June 21, 2024
The Matchmaking ‘Cult’ the coerced women into gender transitioning

The Matchmaking ‘Cult’ the coerced women into gender transitioning

The Netflix docuseries “Escaping Twin Flames” explores the controversial online community that targeted lonely people looking for their soulmates.

Netflix link to the show

If a guru forces you to watch HBO’s The Vow in order to prove that he’s not a cult leader, he most definitely is—one of many lessons that can be gleaned from Escaping Twin Flames, a three-part docuseries about the online self-help outfit that promises to provide the lonely with their one true love. Arriving mere weeks after Prime Video’s own non-fiction exposé Desperately Seeking Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flames Universe, Cecilia Peck’s Netflix investigation damningly dissects the ugliness perpetrated by Jeff and Shaleia Divine, two online hucksters following a standard-issue cult playbook—save, that is, for their business’s modern twists, the most galling of which is its practice of coercing women into gender transitioning.

Confirming that there’s no shortage of people looking for mystical mentors who’ll afford answers to life’s problems, as well as exploitative phonies willing to assume those roles, Escaping Twin Flames (Nov. 8) is a brutal takedown of Jeff and Shaleia, who’ve made a mint by guaranteeing to pair individuals with their Twin Flames (i.e. soulmates). By paying for Twin Flames Universe (TFU) classes, coaching sessions, and other instructional materials (most of which revolve around a self-recrimination technique known as “The Mirror Exercise”), members are told that they’ll meet their divinely chosen partner and enter into a Harmonious Union. How will this come about? Initially, Jeff and Shaleia said that acolytes would recognize their True Flames courtesy of an instant, irresistible attraction. Before long, though, they were proclaiming that, because of their own “magical” union, they had the unique power to identify a person’s True Flame—and thus their word was to be unquestionably followed.

This is, of course, pure, unadulterated New Age-y nonsense, and the fact that anyone would buy it speaks to the way in which desperate unhappiness and lack of fulfillment breeds susceptibility to mumbo jumbo. Escaping Twin Flames features interviews with a collection of former members, including Keely, who became the first True Flame success story thanks to her whirlwind romance with, and marriage to, Colby. Keely was so all-in that she convinced her sister Marlee to join the organization and to accept Jeff’s proclamation that some older Utah rando named Joshua (who’d sent her a song via TFU’s Facebook page) was her True Flame. In no time at all, Marlee was moving to Utah to be with Joshua, despite the fact that he was a convicted felon with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Unsurprisingly, this did not beget a happily ever after.

Also not shocking is the revelation that Jeff and Shaleia preached that members should cut off anyone interfering with their search for a Harmonious Union, including family members. Peck’s docuseries concentrates on a few mothers struggling to reconnect with their children, most notably Louise, whose daughter Stephanie severed all ties with her clan, including her twin sister Paula. As sociology professor Dr. Janja Lalich explains, this is a bedrock cult tactic, as was Jeff’s pronouncement—heard in some of the cringey TFU videos—that he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ. That Jeff is nasty, controlling, and creepy in those online posts is far from stunning, although his habit of overtly articulating his base financial motives (and flaunting the wealth he’s accumulated from member contributions) is eye-opening in its brazenness.

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Dr. Janja Lalich

Janja Lalich, Ph.D. is a researcher, author, and educator specializing in cults and extremist groups, with a particular focus on charismatic relationships, political and other social movements, ideology and social control, and issues of gender and sexuality.