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Netflix’s ‘Escaping Twin Flames’ is wrong about trans

Escaping Twin Flames dives into a strange, closed world helmed by Jeff and Shaleia Ayan

November 13, 2023 - 7:30pm

In any culture, taboos require careful handling. There is something inside a taboo that demands respect and punishes transgressions. A new Netflix documentary provides a fascinating case of a filmmaker attempting to navigate the taboos that have grown up around gender — that gender identity is innate, that it would be wrong to think of trans communities as in any way “cult-like” — while reporting on an online dating cult. 

Escaping Twin Flames dives into a strange, closed world helmed by Jeff and Shaleia Ayan — surely two of the least charismatic cult leaders ever to draw a following. The Twin Flames Universe cult promised to unite members with their “twin flames”, or soulmates. In the process, the Ayans ensnared members in a multi-level marketing scheme, selling thousands of dollars’ worth of “coaching sessions” and encouraging members to engage in risky and sometimes illegal acts to achieve “harmonious union” with their ultimate partners. 

When twin flames proved hard to come by, the Ayans shifted course. Faced with a shortage of “Divine Masculine” energies, they pressured female members of the cult to change their names and pronouns and pursue gender transition. At least two cult members subsequently underwent “top surgery” as part of their transformation, while other members resisted this top-down redefinition.

The filmmakers bend over backwards to disavow any parallels between gender transition within Twin Flames Universe and gender transition generally. In doing so, they interview a transgender scholar, Cassius Adair, who suggests that some of these women may have come to an authentic self-realisation that they were trans, and close the documentary with a disclaimer that “trans people of all ages are leading joyous, full, normal lives, and transition-related care helps make that possible”, and that fewer than 1% of people regret their decision to transition. At one point, Adair says: 

What I think is very troubling about the Twin Flames Universe story is that people might hear about this group and say, ‘Oh, this is proof that transness is some kind of cult, that transness is something that is coerced.’ And nothing could be further from the truth. 
- Cassius Adair

But — despite the filmmakers’ protestations — the documentary itself presents uncomfortable parallels with gender transition outside Twin Flames Universe. The testimonials of cult members questioning and embracing their new transgender identifications sound all too familiar to those of us steeped in online trans communities. In a short video posted to Instagram, for example, cult member “Ray” describes the experience of coming out as transgender: “I urge you guys to really choose to be your authentic self, because I found when I was doing that and claiming my masculinity to its fullest, that’s when my twin flame came into my life.” 

Others speak of “the truth of who you are”. The language of authenticity — and the encouragement to keep forging ahead with transition — is indistinguishable from the language employed in online trans spaces. There are the same wild vacillations from affirmation to rejection when one fails to follow the script. In the film, Jeff Ayan hammers on the need to “accept that you are truly a man inside”, advice online trans communities regularly dole out to members of wavering faith. 

“I definitely had a lot of ‘blocks’,” one member says, reflecting on her initial reluctance to transition. But in Twin Flames Universe, “blocks” are something one has a responsibility to overcome. In trans communities, these doubts and reservations go by a different name — internalised transphobia, for one — but, beneath the branding, it’s hard to tell the two processes apart.  

In another segment, the estranged mother of a cult member describes her child’s simultaneous slide into Twin Flames Universe and trans identification — a slide that began with her child disappearing into online spaces. She describes a process of radicalisation that will sound familiar to many parents of trans-identified children and young adults, who likewise disappeared online and reemerged speaking a strange new language that often strikes parents as scripted. 

One also gets the sense that the appeal to unhappy seekers carries over from one community to the other. “Folks, it will be OK. Go for what you want,” a Redditor urged an online female-t0-male transgender community, in a post entirely typical of the genre. “If you do not make a change, you will never know what could’ve happened. This is the core of deciding to transition.” 

This is also the core of any successful cult pitch: if you don’t join, you’ll never know what could’ve happened. You’ll miss out on your twin flame. You’ll pass on your true self. 


Eliza Mondegreen is a graduate student in psychiatry and the author of Writing Behavior on Substack.

elizamondegreen

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Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
8 months ago

When a cult pushes cult-delusionals into surgery, it’s crossed the line.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
8 months ago

It would be socially beneficial to teach adolescents how cults ensnare people and hold onto them, but as ex-cult members attest, those same techniques are used against us in ‘normal’ society.

M Simon
M Simon
8 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Abused children are very susceptible to cults and gangs. They crave ‘family’.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

The Twin Flames Universe cult promised to unite members with their “twin flames”, or soulmates.
That seems a little self-limiting. Why don’t they appeal to the many people seeking soulmates who are not flaming?

Vagabondrobb
Vagabondrobb
8 months ago

People seeking soulmates was their target audience, it’s just not many of that audience were desperate/stupid (or flaming) enough to sign up for a twin flame subscription. Let’s just say there isn’t any other time in history that these two could be “cult leaders”. It was mostly interesting and entertaining for that reason alone, until it began to bend over backwards to convince the viewer that the gender nonsense being forced upon its subjects was a vulgar misappropriation, and didn’t in any way undermine trans ideology.

Last edited 8 months ago by Vagabondrobb
R Wright
R Wright
8 months ago

“Why don’t they appeal to the many people seeking soulmates who are not flaming?”
There’s a possiiblity that they could be dangerous, wrong-thinking masculine chuds.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
8 months ago

There is another (and better) documentary on Twin Flames on Prime. It’s called Desperately Seeking Soulmate. Having watched both, I found the Prime offering to have fewer political “catches”. This came from a Vanity Fair article by Alice Hines, who plays a central part in the Prime documentary. She goes into depth about the cult like environment and how Jeff and Shelaia are raking in tons of cash on what is essentially a multi level marketing scheme preying on lonely people.

M Simon
M Simon
8 months ago

If you look closely it is mental illness (PTSD caused by child abuse). They have the symptoms. Sexual deviance. Drug use. Permanently angry. We are losing because we treat them as at least somewhat rational. They are not rational. They are mentally ill.

Talia Perkins
Talia Perkins
8 months ago
Reply to  M Simon

If you refer to transgender people and produce actual evidence of that, you might even get a Nobel. Of course, you are in fact making up every bit of it concerning the article we are commenting on — which is trying to claim being transgender is such a cult.

Last edited 8 months ago by Talia Perkins
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
8 months ago
Reply to  Talia Perkins

It’s a sad fact, Talia. These people deserve our pity, but that doesn’t mean we should be celebrating or affirming their delusions. Unfortunately many groups are happy to use children to affirm themselves.

Talia Perkins
Talia Perkins
8 months ago

“The filmmakers bend over backwards to disavow any parallels between gender transition within Twin Flames Universe and gender transition generally.” <- That is because there are not any. You won’t find anyone able to prescribe or recommend surgery who forces anyone into anything. Tik Tok and Instagaam are not real life, and just about everyone knows that.
” Cassius Adair, who suggests that some of these women may have come to an authentic self-realisation that they were trans” <– I have news for you. If those women did that and were happy with it, they almost certainly were transgender. The regret rate any chosen gender affirming surgery is very near zero. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33968550/ & https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamasurgery/article-abstract/2808129?guestAccessKey=43a62af8-3042-4678-b29d-3430c3ff98c1&utm_source=For_The_Media&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=ftm_links&utm_content=tfl&utm_term=080923
So, there’s that.
” The testimonials of cult members questioning and embracing their new transgender identifications sound all too familiar to those of us steeped in online trans communities.” <– The end of self denial of any type will sound a bit like that, and that is not itself evidence any given self-realization is fake.
“She describes a process of radicalisation that will sound familiar to many parents of trans-identified children and young adults” <– To those who told Littman how they “saw no signs” and who were found on transphobic websites describing how in years prior they had punished their children for gender non-conforming behavior, sure. Those kind of liars.
“If you do not make a change, you will never know what could’ve happened.” <– A pablum truism which really has nothing to do with it — the therapists involved will say don’t do this unless you are quite sure, and they will recommend quite a while of being sure between categories of actions taken, like HRT or surgery.
“This is also the core of any successful cult pitch: if you don’t join, you’ll never know what could’ve happened.” <– None of which has anything to do with it, because none of that is how transition per WPATH Standards of Care and the DSM5 is done, and that is how near all of it is done . . .
. . . And near any of the rest is an adult transitioning by informed consent, and that is all only on them.
What “cult” ? You have bent over backwards to draw parallels where there are none.

Last edited 8 months ago by Talia Perkins
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
8 months ago
Reply to  Talia Perkins

The cult that encourages children to seek unnecessary surgical procedures so that adults feel better about their own life choices. If you think that’s ok, you may be engaged in cult-like thinking and not be even aware of it.