Scientology, "Disconnection," and Homophobia: Derek Bloch's Story
He wanted to tell other people what he'd been through, growing up in Scientology, getting kicked out of its hardcore "Sea Org" when it turned out that he was gay, and then increasingly becoming disaffected with his parents' religion as he became more educated and learned something about human psychology.
He wanted to say all that, but he didn't want to harm anyone, particularly his parents, who were still convinced Scientologists.
So Derek hid his identity, writing a lengthy and emotional description of his life growing up a Scientology kid, and posted it in February at the Ex-Scientologist Message Board (ESMB), using the screen name "Adam7986" to disguise himself.
Someone reading ESMB, however, recognized the people in Derek's story and contacted the church, which excommunicated Derek for writing it. Derek's parents, in turn, "disconnected" from him immediately. In other words, they threw him out of their lives.
Yesterday, I called up Derek's father, Darren Bloch, and told him I wanted to talk about his decision to choose his religion over his own son.
"It's really none of your business," he said before hanging up.
I beg to differ.
In recent weeks, we've seen a lot of joking on the Internet about Scientology and homosexuality as John Travolta has dealt with another round of accusations (most of which turned out to be garbage, as we said from the start).
But all the joking didn't address the fact that homophobia in Scientology is very real, despite PR campaigns by celebrities sent out by the church to provide cover.
From L. Ron Hubbard's classification of homosexuality as a "perversion" in his early Scientology texts -- considered sacrosanct by the church -- to the way a young member like Derek Bloch is treated in what is supposed to be a more enlightened era, Scientology's homophobia runs deep.
But there was another reason to ignore Darren Bloch's declaration that this story was none of our business.
That reason is Derek Bloch, who very much wants us to tell it.
"If you do talk to him," Derek said to me when I told him that I'd be calling his father, "tell him I just want to know one thing: When exactly did he stop loving me?"
Derek is 26, but he had been living with his parents after getting kicked out of the Sea Org at 18. Because he dared to write anonymously at ESMB, in April he was declared a "suppressive person" by the church -- Scientology's version of excommunication. According to church policy, no members in good standing can have anything to do with an "SP," so his parents threw him out of the house.
Derek landed on his feet. He has a job as an accountant (just like his father), and some good friends took him in, even though they live with five children of their own. (Their suburban Los Angeles house is large, Derek says.)
I'm going to let Derek tell his own story of how he got to this point, reproducing what he posted anonymously to ESMB in February. (Derek is very bright and he writes well; I only made slight copyediting changes here and there for clarity. I've put in a few interruptions to help readers unfamiliar with Scientology jargon.)
My story in Scientology begins when I was a kid.
My dad owned his own accounting practice and was privileged to have a visit from Sterling Management. They are a Scientology front group that seeks to install Hubbard's "management technology" in small businesses.
[One of the key ideas behind Scientology is that its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, wrote millions of words of instructions that all Scientologists must follow to the letter. His writings not only include the church's spiritual ideas about past lives and "auditing" past traumas, but also such mundane things as how to run every aspect of its bureaucracy-obsessed organizations. This "administration technology" is touted to accountants, dentists, and chiropractors through Sterling Management Systems as the best way to get ahead in their fields -- while also drawing clients into the church itself.]
It started off harmless enough. My dad was buying books by the dozen and reorganizing his practice. My sister and I were put on children's courses at Celebrity Centre Dallas. When exactly my parents went from "this is interesting" to religious fanatics, I have no idea because I was too young. All I know is that around this time my dad stopped raising me and started letting Scientology brainwash me into being a "good Scientology kid."
I went through several different schools as my dad moved us from Texas to California to be closer to the "tech." We eventually settled down in Los Angeles and started studying at a mission. I went on to do my Purif and Objectives and soon had the fire of a euphoria-addicted Scientologist in my eyes. It wasn't until recently that I would discover the psychological mechanisms behind auditing.
[Derek is referring to the "Purification Rundown," one of the core practices in Scientology, which is a risky "detox" program that physicians have repeatedly characterized as a sham. It involves sitting for up to 5 hours a day in a sauna for weeks at a time, while ingesting massive amounts of niacin. When he wasn't in the sauna, Derek was doing the "Objectives," strange routines that have Scientologists doing repetitive tasks, like talking to inanimate objects such as ashtrays and bottles. This is supposed to train their minds for better communications or, critics say, unquestioning obedience.]
When I was about 13 my dad would take me to AOLA with him and the Sea Org recruiters would look at me like I was a Little League player at a NAMBLA convention. They would tell me how "theta" and "aware" I was. Of course I was flattered because I had been taught to believe these people were "elite" and to me (a kid) they were like G.I. Joe or Power Rangers.
[At the Advance Organization in Los Angeles -- a Scientology facility that delivers upper-level training -- Derek ran into recruiters from the Sea Organization, Scientology's hardcore elite. Members of the Sea Org sign billion-year contracts and work up to 100 hours a week for about 30 to 50 dollars a week. They almost completely cut themselves off from non-Sea-Org family or friends as they dedicate themselves utterly to Scientology's goal of "clearing the planet" -- global takeover. As we have shown repeatedly here at the Voice, Scientology is dwindling and having a harder time bringing in new recruits, so the children of Scientologists begin experiencing recruitment to the Sea Org at a very young age, and have been known to join as young as 8 years old. They then are taken for a month-long indoctrination, known as "Estates Project Force," or EPF.]
The next two years I spent crying, fighting, screaming, being kept up until two in the morning, practically kidnapped by these people. They would follow me to school, follow me after school, chase me on PAC Base. Call me at all hours of the night. I had no support from my parents during this time. My dad blamed me for "pulling it in" and my mom would only tell me how proud she would be if I joined the Sea Org. At 14, I was completely at the mercy of ruthless psychological torture, including mild forms of sleep deprivation and starvation. I felt abandoned by my parents, and I felt like I would never have their respect unless I joined the Sea Org.
I was "routed onto" staff at AOLA at the ripe old age of 15. I had been convinced that I would see my family regularly, get regular days off, and work a regular schedule. I was told how nice the new building was going to be and how nice the area where I slept would be.
Of course it was a much different story when I actually started living there. The rooms on the EPF were nice. That is about all that was true about what I was told. After my parents so generously abandoned me to the church I spent a month on the EPF. Here I was introduced to the dark side of Scientology. I almost immediately wanted to go home. I spent every day going through the psychological torture of never being good enough and the old cult trick of putting you down one day and building you up the next day. Switching between screaming at you and being your best friend. It has done a copious amount of psychological damage to me.
After a month of being brainwashed while cleaning dishes and bathrooms and running everywhere, I was put "on post" at AOLA, where I quickly found out that I wasn't allowed to make personal phone calls unless I spent some of my $30-a-week salary on it. I was put in a room with 30 other men and boys ranging from 14 to 60 in age. It smelled horrible, there was no A/C or heating, and I was exposed daily to the company and sight of naked boys my age and older men, while I was going through puberty. This is relevant later. I worked 15- to 20-hour days, with maybe one day off a month, if I was lucky. I was supposed to be going to school but that didn't happen. I did eventually get my high school equivalency, though. I was screamed at daily about how worthless I was while at the same time being told I was important. It was awful. I was in constant fear of being caught doing something human, like getting sick, eating, taking a dump, or having a non-post-related conversation.
I hardly got to see my parents for the next 2.5 years. Eventually I was sent to train at Flag [Flag Land Base, Scientology's spiritual headquarters] in Clearwater, FL. This whole time I wanted out but I couldn't mention it to anyone. I had to bury the feeling and hide it from everyone. I couldn't even tell my parents how I felt or what I was going through because it is considered a high crime by the religion. Keep in mind, I was still a child.
Prior to joining the Sea Org I had noticed that I had a tendency to find my own sex attractive, and eventually I ended up fooling around with another guy at Flag. I was 17, I believe he was 19 or 20. We got caught, I got kicked out. My dad blamed me for everything and threatened to disown me.
I still swore by Scientology for a few years before I started to separate myself from it and reflect on all I had been through. I started to doubt my beliefs and I started to feel scared, and confused. Then I discovered human psychology and I have been studying it to get some grip on what I have been through.
I decided I would no longer practice Scientology after looking into it further and seeing the lack of results and shrinking numbers of patrons. I quickly realized what a money pit it was, watching my parents buy re-re-released sets of books for thousands of dollars. Seeing that our family had only gone downhill since my patents began participating in the religion. Also after realizing much of Scientology only works within Scientology. I have also lied to the e-meter a few times so I know it doesn't work either.
I'm much happier staying away from the church and having friends that have nothing to do with Scientology. I make more money and have better benefits working for companies that have nothing to do with Scientology.
I still have not told my parents that I want nothing to do with the church, because I don't want to lose them and because my dad is ill and doesn't need the stress. I just avoid the conversations and don't go to the events. My parents have invested too much into the church, including their youngest son (my brother) for me to even hope to convince them of my position.
Why I still feel obligated to my parents who have still done nothing but take advantage of me and basically failed me as parents is beyond me. This whole thing had damaged me in ways I am still, 11 years later, just now starting to see.
Derek wrote those words of concern for his parents not realizing that just a few weeks later, they would throw him out of their lives for it.
I asked Derek to go back over some parts of his story in a little more detail for me, starting with his experiences in the Sea Org, and how he got kicked out.
"I started developing a relationship over a few months with a fellow male staff member. We eventually got caught by another roommate, and we were written up," he says. "He was from the UK. We were both sent home. I found him on Facebook recently. He hasn't blocked me, but he has not responded to my messages either."
Derek added that he had known for years that he was gay. "I just finally acted on it," he says. He was "routed out" of the Sea Org on his 18th birthday.
"I was taken home. My father was angry. He told me I was going to be a child molester and molest my little brother. After that I never trusted him and I never again spoke to him about my private life," Derek says.
L. Ron Hubbard, in the 1950 book that became the foundational text for Scientology, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, called homosexuality a "perversion." The next year, in his book Science of Survival, Hubbard described in detail his concept of an emotional "tone scale" which could measure how "alive" a person was, with 0 equaling death and tone 40 -- "serenity of beingness" -- the highest state a person could attain. He classified homosexuals as 1.1 on the tone scale -- "covert hostility."
Former Scientology executives tell me that this was a concept well known to them all, and something drilled into them repeatedly -- that according to Hubbard, homosexuals were not to be trusted because they were hiding their treachery. But also, and just as important, they could be "handled" through auditing so that they -- like any other Scientologist -- would move up on the tone scale as they achieved spiritual advancement in the religion.
Did this mean, I asked Claire Headley, a longtime and important former executive who worked at Scientology's secretive base near Hemet, California, that Scientologists believe that auditing could actually "cure" gays?
"It's a cure, that's right," she says. "If you're auditing, you're going to move up the Tone Scale, and so you won't be 1.1 anymore."
But the Sea Org really wasn't taking any chances, Claire explained. "In order to join the Sea Org, you have to be approved by a fitness board. You do the EPF, you do menial labor, and marching drills. But you also fill out a life history, a 30-page form. You have to detail everything you've ever done your entire life. Every sexual partner, every drug you've ever taken, every relative who's ever worked for the government, for the media, or has ever said anything negative about Scientology."
But even with that kind of scrutiny, Scientology leader David Miscavige would still call for Sea Org members to be investigated for any possibility that they were hiding gay tendencies, she says. "There were so many times when that kind of thing would come up, and it was always a huge flap."
She tells me about one incident in particular, which involved a Sea Org member who had been married for 20 years. But for some reason, Miscavige considered him a threat, and asked that the man's life history be examined. "When the guy was 14, he'd had a crush on a guy," Claire says. Miscavige considered it proof that the man was treasonous, and he was gotten rid of. "That would happen on a regular basis," Claire says.
"At Int Base, they're super homophobic there," says Claire's husband Marc Headley. The couple escaped from the base in 2005, which is detailed in Marc's book, Blown for Good. "If you wanted to get kicked off the base, you just had to say you had gay thoughts. You'd be gone within the day. I knew several people that happened to. And they were high executives," he says. "David Miscavige is super homophobic."
Amy Scobee, another former high-ranking executive who worked at Int Base, says the training about what Hubbard wrote on homosexuality was thorough and oppressive. "You can't trust them. That's what you're taught Hubbard wrote, and so you're trained to believe that you can't trust gay people," she says. "I had to shed those ideas after I left. I had to really un-brainwash myself and rethink what I understood about sexual orientation," she says.
Scobee and the Headleys all agreed that in Derek Bloch's case, it didn't matter that he'd grown up in Scientology as he discovered that he was gay. There was no way he could stay in the Sea Org without "handling" his homosexuality -- in other words, "curing" himself of it. Instead, he came home.
"Eventually I got a job with a Scientology company through my dad. After going through a couple of those and being underpaid for my work, I went out and found a job on my own for a company not connected to Scientology. I made friends that were not Scientologists," Derek says.
I asked him why, as a young adult, he didn't just leave his parents' house.
"Well, being in the Sea Org, I didn't legitimately graduate high school. I got an equivalency certificate at 16. So I didn't move on to college and I didn't earn any real world experience," he says. "When I left the Sea Org at 18 I was basically starting my life from scratch...It's really expensive to live on your own here and I am single. No significant other to share the rent with. I am just now getting to the point where I have enough work experience that I can get a decent paying job. Most of my friends still live with their parents for this same reason."
Derek says that another family member was also staying with them at the time -- his aunt. But he says she left after some bad blood with his father.
"We all disconnected from her, and she died a few months later, not even 50 years old yet. My dad was able to convince us [to shun her] because he holds the weight of OT III," Derek says, referring to the level of training his father has attained in Scientology.
It takes several hundred thousand dollars and several years of dedication for a church member to reach Operating Thetan III, the level at which a Scientologist learns the bizarre origin story of the religion -- a story which was dramatized in a famous 2005 episode of South Park. Darren Bloch, in other words, had achieved the status of a Scientologist who knew of Xenu the galactic overlord and the backstory of thetans and their 75 million-year history on planet Earth. For reaching OT III, Darren demanded respect in his household, Derek says.
"It was about when my aunt died in 2010 that I started to realize that something was really wrong," Derek says. "I started studying psychology and came across the concept of cognitive dissonance."
He also ran across an essay about Scientology's "freedom trap" written by Jon Atack and hosted online by Carnegie Mellon professor David Touretzky. "From there I went to Lermanet and found ESMB in late 2011," he says.
His younger brother joined the Sea Org around the same time, he says, just as Derek was deciding to have nothing more to do with Scientology. (His mother works as a Scientology staff member, and Derek also has a sister who is still in the church. The entire family has disconnected from him.)
"I posted my story online, the church tracked it down, and on April 12th I received my SP declare," he says. "My only wrongdoing stated on the declare was the posting on the website and telling my story. Interestingly enough, it never directly stated that I lied, because I did nothing other than tell the truth...When I went to go read the declare in the ethics section of AOLA, I felt my programming start to kick in. I fought it off after a couple of days."
Since then, he's had no contact with his parents. When I first began to work on this story, Derek admitted that he was angry and looked forward to his father being embarrassed by it.
Then, yesterday, I asked him for photographs of himself and his father, after I had told him that Darren Bloch had refused to talk to me.
Derek apologized for not having many photos to share.
"I started crying looking through them, man. I miss my family a lot," he said in the e-mail containing the pictures.
I hope his father sees them.
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.