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Sexuality

I Went to a Raëlian Cult Protest for Titties

The organization Go Topless has been reprimanded by the media as a superficial publicity stunt since its establishment in 2007. When I arrived on the scene, Raëlian men and women were parading around a statue holding signs about "equal rights."

Kara Crabb

All photos courtesy of the author

It was the hottest day of summer, the sun was at its highest peak, and about 20 Raëlian women were gathering around Mount Royal in Montreal to promote gender equality by taking their shirts off.

When I was on my way to the Raëlian demonstration, I ran into a priest on the street. We got to talking and I told him where I was going. He laughed and called Raëlians total lunatics, saying that their leader, Claude Vorilhon, who claims to be able to speak to aliens, is “out of his mind.” He also told me ol’ Claude, a.k.a. “Raël,” was ostracized from several countries because of how radical he was. When I told him that I had to leave because I was late for the demonstration, he stopped and waved dismissively. “Well, you aren’t missing much,” he said.  

The Go Topless movement was founded by Raël, a French  former racecar driver who, I think, got high once and believed the experience was really profound. The “UFO religion,” with an estimated 90,000 members worldwide, is largely based in Quebec and South Korea. If you have been thinking about joining a cult lately, and if you like looking at bare breasts, then this is definitely one you should consider, despite what some weird priest on the street might tell you.





Go Topless has been reprimanded by the media as a superficial publicity stunt since its establishment in 2007. When I arrived on the scene, Raëlian men and women were parading around a statue holding signs about "equal rights."

I watched a mother enter the park with her infant-in-stroller, and immediately upon seeing the topless women, she took off her shirt and bra and swung them over her head like a flag of victory. It was as if she’d been waiting for this moment all day, her swollen, milk-filled breasts freely bouncing in the open air. Everyone cheered for her. Then I think she realized it was a part of something culty and steered away in the opposite direction.

After the parade swooped around the statue, they configured into a disorganized circle, holding signs and handing out flyers on the grass. The Raëlian symbol was scattered throughout a frenzy of male photographers and what I assumed to be journalism students. Earrings, necklaces, and T-shirts bared the Star of David conjoined with a swastika, with dreamcatcher-like feathers dangling from its sharp edges. 

Within two minutes of approaching the circle, a topless woman wearing a large sun hat grabbed my arm and said, “Are you a journalist?”

“Yes,” I responded.

She led me to a group of busy women with clipboards. There I met Sharon, the head of the Raëlian Association of Sexual Minorities. Sharon told me that they have been promoting transsexual rights since 2004. I was impressed, considering how increasingly topical it is becoming in 2014. Sharon and I talked about what it meant to be in a cult. She told me that she believes cults are everywhere in society, and that Raël is a prophet who can speak to aliens. I asked her which book of Raël’s was her favorite, and she told me she couldn’t decide. Then I asked her which book she would recommend to me if I was going to choose one to read, and she said “the first.”

The book Intelligent Design was written in 1973 when Vorilhon was 27 years old and without any formal education. Sharon seemed to be excited by this quality. When I asked her why she liked it so much, she said, “Everything just made sense.” Sharon admitted that the Star of David/swastika combo symbol had a powerful effect on her too. She explained that because she grew up in Israel, the swastika had a devastatingly negative impact on her psyche. When she saw the two symbols merged together and decontextualized it as a symbol for peace, it was cathartic for her.

I had to agree with Sharon: Raël seemed quite charismatic and—depending on your point of view—progressive.

I was curious about the specific elements of his beliefs, which seduce people into worshipping one particular human being as a deity, just in case I too decide to start a cult when I turn 27. I tried interviewing some Raëlian bystanders, but they were very apprehensive and uncomfortable. One older man, wearing a white outfit and hat, avidly repeated that he did not wish to discuss his beliefs and directed me again to the women with clipboards. The older man was attractive, with peaceful eyes, and I felt sincerely disappointed by his rejection.

“It sure is hot outside,” I said, waving the collar of my trench coat up and down.

“Why are you wearing that?” he said.

I walked over to the group of women with clipboards again and interviewed a Raëlian registered nurse named Nadia. I wanted to gain a better understanding of the religion’s ideology since they didn’t seem too concerned about recruiting members. Nadia was marginally defensive when we first started talking. She said, “We are normal people with normal jobs.” I was aware that Raëlianism is a paradox, described as an “atheist religion,” and that many of its values support the advancement of medicine and technology. For instance, a surgeon and Raëlian counselor in San Francisco have joined forces in treating victims of clitoral mutilation

I still didn’t understand what was so attractive about the label, however. I asked Nadia about the regular functions of the Raëlian community: the international conferences, the online meditations, the self-published literature. From what she was saying, it reminded me a lot of working at American Apparel in 2006. Raël is actively political with sensationalist beliefs that defend marginalized populations and in turn generate many loyal supporters. Maybe they just need better PR?

As the crowd expanded, six female participants, who seemed to be getting bored, sat down on some blankets and started eating granola. The crowd of male photographers went wild—silently clicking buttons on their iPhones.

“It’s important to separate nudity from sexuality,” Sharon said. “Tribes in Africa, South America, and all over the world do it.”

I stared at the middle-aged topless women on blankets, sharing food, lounging, looking like Greek goddesses. Sharon continued explaining why it was important for men to see women topless, saying that it is unnatural for men to repress their hormones by concealing the female body. All of my fantasies about going back in time and being born into a matriarchal tribe came rushing through my skull, uncontrollably hypnotizing me toward the blanket.   

As a journalist, I thought it was appropriate to capture the perspective of the marginalized group of women. I sat down next to the women with my trench coat open, baring my breasts, and they started cheering for me.

“How do you deal with this?” I heard myself say aloud.

I was so overwhelmed by the frenzy of males I could hardly construct a thought.

“That’s right: How 

do 

we deal with this?" repeated a woman beside me. She extended her Raëlian hand, and I avoided making contact. I looked up at the photographers in awe. The panorama of seething males, obstructing the horizon, was a surreal phenomenon of incalculable perversion.

None of the males were talking. All I could hear were camera flashes, body movement, and muffled laughter. It is a really strange way to be objectified. What gratification could exist taking photographs this way? Is everyone just bored?

Or rabidly hydrophobic?

When I stood up, I thanked the Raëlian women for trying to change the world. Even though they support some schizophrenic racecar driver from France, I still think it’s nice that they’re attempting to manipulate this social structure, which I too believe is flawed. Maybe someday, when I start my own cult, I will be able to amass their eager fellowship and start charging mandatory tithes (of which there are none in Raëlianism).

For now, I will retreat back into my normal life with my normal job, scheming the means of language and persuasion in a way that provides me with sustenance. Secretly, while making zero effort to achieve my dream, I will always be burdened by the fantasy of breast-feeding in a circle with my girlfriends as the men go away to hunt.  

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