Jennifer French: Welcome to Season 2 of the Project Hope Podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer. As many of you know, I am a cult survivor myself. For anyone interested, you can hear the story of how I got in and how I got out in Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2. The beginning of this year, 2023, actually marks my 11 years of being out.
And I am so super grateful for the ways my life has unfolded since. I now work with survivors of coercive control, and I’m going to take a moment here to define this term as one of my heart’s desires is to help society at large better understand coercive control in cases that are not just culty, but across the globe I view coercive control as a social issue.
It’s at the heart of cases where women and girls are murdered. We find coercive control in one to one relationships that are intimate, in gangs. sex trafficking, and cults of all types. I have a master’s in the psychology of coercive control, and I’m just beginning a new element of my career as an expert witness for legal cases that involve coercive control.
As a certified clinical trauma professional, I work with survivors. I’m especially excited to be offering a group survivor program for cult and religious abuse recovery. So this is not a support group, but rather a healing program. It’s based on my certification in the incredible work of Dr. Jilly Jenkinson, who gathered decades of research on survivors.
to create a body of work that I would consider to be the most comprehensive and flexible approach I’ve come across in this field. We will meet every other week for six months and registration will open in February of 2023 for those interested. Lastly, I am also a research associate at Salford University and explore topics related to coercive control.
So let’s jump back in to a basic understanding of coercive control before I introduce the next episode. Coercive control is a strategic pattern of behavior designed to exploit, control, create dependency, and dominate. The victim’s everyday existence is micromanaged and their space for action, as well as potential as a human being, is limited and controlled by the abuser.
Initially, the victim may be drawn into the relationship with love bombing and charm. Then gaslighting, isolation, economic control, and financial abuse can take place alongside rules and regulations. that are gradually introduced over time and change at the whim of the abuser. The victim knows there are consequences if rules are broken and they apply to the victim rather than the perpetrator, creating a double standard.
Over time, coercively controlling behavior erodes the victim’s sense of self, their confidence, self esteem, agency, and autonomy. The abuser creates an unreal world of contradiction, confusion, and fear. It may be helpful to know that 51 percent of victims do not even know that they are being abused, manipulated, and controlled.
Coercive control correlates significantly to serious harm, and in many cases, In intimate partner violence, it precedes homicide. These can be difficult topics to grapple with, so I truly hope that this podcast helps to protect you and those you love with helpful voices and information. If you appreciate the podcast, please let us know by subscribing and comment with kindness.
And always think critically, trust your intuition. And be free.
Dr. Tamara MC is a cult child marriage and human trafficking survivor. She advocates worldwide for girls and women to live free from gender based violence. Her Ph. D. is in applied linguistics, and she researches how language manipulates vulnerable populations. She’s published in prestigious outlets such as the New York Times, New York Magazine, and Salon.
She’s currently revising her debut memoir, Child Bride. My Marriage at Twelve. You’ll hear us refer to this project during our two part interview, and I certainly hope that I get to promote her memoir as it comes out. Tamara’s story is just incredible. You will hear about her life in a Sufi based cult, a group she became part of as a young child, with a father who was devoted to the group, or mission of the group.
I feel grateful to Tamara for sharing so much of her life with us. As you will hear her refer to different life phases. The internal division that going between mom and dad caused her. The devoted servitude she experienced with the cult leader and his family, now acknowledged as labor trafficking. And her marriage as a child, and all of the confusing messages and experiences surrounding this.
Tamara’s story is one that I certainly view with deep respect and, well, triumph, frankly. As you will hear the incredible things Tamara has accomplished and the ways she currently uses her words and voice to advocate for others and make our world a better place. We have links in the show notes to all things Tamara MC.
PhD. Please be sure to visit her website because it also has some of her published works, amidst which is her article in Ms. Magazine about the cult she grew up in, and her Motherwell article about girls staying sweet, a reference I’m sure many of you will recognize. Without further delay, please welcome Tamara MC for part one of our two part discussion.
So, welcome to the Project HOPE Podcast, Tamara, MC, PhD, so, so happy to have you with us.
Dr. Tamara MC: Thank you so much for being here. Uh, thanks so much for having me, Jennifer, for bringing me on to your very special podcast.
Jennifer French: Thanks, Tamara. So, I thought for the audience, we could just kind of ground people in one of the conversations that Tamara and I had for the audience.
Um, prior to this interview was just kind of the acknowledgement, you know, Tamara’s story is out there. Um, you just had an amazing, uh, interview on a little bit culty. So people kind of have, people can go to other sources to kind of get. your full story, but just for this audience Tamara, if you don’t mind kind of grounding people into what the Colty experience was, um, maybe even just like a little chronology, uh, to bring us there since you were quite young.
Dr. Tamara MC: Sure. Yes. So my father joined this community and I’m going to use community called commune interchangeably, but he joined this community when I was five years old. So that was in the late 1970s, just to ground you in, in the timeframe. At that point, my mother and father were together, but my mother chose commune interchangeably.
Not to join this group. So I, um, ended up splitting time between my mother and my father. My father left Arizona, where we were living at that point. And I would spend four months with my dad. He moved to Texas eventually. We were a very nomadic community and traveled. But eventually we would settle in Texas for quite a while.
And I would go between my mom and my dad. My mom lived a more traditional life. So I attended a regular public school, a lower to middle class public school. But then in the commune, I was with a whole bunch of children who were homeschooled. And while I was on the commune, I was also homeschooled. And Homeschool really at that time didn’t mean like schooling in mathematics and English, it was really schooling in religious studies.
So we were studying scripture, we were studying language, we were studying, um, prophets, and whatever had to do with religious texts. So that was kind of the beginning of how I grew into this community when I was five.
Jennifer French: Wow. So, and I’m, I’m curious. I have heard people talk about, especially in, uh, divorced families where they’re almost kind of living in two different worlds going between the two families.
Do you mind sharing a little bit about like, do you relate to that kind of living in two worlds or were you feeling more attached to one world after a period of time?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, so I was definitely living between two worlds and my identity was further splintering as each month passed because my mom and my father live so differently.
And. My mother was a liberal 1960s hippie, a feminist and was living a really carefree life. And that’s how my dad was living before they separated. And then when my father joined this new community, it was incredibly conservative and probably the exact opposite of feminist. So very patriarchal. And very controlling.
Whereas my mother believed in freedom and independence, my father’s community was about control and power. So they were two very, very different communities with very different rules. So I had to go between them and I made it look very fluid as if it just happened. But it was incredibly difficult. And that being said, like, even though I was living in two very different worlds, my father’s community had a lot more force to it because it was a lot more verbal.
There were a lot more teachings that eventually I just moved much closer to his teachings than to my mother’s because my mother wasn’t telling me be like this. She was just very free with me and allowing me to be who, who I was choosing to be. So, with my father, I was told exactly how to dress, how to speak, um, what to study, all, you know, everything within my life was being controlled.
So, I, I did sway towards, towards his teachings very gradually.
Jennifer French: Oh, and interesting that it was gradual. I also just, And considering your age and growing up in that way and just the desire that so many of us, especially I think those who join, uh, communities like later on in life who joined by choice that there’s this fundamental need for certainty, you know, that these groups answer to in the day.
So Dictatorialness of it all. And I’ve always wondered if you’re a younger age, you know, how that might affect or influence, um, a child in terms of that idea of them independently kind of gravitating toward certainty and adults really knowing everything versus something that feels more carefree kind of like the spirit of a child.
I don’t know, just a contemplation, kind of.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, yeah, and actually like, like when I use the word gradual, it’s not like the slow gradual, it was just, I think like actually from the, from the get go. I kind of bought into it as well with my dad when I was five years old, because I was love bombed immediately.
I was told I was the most special child. I was told I was beautiful. I was renamed. I was no longer living by the name that my mother and father gave me when I was born. So I had a completely different name. And so all of that happened very quickly that I, I did very clearly become an, an entirely new identity.
So. When I say gradual, it was that I think that I was still very connected to my mother originally. Like, but then it’s slowly, like my father would tell me and, or I should say, when I say my father, I also mean just the community in general, the women, the men, the leaders would tell me that my mother was living in sin.
You know, my mother wasn’t a believer and all of these things that, that I began to believe them because I. Believed that we were the ones going to heaven, that we were the ones with the truth. And if my mother wasn’t following, which they believe that, that basically she should have done. And because she didn’t like follow the community, she was going to go to hell that I was really afraid of going to hell myself, because that’s what I was being taught that I did like move towards, towards that way of thinking just to save myself.
Jennifer French: Yes, of course. Of course. And as a child, you innocently believe as well, you know, that’s why it’s like in these situations, there so needs to be conversations around the kids. Okay, so move us along a little in the timeline.
Dr. Tamara MC: Um, sure. So we had three, we had three leaders and the first leader was from England and ended up returning, but we had a new leader who came and he had a lot of money.
So he built a huge compound in Texas, and it was then that we moved there that I moved there with my father also. By the time I was six, my father had remarried another woman who was also part of the community. So I had a stepmother very quickly and she had four children of her own. So I had four step siblings.
So I grew up with them. So I went from being an only child to being one of five. So that was also a big change in my life. Um, and I was Then sharing rooms with them. I was sharing everything with them. In addition to sharing everything with the other Children in the community. So when this new structure was built, we moved there and the structure was In the hill country of Texas at that point, I believe it was like 150 to a 250 acre farm, and there was really only one way in and one way out, and the nearest town was probably a 25 minute drive and there weren’t cars in the community.
There was maybe one or two cars that were for the men to go shopping because they’d have to go into town and go shopping. And so we didn’t really leave as soon as. As soon as I would arrive, I’d come in on the airplane the day after school finished, and then I would leave the day before school would begin.
So I would be there for summers and Christmases. So just over four months of the year. And that was also, I think why my identity was bouncing because it wasn’t as if. I was staying with my father for a full year, for example, and then going back to my mother just as I would get comfortable after three and a half, four months, I would then be going to a, to a new environment.
And whereas like my mother was stable. I went to the same school. I lived in the same neighborhood when I visit my father. He’d live in a new place. There would be new people. There would be new rules. And so I was constantly having to learn like, like, what are the new rules? Who are the new people? Who is the new leader?
Cause the leader was also changing. And let me think. So after we got to the new property, it seemed as if like things were going to settle down somewhat. Cause this was now built for us. It was built exactly how the leader wanted it to be built. And so it seemed like it was then going to become stable.
Jennifer French: Yeah. And it’s also a very contained, controlled environment, isn’t it?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes, it was very, very contained and, um, Yes, like, like all the Children were being schooled on property. The men were not working outside of the property. And of course, nor were the women. All of the births were taking place on property.
The women would suddenly become midwives without any training. Uh, they also became the doctors of the community. So we didn’t go to hospitals. We didn’t go for any sort of health care. And so, yes, and there was. Yes, there was absolutely no outside access for us.
Jennifer French: Yeah. And can I ask about the relationship with the siblings?
Was that a positive? Was it what, what kind of happened there for you?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. So it was very positive, but it was also very difficult because I was having to learn so many new things that now having To learn being one of many was, was a big change in my life. And I had, I had a brother who was two years old when, when my father and stepmother got married.
And so he was really young and he was just like in those terrible twos and I had never been around. Like a little boy, much less a little boy who was really wild. And, um, my mom, well, my grandmother was so sweet because she used to send me with vitamins when I would go to my dad’s and they were the, um, Oh my God, I can’t even think of the name right now.
Oh, they, they were the chewable vitamins, uh, Flintstones. Yes. She would send me with my Flintstones vitamins to my dad and I would like, and she, like, I would promised her that I would take one every day, but I had this new little brother and as soon as I would get there and he saw my bottle of vitamins, he would like eat them several a day.
And so I didn’t actually, I wasn’t even at. Able to take my vitamins because he would like steal them and like, because we weren’t allowed to have sugar in our community. So for him it was candy and he was so excited to kind of have to have these vitamins. I also had a sister who was just a year and a half younger than me and we were complete opposite.
She was very rebellious and she talked back and just had so much attitude and I was very quiet and very obedient. And so. I didn’t quite know what to think of her, but she always made me feel so comfortable that very quickly we became best friends immediately.
Jennifer French: Sweet. Yeah, it’s, these, um, situations are just so layered, you know, I think of how so often, The, it is in some of the relationships, even though, you know, groups try to break up relationships, there also tend to be these sort of magical moments of relief in particular friendships or relationships.
I’m glad you had that.
Dr. Tamara MC: I know, absolutely. Like my sister is probably The reason I survived because she was just so tough and she, she just got the two of us through things.
Jennifer French: Wow. That’s so
Dr. Tamara MC: yes.
Jennifer French: Okay. So then we enter into this. Experience where one of the group leaders while you’re entering into adulthood, shall we say,
Dr. Tamara MC: the summer that the commune was built was like the summer after sixth grade for me.
So I was 11 and I was When I returned the summer after seventh grade, I assumed I would be returning to the same place. Uh, however, I spent one night there and then the leader who lived separately, he lived about an hour away from the actual property and he lived on. On what we called the hill and he lived there was with his three wives and he had multiple children at the time and he told my father that he wanted me to live with him for the summer.
So just as I was so excited to see my sister and she was so excited to see me the next morning, I was told that I was going to be leaving and I then was brought. An hour away, I was dropped off. My father dropped me off at the leader’s second wife at the second wife’s house, and she had four children under the age of six.
I didn’t know why I was there. I was told that I was there because I was special and because I was special. She really, really liked me and wanted me to live with her. And my father was told that I was going to get special teachings by the leader because I was going to be living in his house with him.
And that was really the summer that changed everything other than, like, the summer when I was five years old and my father joined this community. So those were the two big, like, moments in my life.
Jennifer French: And Tamara When I think about this and your experience of kind of being told that, you know, you’re special and you sort of have this honored privilege of being at this home, in your young little mind, were you actually excited or were you already feeling a little worried because you wouldn’t then be with your sister and your family?
Dr. Tamara MC: I was not at all excited. I was really sad to be leaving my sister because she was my safety at that point. And. I didn’t know where I was going. I, I had never like been with these people. I’d never spent the night with them. So I didn’t know them. They weren’t part of the community because they live so separately that I didn’t have access to them.
So they weren’t like somebody that we were eating meals with or anything. They were just really strangers. And, and this was like the leader who So high up that even when I did see him, like I would be bowing to him and I would be, you know, as soon as he would walk into the room, everybody would have to stand immediately.
So there were all these rules around this person. And is, I mean, Nobody got near the leader except for like a couple of like his head henchmen like right at the, you know, right, right at the very top. So it’s not as if I as a little girl had ever got close to him. So it was, I didn’t understand why I was being sent and I was scared because already I was always scared every time I went to my dad’s because it was so unexpected and I didn’t want to leave my mom’s, I was always nervous.
And. Then, like, not only not being with my dad, but now I was in a completely new place that I had never visited before.
Jennifer French: Oh my gosh, it’s terrifying. You know, it’s like, And then just knowing a little about, you know, the actual situation there where you’re basically, you know, free labor and not. Treated as a part of the family.
Really? Um, how terrifying and what age are you around this time?
Dr. Tamara MC: So I had just completed 7th grade and I was 12 years old.
Jennifer French: Oh, my goodness. Yeah,
Dr. Tamara MC: that’s my first year of middle school. And, and yes, and so I, I was there, I was so quickly thrown into everything and I was there to take care of these four little children under six years old, and I was left alone in a room from before sunrise until after sunset, and I was supposed to.
To make sure that all four of these children were safe and happy. So that was my entire summer was taking care of these kids. In a room. In a room. Yes. By myself.
Jennifer French: Wow. That is so intense. And also just considering your background, you know that you had been a single child. So that must have been. Especially confusing.
You know, it’s like you haven’t even been around really raising another child unless maybe that happened with your father and his new wife. But oh my goodness, what responsibility. Yeah.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. And I mean, once, once my father did join the community, like after I was the only child for quite some time, but by the time I was.
I don’t know, maybe a couple years later there were more children in the community and then I did have my step siblings. So I had become used to being around young children and we were kind of taking care of them, but not in that same way that I was now alone taking care of these children, these new children.
The youngest one was six months old, so just a baby.
Jennifer French: Whoa, so were you actually responsible for the food and everything?
Dr. Tamara MC: So the baby was still nursing, so the mom would come and nurse and then leave. So I wasn’t responsible for feeding the baby, but I was responsible for feeding the other children.
Jennifer French: Wow, that is some serious responsibility.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. Yes. Yeah. So, so that was kind of how the summer began. But then, you know, the second thing that happened within the first week or so was that the adopted son of the leader snuck into my room and, um, began molesting me at that point, but because we were part of purity culture, he said that he had to marry me.
And so within that First week at midnight, like after I had been working all day, he, um, did a marriage ceremony and married himself to me that night. And so now I was also married to somebody also after when I was 12 years old.
Jennifer French: So intense. And did you have any sense of how the community accepted that or how your father did?
Because I wondered about, like, it legit, it, it was legitimately, uh, formal and actually binding within that group. I mean, just to let the audience know, you know, it’s, that’s, It means that you are married. And I think as you’ve explained, there’s kind of a difference between a forever marriage and not, but.
Dr. Tamara MC: Right. Yeah. So I was married in what was called a temporary marriage, which means that somebody is married for a specific amount of time, uh, within a temporary marriage, the person I’m not using the word man, because, um, Because it’s not even only men, it could be even younger boys. They do not have to support the girl or the woman.
So that’s one of the reasons. But the main reason to have a temporary marriage is so that this person can be intimate with the girl or the woman. And that if they are to have a baby, that it would not be considered illegitimate.
Jennifer French: Wow. Yeah. Yeah. So within the community, was it okay that this young man Independently made that decision with you.
Dr. Tamara MC: I’m not sure because the community didn’t know it was a secret marriage, so my father didn’t know because he wasn’t visiting or if he was he was there rarely and I and I don’t even really remember him being there too much and the leader didn’t know like I was told to keep it a secret. So it really was initially a secret marriage.
Jennifer French: Oh, and when did that change that it came out? Because you guys were obviously together for quite a while.
Dr. Tamara MC: So it came out in different waves and to different people and to different parts of the community. It wasn’t, it wasn’t the grand announcement that happened. Yeah. It just slowly became known to different people.
Yeah, it was just on such a different timeframe. So it’s really hard to say, but by the time I was 14, we had a third leader that had come in and with this new leader, child marriage became very prevalent. So most girls were being married off by 14, 14 was. the year that basically the community was told that all the girls had to be married by because already a girl was getting too old by 14.
So child marriages like mine at that point was just kind of not a big deal because most of the girls were being married into these situations.
Jennifer French: Yes. Wow. Did that create a deeper camaraderie between you and the other girls, or did it affect relationships between the women?
Dr. Tamara MC: Oh, yes. Uh, we all were very close throughout this because we were all struggling.
I mean, the young girls were struggling, so we would, whenever we could, whenever we could. The husband was away outside of the room. We would all come together and whisper and talk and like tell each other our stories. And so, so we became incredibly close during this time, but also like the girls. I’m using this in air quotes, but they really wanted to be married quickly and young because the girls who weren’t married were in charge of all of the work.
So, so the unmarried girls had to do all the childcare, all the cooking and all the cleaning within the community. So once a girl got married, she no longer had to do that because she was now considered a wife and a woman. And so her status was instantly elevated. So girls were trying to get married so that they could get out of our horrendous workloads, which were so difficult.
And I didn’t have a forever marriage. So I was still considered like a single girl. So I was still working. My girlfriends had forever marriages, so they were able. to like get out of it, but I wasn’t. So that was, that was one of the key differences is I still had to do all of the work.
Jennifer French: Oh my gosh. And how confusing as well.
You know, I just keep returning to imagining at the age that you’re at processing everything that’s going on and just how incredibly confusing it is, you know, to be told that you’re the special one, to be one of the first kids of the community, which is. typically an elevated status of some sort to be at the, you know, leader’s home and actually living there and in that environment and having everybody kind of revering that.
But then it’s like. You’re married, but you don’t have the forever marriage. You’re literally taking care of a brood of children. You know, it’s so, so did that arrangement continue when you would go back and forth in years to come?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, so I think, It was very purposeful that I wasn’t given the forever marriage.
The leader eventually found out about everything and he would not allow us to get forever married. He made it very clear that we weren’t allowed to. And so in that way, he was still able to keep control over me because as a young girl, you have, um, what is called, I know the word in a different language, I’m trying to think of it in English, but you have the person who’s in charge of you.
So you. So you go from, for example, your father’s house to your husband’s house. So as a girl, you’re never in charge of your body or your choice or your decisions. It’s always first your father and then your husband. But for me, it became my father and then it became the leader, but neither my father nor the leader wanted to give up their sort of power over me that they did not.
Allow me to have this forever marriage because then they would be giving it away to my husband. And so there was really this battle between all three of them for who was in charge of me. And I was in the middle of these three men who were kind of fighting for who was in charge of me.
Jennifer French: Wow. Well, and I think in this dynamic as well, Tamara, about the leader and just how it strikes me as so profoundly kind of bizarre and odd that he would keep you there, keep you close, keep you kind of in the family, but not.
And yeah, I just wondered about that.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. And I mean, At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but as the years passed and I think about it more. And I don’t have, I mean, maybe there is evidence that I still am not like willing to accept, but, but he probably was grooming me for himself or his wife throughout all those years the leader was and he wasn’t willing to let me go.
I mean, as a woman now and I think about why was I as a young girl living in this house, it just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense. And why was I connected to the leader all these years? Like I stayed with him for eight years and I was just part of this family for that long and. It’s just odd because no other person was allowed into this family except for me.
There weren’t any other people. Yeah. Like women, girls, men, like it was just me.
Jennifer French: Wow. Yeah. And was there, you know, also in your acknowledgement of kind of this power struggle between these three men, was there ever a discussion or an attempt to return? Back to your family unit or was that just, you know, once it happened, it’s like you get to receive this amazing gift and it’s this elevated status.
And so it’s not even considered that you would certainly ask to go back to the family, right? Because that would be a no,
Dr. Tamara MC: no. So it does get complicated. The second leader who I was living with would eventually leave the U. S. He’d have to flee the U. S. for, for issues with the government. And so he was no longer living, um, in Texas.
So then when I would return to Texas after that, I would, I would be living with my dad. So I was staying with my dad and the family and the commune. And my husband also moved internationally. So our, relationship was happening through letters mostly, although he visited me sometimes. So that was kind of you know, between like 13 to 16, I was, you know, kind of back and forth between all three of these people.
I was seeing them in different ways, all three of these men. Then when I was 16, I graduated early from high school and I went to live with my father full time. So I was now living in Texas full time. So I wasn’t going between Arizona and Texas anymore. I was full time living on the commune and All these years, the leader was trying to get me to live abroad with him, and I, he was like waiting for me to graduate, so the reason I was graduating early was so that I could, so that I could do this.
And then, then just pretty much soon after I turned 16, I went to live with the leader internationally, so I was living with him again. Oh, wow.
Jennifer French: I didn’t realize that. Yeah. How intense, Tamara. You’re 16 years old, you know? It’s really, how wild. Okay, and of course the, the community is perception of him is completely intact because there’s some message, of course, to the group about why he had to flee and, you know, that he’s not in the wrong, right?
So everybody’s still in reverence of him. It, that didn’t change anything, I assume.
Dr. Tamara MC: No, no, that didn’t change anything. And he, Put in charge this new leader who is the third leader who then came in, or I mean, there’s debate whether or not he put him in charge or the third leader just came in, but we did have a new leader that we were following.
So it’s not as if we were without a leader. We were never without a leader. There was always somebody on the top. And when I was living. When I had moved internationally, the second wife had had two more babies. So when I was living there, I again had a new six month old and a new two year old to take care of.
So I was there pretty much doing the exact same thing I did when I was 12, except for, you know, now they’re Now there were six children instead of four children.
Jennifer French: Oh my gosh. And I hope it was a European country where you at least could understand the language. It’s like so many changes. Wow. Yes. How long were you there with them?
Dr. Tamara MC: Um, probably a couple of years.
Jennifer French: Because this is really the first time now that you’re not in school. Right. Okay. And what was that experience like Tamara?
Dr. Tamara MC: It was so so difficult because my workload had even increased, which seems impossible, but I was in charge of all of the cooking and all of Like the entire kitchen and they’re like the mud, the leader’s mother lived there, the, and then there were always guests like a sister and his brother.
And there were just so many people and, and I’d have to serve lunch every day at three o’clock. And it was this huge lunch that would take me hours to cook. And then I’d have hours of dishwashing. And so there was. They had hired a nanny who worked like nine to five Monday through Friday, I believe. And so the nanny would, would take care of, of like the baby and the, and the two year old during the day, because I was in charge of the kitchen.
But as soon as the baby woke up early in the morning, the baby was given to me at like 5 AM. And then as soon as she left at 5 PM, I was in charge of all of the children again. So I wasn’t getting like a break at all. And this was seven days a week. Like I didn’t have a day off, an hour off. I just was working all the time.
So I was very, very exhausted.
Jennifer French: Wow. And of course, under levels of extraordinary exhaustion and being worked, it’s like, there’s just absolutely no space to consider anything really, or to be in tune with your feelings, or it’s like, you’re just on autopilot. So when did this kind of scenario change or how, how did it change?
Dr. Tamara MC: So my husband also moved internationally to live with the leader as well. We weren’t allowed to live in the same house. Like it was very clear. Like I lived in the leader’s house with him and the wives and the children. And my husband had to live in like another condo that was like. In a different city.
So we weren’t even allowed to live together and the leader would constantly say that we’re not allowed to be married forever. We’re not allowed to be together in this way. And so it was very complicated like that. The, um, my husband at the time also when he was living in America and I was living internationally.
He had stopped writing me and he had mostly been like the person who would send most of the letters and he was always the one who was getting in touch with me. And so I didn’t understand what happened. And so I would write him letters when, when I was there alone before, before he had joined me and he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong.
So after he did move there, I just begged him. I was like, please, please tell me what’s wrong. I know something’s different. I know something’s wrong. Okay. And he just told me, he said, I married another woman and I just like, like all these years that I had waited for us to have this forever marriage. Like I had given up my whole life to, to be married to this person.
I had graduated high school early so that I could also like, it was to be with the leader, but it was also so that we, I could live with my husband. There were so many things that I had done and we had grown up in a polygamist. Cult. So polygamy was very common and his mother also like, like had been married in polygamy and had terrible situations and had like multiple kids who, who like, um, I mean, most of the adults had had these polygamist relationships, including my young friends who I like spoke about earlier, they would get married to older men like The older men would usually have a first wife who was about their age, and then they would marry a young girl, and then the young girl would have babies with them, and then that man would divorce her, and then she’d be left alone with all of these babies by herself, and then it would be so hard for her to get remarried because she was no longer a virgin, per se, like that.
Um, so, yeah. I mean, these are not my words, of course. And so, so many girls and women were being left after they had children. So polygamy was something that I had seen that had just destroyed my friend’s lives. It had destroyed the women’s lives and it had. Like my stepmother left her first husband because he had married another woman and my stepmom then had like these four kids and a little baby and the husband said that he preferred the second wife and there was all these issues.
So my stepmother had left that situation and married my father. My father never got married into polygamy. He was probably one of the only men. And so my husband. Also had a similar situation with his mother who had been married in polygamy and was left with these children. So both of us knew that we were not going to live in polygamy.
That was very clear. So when he came back and told me that he married another woman, that went against every promise that like he had made to me.
Jennifer French: And everything having to do with kind of like the core safety that you’re holding on to and knowing that you’d be kind of protected from this, you know, the polygamy fallout disasters.
Dr. Tamara MC: And I don’t think like I mentioned to your audience, but, but, you know, I was obviously raped in the beginning, you know, with my marriage and all of that and would continue to be raped. But there was also something that changed in me where I did begin to fall in love with this person because he was all I knew.
And. Uh, I didn’t have, like, I had this leader who was just telling me what to do, my dad who was pretty absent, and then I had this person who came into my life who would tell me I was beautiful, and I was this, and I was that. I didn’t even know what beautiful meant. I didn’t even notice my looks or anything at that time.
But, But, you know, my new husband was making all these promises that we’re going to have this amazing life and we’re going to have children, you know, everything that I’d been taught to be was to be a wife and a mother. And he was like promising me that that’s what we’re going to have and that we’re going to live within the community.
And so I began to build up the stream in my own head, that this was the life that I wanted. So by the time eight years later, when I was 20, I had been. You know, I mean, I, I really thought that I love this person more than anything. So it was incredibly, incredibly heartbreaking.
Jennifer French: Yes. Oh, it’s just so complicated, isn’t it?
The, the layers. And once again, you know, I just think about in some ways, as I’m listening to Tamara, I’m having such an appreciation for adaptability, you know, and how we’re able to actually Tell ourselves something or grow in a certain way to find the love that’s there, you know It’s like even if it’s born out of desperation It’s like that’s of course where good human nature goes, you know Yeah, so so this is absolutely heartbreaking devastating and also really like Also, you must be thinking, what is the impact on your world now, your life, your plan?
I mean, this is, it’s like, The experience of the carpet being pulled out from under you, but you’re still in the cult,
Dr. Tamara MC: right? And so, you know, I was, I would beg my husband to leave the other woman and he just became incredibly cold and he would just say, no, I love her. I will not leave her. And he was very clear that he was not going to leave her and that I was going to have to accept this arrangement.
Like there was no choice. And I just felt so stuck at the, at that point because the leader still wouldn’t allow us to have a forever marriage. So I still couldn’t have that. I still was stuck in this house, taking care of these kids and I couldn’t leave. And now my husband was there who I thought was going to rescue me in some way.
And now he’s telling me that. That not only does he love another woman, but I think he was so enamored with her that it seemed as if he didn’t love me anymore because you know, that. that shine in his eyes that he used to have when he looked at me, it was gone. Like I could just tell that I was no longer important in his life.
And so I had, I knew that I had lost him and he would try to convince me, you’re, you know, I’m going to be married to both of you. You’re going to become best friends. You’re going to love her. And he would try to make it sound as if like this was going to be this wonderful new life that like the three of us were going to live together.
And. I just knew deep down that there was no way I could accept that is my life that I could not live through that. And also like, you know, all of this began when I was so young, uh, you know, working for the leader and getting married that at that point I didn’t. I wasn’t able to really understand anything that was happening.
But by this point, I was now 20. So I had a different experience. So I was now able to like re evaluate this marriage and, and, you know, think like, like, what is this? And how, how am I going to be married like this? Like if he, if, if he had entered into polygamy with me when I was 12, I’m sure I would have I would have done it because I wouldn’t have even had a choice.
I mean, I had no choice, but at 20, I was able to have a little bit more of a choice. And even though I was 20 and I could, I didn’t legally, there was nothing keeping me. It’s like I wasn’t like being imprisoned physically, but I was completely in prison because I thought that I had to be there and there was nowhere else on earth I would have rather been than living with the leader and having his special teachings, which, which really never happened.
It was just working. But, but I thought I was still gaining these like I just thought just being like in the. Same house with him. It’s like the energy was like coming into me and I was gaining all of this and it was just coming through me, even though there was really very little connection to him in the way that he was like giving me special teachings when the two of us were alone, for example.
Jennifer French: Yeah. Wow. Okay. So how do you end up resolving this?
Dr. Tamara MC: I tried to convince my husband for many months and he was not budging at all. And back in Arizona, my grandmother, her husband had died. It wasn’t her legal husband and she was now alone. And so. I didn’t mention this in the beginning, but like my grandmother was my greatest mentor and probably because of her, I like had stability in my life mostly.
So she was a huge part of my life. My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor and so like survived the worst, the worst of the worst. And so she always had like the most positive, incredible attitude. And. After her, um, boyfriend husband died, I knew that I had to go be with her. And so I had the excuse that I was going to leave.
And so I told the leader and everybody was accepting because like this person had died. I really had intentions to come back. I didn’t know when or how long I was going to be gone. But I thought that I was going to come back. Like what else was I going to do? I didn’t have anything else waiting for me back in the U.
Jennifer French: Wow. And may I ask with your grandmother, was she, um, whose parent?
Dr. Tamara MC: My mother’s. My mother’s. Okay,
Jennifer French: so presumably she is not a part of this community, but she was somewhere, uh, was she actually in Texas where you were able to see her every once in a while?
Dr. Tamara MC: No, my, my mom’s mom was in Arizona where I was living with my mom during the school years where I was going to public school.
That’s where my grandmother was. And being a single mom, my mom was going to work every day and my grandmother would watch me in the mornings and after school. So my grandmother was really my primary caretaker. Okay. And I just do want to say that. I kept my lives very secretive and separate. So I didn’t tell my grandmother what happened to my dad’s when I went to my dad’s.
So she wasn’t aware of what was going on. I also didn’t tell my mom. Like both my mom and grandmother were not aware of all that was happening. They weren’t aware of my marriage. They weren’t aware of all of this that I was going through.
Jennifer French: Did you actually have a sense that if you shared about it, that they would be upset or like in your young mentality and during these years, even kind of leading up to 20, what was your mentality around that?
Was it that you were keeping a secret to protect something that was so amazing? Yeah. What, what was it?
Dr. Tamara MC: Well, from the very beginning, I was told that I had to keep the secret of the community. So I was told by the community itself, after I got married to my husband, he told me that I had to keep the secret.
So, and I was told specifically not to tell my mom and my grandmother. So that was in the back of my head. And so it was always there. And I, I mean, now, like when I look at it, or like maybe to the outside person listening, they’re like, well, how could you not tell your mother? That seems so crazy, but it wasn’t crazy at the time at all.
I was a rule follower. So if somebody told me not to do something, I just didn’t do it. I didn’t even think about doing it. And I didn’t it. Everything was so confusing at my dad’s house that I didn’t even know how, I didn’t have the words to express what was happening. It’s like, how could I even tell my mom and my grandma that that’s like something that they couldn’t even comprehend.
It was so far, anything they had ever heard of. Like, I don’t think that it just wasn’t part of any thing that they could have latched onto and like, like understood in a way. So I think that way, I also think. Which I wouldn’t have known this at the time, but I think I was completely ashamed, and it’s not as if I wanted anybody to know this, it just seemed like the most horrible thing to have to tell somebody, and so I just think that I was so, so, so, so ashamed of this marriage, and I mean, I didn’t talk about this marriage for years and years and years after it happened, only recently have I been talking about it, so, shh.
It’s just, it was just a part of my life that after I left, I just kind of closed that book and I didn’t reopen it. It was like, I wasn’t even going to get into that. I just wanted to move on and to get on with my new life and to like experience new things, but I didn’t want to go back to that portion of my life.
Jennifer French: Yeah, I get it. And I think this is the beauty of self healing. You know that we really pay attention to ourselves and we do what our systems need. And sometimes it looks like tucking something away for years so that we can move on. feel successful in other ways, kind of get ourselves back to an extent that we’re strong enough to then look at the stuff that’s so painful.
Exactly. And it does make complete sense to me also that knowing how important and how seriously the secrecy gets taken. It makes complete sense to me, actually, that you would be able to kind of function one way in one place and a different way in the other place, and you just divide and be who you are in that environment.
And nobody even kind of knows the difference. Right. Right. We so hope that you enjoyed this episode, and please stay tuned for part of Leaving the Cult, the season two song written by Jaya Suri. And for all things related to Jaya, her music, ways that you can support her, check out the
Thank you, Tamara, for your powerful poem and our conversation about identity, uncovering pieces of ourselves in our writing and how that same writing can help us become whole.
At the end of 7th grade Tamara MC was forced to marry a much older man in secret. Beginning at the age of 12, she spent her school years in classes and her summers as…
Dr. Tamara MC is a cult, child marriage, and human trafficking Lived Experience Expert who advocates for girls and women to live free from gender-based violence worldwide…