My thetan and I aren't exactly on speaking terms
September 3, 2009 10:55 AM   Subscribe

I was raised a Scientologist. Is there any way to casually mention this or should I just keep it to myself?

My parents, who are lovely people, were quite active in Scientology throughout my childhood, and, by default, so was I. I attended Scientology-affiliated schools from kindergarten through high school, and I grew up largely around Scientologists. I wasn't OT or even Clear, but I'd done a few courses and had some auditing at my parents' and teachers' urging. Despite growing up with Scientology all around me, I never really felt comfortable identifying myself as a Scientologist. I started seriously questioning their beliefs and practices in high school, and once I left for college, I essentially broke ties with nearly all parts of that life. My younger siblings and parents followed suit, and the closest my family comes to Scientology these days is people on Facebook and ignoring phone calls from Flag. Scientology is no longer a part of my life, and I like it that way.

But how do I tell people that without getting into a huge discussion? Often the subject comes up when discussing high schools, since mine was very small (graduating class of 9) and very unusual. I'm not especially ashamed of my past, but it tends to be a thorny subject, given the popular attitudes towards Scientology. It's rarely been the case that I could casually mention my past without it becoming awkward or have it lead to a big discussion, and I generally worry that if I don't explain in detail, people will just write me off as crazy.

For the most part, I don't mind explaining myself, but sometimes I'm not in the mood or don't have time for a big long explanation, so I just keep my mouth shut. I don't really want to hide my past, but I feel like it can easily give someone the wrong impression about me if I'm not able to explain in detail. Is this the kind of information I should just keep to myself? I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable if they start cracking Xenu jokes and then later find out I was a Scientologist. It's not that I mind the jokes (I don't), but I don't want anyone to feel like I misrepresented myself. If someone casually said to you, “Oh, actually, I was raised a Scientologist, but I'm not one anymore,” and then didn't go into detail, would that be too weird? It's always felt like the kind of statement that required more explanation, but I've also been known to overthink a plate of beans.
posted by Diagonalize to Human Relations (43 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Leave the S-word out, and you're left with something a lot of people say, including me.

"I had a weird religious upbringing, but I'm all better now. I hate talking about it."
posted by rokusan at 10:57 AM on September 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Exactly what rokusan said: "Yeah, my high school was a very small private school -- almost like homeschooling really -- because my parents at that time were very religious and so they sent me to a religious school." Virtually everyone I know can relate to this in some way. Leave the S word out of it.
posted by anastasiav at 11:00 AM on September 3, 2009

Response by poster: I probably should have chosen my example a little better. I guess I'm mostly interested in how to diffuse the situation once the S-word has already come into play. I can side step it pretty easily with "Yeah, I went to a weird high school", but sometimes the topic is "OMG TOM CRUISE IS CRAZY, AMIRITE? HAIL XENU, HAHA!", and then I'm left at a loss for what to do.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:04 AM on September 3, 2009

Be honest. If someone looks to make a bad joke out of the conversation, let them know that it was a rough time for you, and you don't like talking about it. I don't expect anyone will push the issue if you make it clear that it's in your past, and that's that.
posted by Citrus at 11:17 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Er, ideally, I'd been able to have already broached the topic before someone went all "OMG XENU" on me, just so they'd know that I'd be giggling on a deep and personal level, but maybe that's just asking too much.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:18 AM on September 3, 2009

Response by poster: No, see, that's the thing, I don't actually mind talking about it. I just don't want to freak people out if I don't go off into some long explanation.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:20 AM on September 3, 2009

How about, "My parents are Scientologists", followed (only if pressed slightly) by, "I was brought up that way, but I'm not one now."

This way:

1) You create a tiny bit of distance which makes others more at ease - they won't be so worried they might offend you. It can just come up in conversation.

2) The second reply doesn't imply any misrepresentation at all. Whereas have stated it upfront might (to some) seem to serve as a warning that you might be offended. So state it as sparingly as needed.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 11:22 AM on September 3, 2009

Best answer: Starting out your explanations or anecdotes with "we're not Scientologists anymore, but..." might go a long way to explain and diffuse.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:22 AM on September 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

My parents were Scientologists for awhile when I was growing up, but we're not any more.
posted by amethysts at 11:29 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing to just say that you were raised as a Scientologist but aren't one anymore. I just want to add that I think people are generally more curious than "freaked out" about hearing that you were a Scientologist. I'm as anti-Scientology as it comes, but I would be thrilled to actually meet someone who was raised as one because you guys are super rare and the Scientologists are super secretive, so I would LOVE to hear about your experience. Think of it as a really interesting conversation topic. You have the ace-in-the-hole cocktail party story.
posted by kookaburra at 11:30 AM on September 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

Diagonalize: "but sometimes the topic is "OMG TOM CRUISE IS CRAZY, AMIRITE? HAIL XENU, HAHA!", and then I'm left at a loss for what to do."

I would do nothing. I honestly would not tell people you were raised CoS. People, in my experience, are not particularly capable of having respectful conversations about practices they find deeply objectionable, whether those objections are well founded and legitimate or not.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:33 AM on September 3, 2009

I don't know; I just assume that everyone had some sort of strange childhood, especially something relating to religion. Most people I know that have since abandoned their ties with these things just say "I was raised _x_, but as I grew up I found myself less and less active in the community for multiple reasons."

I'd actually be really intrigued and interested to hear more if I'd heard about your predicament.. but at the same time I'd realize you probably get bombarded with questions about it all the time, especially with all the hoopla surrounding it now. Maybe just mention it's in your past but you and whoever (co-workers?) could discuss childhood stories over lunch sometime?
posted by june made him a gemini at 11:35 AM on September 3, 2009

Darlingbri nails it.
posted by dfriedman at 11:37 AM on September 3, 2009

I don't think it really needs an explanation. I might lean towards "My parents are Scientologists, but I decided that wasn't the right choice for me" but I think a simple statement like that is fine, especially if you say it with that kind of open and friendly tone that kind of conveys that you're okay with talking about it (so if someone had a question they would feel like they could just ask you).
posted by KAS at 11:39 AM on September 3, 2009

Just as I wouldn't say I'm a lapsed Catholic unless I'm talking to someone about religion or specifically Catholicism, or unless it's a getting-to-know-you conversation, I don't think you necessarily have to bring it up unless you want to qualify your experience on the topic of Scientology, or have information or insights to add.

If someone goes "LOLScientologists!" then retorting with "Hey, I was raised Scientologist but I'm not one anymore" without explaining further sounds defensive and awkwardness will almost certainly ensue. But if you say something like "I was brought up around Scientology, and I have to say, some of your statements are inaccurate because..." then it doesn't become about you, and the opportunity to elaborate with "I don't necessarily agree with their tenets, but..." and saying that you're not one anymore will come up more organically.

Or you could just say you're a lapsed Scientologist.
posted by Lush at 11:41 AM on September 3, 2009

I just don't want to freak people out if I don't go off into some long explanation.

You won't freak people out at all if you don't start some preemptive longwinded explanation. But don't be surprised if people have lots of questions for you. They will probably ask for as much information as they want. Some will be fascinated, some won't care.
posted by zsazsa at 11:46 AM on September 3, 2009

If someone insists on going overboard with the 'OMG TOM CRUISE' thing, throw them a curveball like "You do know that he's actually an undercover FBI agent don't you? The investigation is nearly complete." Bound to throw the discussion into a different direction, regardless how they take it.

(I'm half serious about this.)
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:58 AM on September 3, 2009

Best answer: Heh, oddly I sorta have this issue because I'm half-Mexican but you wouldn't know it by looking at me. Of course race changes things a little but I think the discomfort in others if they don't know about it is the same.

I bring it up with new people, make a joke about it, and move on. The joke helps a lot.
posted by kathrineg at 12:02 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if they insist on talking about it or ask a bunch of questions and I don't feel like answering, I just stop listening or do something else to discourage conversation, like tie my shoe or tell them that I love the song that's on and rock out to it, or bust out a non sequitor, or...
posted by kathrineg at 12:04 PM on September 3, 2009

...wander off in the middle of a sentence

Everyone should be good at saying no!
posted by kathrineg at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That's actually a good point you raise, kookaburra, about the curiosity-factor. I guess it's just always been a little hard for me to feel out when someone is interested because they're genuinely curious or just gaping at the sheer strangeness of the situation.

My point about the "LOLScientologists" probably came off as a little odd. I certainly wouldn't come back with a defensive remark about Scientology if someone made that kind of a joke. I just don't want other people feeling awkward after the fact because they think my background makes me more sensitive to the jokes.

I don't generally just launch straight into a long explanation about my past. I would never think I was all that interesting. I'm usually prompted by a lot of questions, but sometimes I don't have the time or energy to answer all of them. I just haven't quite figured out how to acknowledge the S-word past without leading to lots of questions. I'm usually totally fine with questions (if people have questions, feel free to memail me), it's just the time/energy/awkwardness factor.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:07 PM on September 3, 2009

I just don't want other people feeling awkward after the fact because they think my background makes me more sensitive to the jokes.

That's always a risk when you make a joke that's about people...don't feel like you're responsible for their feelings, you know?
posted by kathrineg at 12:10 PM on September 3, 2009

A lot of people really hate Scientology; a lot of other people find it ridiculous. Since you're not a scientologist and you don't want to have a conversation about it with either people who have strong negative feelings or bad jokes to make about Scientology, it seems reasonable to take care not to introduce it into casual conversation. Nothing positive can come from so doing. Rokusan's answer at the top of the thread seems like a neat way to avoid the subject whilst being completely honest. If you're in a more involved conversation where you know you will have time to explain your experience fully, that's different, but you probably don't want anybody to go home thinking of you as "the Scientology guy" when you first meet them. Let people have time to get to know you as you are before you tell them about the batshitinsane environment you escaped from.
posted by nowonmai at 12:13 PM on September 3, 2009

Response by poster: If you have strong negative feelings about Scientology, that's fine with me. I just don't want you to come away thinking that I have strong positive feelings about it.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:15 PM on September 3, 2009

Best answer: I think you're just going to have to give up the idea of being able to mention this in passing. By making it clear that you left Scientology when you mention it, you can at least keep people from thinking you're crazy (and impress them), but it's still unlikely they'll treat it as if you had just said, "I used to be a vegan" or even "I used to be a Catholic." It's something they're naturally going to dwell on a bit, even if they don't say anything out loud about it.
posted by ignignokt at 12:16 PM on September 3, 2009

On actually reading your question: No, “Oh, actually, I was raised a Scientologist, but I'm not one anymore,” is not at all a weird thing to say. I would see it as similar to my own "I went to Methodist Sunday School for a few years, but really I've always been an atheist". But people will always have follow-up questions about whether rank-and-file Scientologists really do believe in all the space alien shit, did you ever get a ride on Hubbard's floating child-abuse palace, etc etc.
posted by nowonmai at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2009

Response by poster: Aw, shucks, ignignokt. I think your answer is the one that most confirms my fears, but it's helpful, and I appreciate it a lot.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:21 PM on September 3, 2009

That's actually a good point you raise, kookaburra, about the curiosity-factor. I guess it's just always been a little hard for me to feel out when someone is interested because they're genuinely curious or just gaping at the sheer strangeness of the situation.

It could honestly be a combination of both.

When I was researching career paths, I looked into becoming a Waldorf teacher. That lead to some . . . really internet reading. In graduate school, I met two students who had gone through Waldorf schools. One seemed obviously disinterested in talking about it, so we didn't. The other has been known to break out into Eurythmy at parties, and has no problem with me asking lots of questions. So I do. Because I find it strange and fascinating.

So, if the other party seems interested in talking about it, why not talk to them about it? If you don't feel like you're particularly sensitive to those sorts of jokes, why not just say so? And it someone's being a complete boor about it*, that'll be pretty obvious, too, so feel free to just roll your eyes and walk away.

* I'm an agnostic half-Jew and was dragged along to my grandmother's Orthodox synagogue plenty as a kid. When, at a party, someone's reform Jewish girlfriend started babbling about how Orthodox Jews don't use toilet paper on Saturdays and have sex through a sheet, despite my protestations that that wasn't true at all, I knew she was just being kind of a jerk. And I'm fine with talking about how, for instance, I hated going to my grandparent's on weekends because I wasn't allowed to color on Shabbos and how going to all-Hebrew, sex segregated services probably had a hand in my agnosticism. Genuine curiosity and assishess are pretty easy to tell apart, in my experience.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:30 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I appreciate the input, PhoBWanKenobi. I think that's pretty much what I do for the most part. I'm not especially sensitive and I'm happy to answer questions, but it's just such a seriously loaded subject that it's hard to broach with people without also shifting into serious damage-control mode. I'm not crazy and I'm not at all sympathetic towards Scientology; it just feels like it takes a lot of backstory before people feel comfortable actually believing that.

You're definitely right about the difference between genuine curiosity and assishness; I guess I was just hoping there was some way of casually dropping the S-word without then having to go and manually reset everyone's batshitinsane alarms.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:46 PM on September 3, 2009

If you are already talking about religion, I think bringing it up is fair game. However, if nobody is really talking about their own religion etc (making fun of Tom Cruise is really not in that category imo) it seems a little weird to bring up. Lots of people went to small high schools, had insane hippie parents, etc.

I don't know why anyone would negatively judge you for being raised a certain way unless they are crazy. It is as weird as judging an ex-Mormon negatively, or even an ex-Catholic etc. (Or even, a current Mormom, catholic, Scientologist, etc.)
posted by shownomercy at 12:46 PM on September 3, 2009

Best answer: Aw, shucks, ignignokt. I think your answer is the one that most confirms my fears, but it's helpful, and I appreciate it a lot.

Remember that it'll depend on your audience quite a lot - personally I wouldn't respond to scientology as especially weirder than any other religion, but I was brought up with no religion. The main reason it will seem strange to people is that it has a comparatively small number of followers - only about half a million, while christianity, for instance, has more than two billion.

People go through all kinds of weird things in their lives and especially their childhoods (where they have little control) - it doesn't have to come up in the first interaction, but if it does, it doesn't have to be the one thing people remember about you either... I'd just go case by case.
posted by mdn at 12:54 PM on September 3, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, mdn. It probably sounds like this is something that bothers me a lot, but it doesn't really come up all that much, and your answer best addresses how I really ought to be approaching this.
posted by Diagonalize at 1:11 PM on September 3, 2009

I'd be inclined to say, "yeah, well, I was a scientologist. Hey, if you're buying drinks, I've got some crazy stories to tell." And if they say they can't afford it or don't want to pay, you say, "well, now you know what it's like being a scientologist."

(I'm only half-facetious here.)
posted by kimota at 1:13 PM on September 3, 2009

So much depend on the context in which you bring it up, as shownomercy point out. I don't think it's that you'll have to reset people's batshitinsane alarms, just that if it's something that's no longer part of your life, it's probably counter-productive to whip out in initial interactions - better for people to remember you for all the crazy things in your life now no?

Like others mentioned, better to stay more generic until you feel comfortable with the people you're talking to - by then you'll know how they'd likely react to an in-context mention of "yeah, used to X, over it."
posted by canine epigram at 1:15 PM on September 3, 2009

Even if you'd say "I used to drive a Mercedes, but I don't anymore", you'd end up having people think weird things about you that aren't true. It has really nothing to do with the specifics of your upbringing at all, just with the way many casual conversations thwart a good exchange, so that your readiness to talk about your background is wasted.
posted by Namlit at 1:16 PM on September 3, 2009

Best answer: I think, "My parents were Scientologists in the '80s" is exactly the right single-sentence phrasing. It communicates "were, but are no longer"; "this is why I know about Scientology"; and even "my parents were into weird New Age-y Hollywood stuff. Ha, Scientology! So VH1!", without you having to actually expand on any of this, and gives room for your interlocutor to ask you for funny stories or back off as she chooses.
posted by snarkout at 1:29 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So...does that mean you're buying me a drink, kimota?

I promise, I don't go around introducing myself with "Hi, I'm Diagonalize, and I used to be a Scientologist! When I was born, blah, blah, blah" ;-) That's just wrong on so many levels. But sometimes the subject comes up, and I don't want to alarm anyone and also have to reach deeply into my life story to reassure them that I'm a reasonable person.

I like your approach, snarkout. It's got the right...tone I'm looking for.
posted by Diagonalize at 1:31 PM on September 3, 2009

Diagonalize: "Aw, shucks, ignignokt. I think your answer is the one that most confirms my fears, but it's helpful, and I appreciate it a lot."

Look, I gotta tell you, this is exactly my experience on saying "I was raised in a XYZFoo family" which I never do because it's almost universally not been a good experience. I cannot imagine it would possibly be a better one with CoS, hence my prior advice to just not engage in this topic.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:59 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I appreciate the input, DarlingBri. This is something that I've had to deal with most of my life, so I do know what kind of responses I can get. In the past, I've found myself going over it in great detail, so I was hoping to find some way of dealing with it, uh, not in great detail. Avoiding the subject entirely is definitely a tactic I've used, but I don't think bringing it up immediately leads to flailing panic mode. In general, I think people tend to be a little...unsettled, but it's nothing that I'm not usually able to handle with a joke and some patient fielding of questions. This might be a very different situation if I were still involved in Scientology and/or felt a strong need to defend it from criticism, but I'm not and I don't.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:10 PM on September 3, 2009

Ok, I think this thread has gotten a little serious -
so what you're saying is that you want people to know, and to know that you're not bothered by jokes & criticism, but that you don't want to get 'deep&meaningful' about it in conversation?

Then just joke about it!

Like, the "My thetan and I aren't exactly on speaking terms" is *perfect*. Ie, mention that you grew up in a crazy religious household (but that your family is better now) - everyone can relate to that, then "actually, it was scientology - but my thetan and I aren't exactly on speaking terms. Ha!".
If anyone asks more, just say there's sites on the internet about it. If someone asks 'is *blah* true?' if it's not an offhand reply, just reiterate that you were a kid, and hey, there's sites on the internet about it...
posted by Elysum at 4:34 PM on September 3, 2009

I was brought up in a very, very Mormon family (not that there's anything *wrong* with that...), but never bought in to the whole thing. In situations where it comes up, especially with people from non-Western states where it's considered about as oddball as Scientology, I just say "I was raised that way, but it didn't take." Everyone laughs a little and we all move on with our lives and the conversation.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:26 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Clearwater as a local, so am as anti-Scientology as they come. But individual Scientologists I became friends with? Pretty cool people. If I could get over their active participation in the religion, I'm sure people in your life can get over your past. Less detail is probably better. And as mentioned upstream, direct them to the internet if they have detailed questions.
posted by Cuppatea at 11:27 PM on September 3, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, folks. I really appreciate all the input, and I'm relieved I didn't get any "Ahhhhh! Kill it with fire!!!" responses. I suspect that I've probably been handling it about the right way, namely, with a sense of humor. It sounds like a few questions and raised eyebrows are going to be inevitable, but that's okay; I'll make time to deal. If I can hogtie an unruly thetan and throw it off a pier, I can surely handle a few extra questions at a party.

That said, if any MeFites read this and have burning questions about my, er, unusual upbringing, feel free to memail me. I know it sounds like I was complaining about questions, but, honestly, I don't mind talking when I've got the time.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:04 AM on September 4, 2009

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