, or are familiar with Leah Remini's various anti-Scientology outlets, will be shocked by LeClair's experiences and Scientology's influence on powerful LA organizations such as the police and the district attorney's office.
Though LeClair's copious exclamation points get a little old, Perfectly Clear is a fast, fascinating read from the perspective of a gay Scientologist who survived — but just barely.