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Hi everyone! Welcome to the Divorcing Religion podcast. I’m your host, Janice Selby. I’m a Registered Professional Counselor and a Religious Recovery Consultant. My guest today is a freedom activist for girls and women worldwide. Dr. Tamara MC is a social scientist and linguist who explores how language is used to manipulate vulnerable populations. One of her own quotes is front and center on her website stating, I was a child bride.
It’s time to stop teaching young girls to stay sweet. As a cult, child marriage, polygamy, and modern day slavery survivor and advocate, themes in Dr. Tamara’s work explore coercive control, intergenerational trauma, religion and spirituality, and mothering. Dr. Tamara researches language, culture, and identity in the Middle East and beyond, and she’s currently revising her debut memoir, Child Bride, My Marriage at Twelve.
I’ll also include links to her articles in the show notes for this episode. Welcome to the Divorcing Religion Podcast, Dr. Tamara.
Dr. Tamara MC: Thank you so much for having me, Janice, on your wonderful podcast.
Janice Selbie: It’s such a delight to, um, To get to finally meet you. And then I just realized I had heard you recently on, uh, Rachel Bernstein’s fantastic podcast indoctrination.
I just love that show. I encourage my listeners also to become familiar with the indoctrination podcast. It’s wonderful.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes, thank you. And we were just also chatting before and realized that we were in another workshop together. So these circles are so small, they kind of get smaller and smaller. So it’s so nice to actually be able to sit here and get to chat with you.
Janice Selbie: Yes, agreed. And, and, uh, you have such an interesting story because your life was not run of the mill, ordinary average kind of grew up in, um, North America. life. So I’d love for you to share some about what it was like growing up for you because your experience was so different. Um, can you maybe just start telling us a little bit about where you were?
Were you in North America? Were you elsewhere?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. So I grew up in the United States and My childhood, I guess, seemed fairly normal until I was five years old, although it wasn’t normal because my family came over as refugees. So I was the daughter and granddaughter of refugees. And so in that way, it wasn’t normal.
My grandparents didn’t speak English. And so, so I did really come into like my younger years, like already caring a lot. So, so in that way, but then when I was five years old, I. Before I had started kindergarten, my, my mother had gone away on a, on a backpacking trip to Europe and left me with my father for the summer.
And it was during that summer that my father came across a community that had just came to Arizona where we were living at the time. And they invited him to their community center. And it was then that my life really changed. We ended up going. Every day after that and every evening and we were both renamed.
I was named the most beloved and so very quickly I became there weren’t Children in the community at that time. And this is the late 19 seventies. So it was it was. It was quite a while ago. So really at the height of like, when, um, utopian communities were coming up, they were sprouting up after Vietnam and kind of after it was, you know, after the whole 1960s hippie movement, my parents came out of that.
And so it was very natural for my father to kind of join this community that was very spiritual and was based in really what all seemed to be goodness and seemed to be like a higher. Like, like getting, like, my father was able to, like, tap into a part of him that he wasn’t able to before through the spiritual teachings.
And, so, by the time my mom came home at the end of the summer, my dad had adopted this new lifestyle, and he wanted her to join. But she was not at all interested. She had just finished her master’s degree and had started a career and was very happy with her life. And so then it was when they separated and that was when my life really split apart and I began living these very two different lives.
Janice Selbie: Right, yes, so were they Were your parents in the same state in the United States?
Dr. Tamara MC: So my father soon moved and he, he, the, our group was nomadic, so it traveled quite a bit. The group ended up settling in Texas, and so I would then spend my childhood between Texas and Arizona, and that’s how I would. Kind of split my time between my mom and my dad.
So I had two very distinct and separate upbringings
Janice Selbie: Right. And, um, did you have any siblings?
Dr. Tamara MC: So I’m an only child on my mother’s side, but then my father married a woman and she had four children already. So I very quickly became one of five and that grew to one of seven. So it did grow. So my lives were really polar opposite in both directions.
Like with my mom and I was just this only child, but then with my dad, it was just one of many. Wow.
Janice Selbie: Wow. What a shock that must be for a child to go from being the one and only to, uh, to one of many. That would take a lot of getting used to. Or was it, um, exciting, something different to have other kids around or were they close to your age?
Dr. Tamara MC: So we were all about the same age. I had a brother and sister that were almost my age. So, so several of them were my age. Um, I was not excited to have more people in my family. Um, I, you know, when my father joined the community, I really lost him at that point when I was five years old because the community was segregated between women and men, which also meant girls and boys.
And so that summer, even though I was with my father, I wasn’t allowed to. be with him because I was a girl. And so I was taken immediately and I was brought to be with the women who were complete strangers to me, but I would spend all day and all evening with them. And I wouldn’t actually see my father until the very end of the evening when we would go home.
So I think like when my father then moved to Texas and he had a new wife and four new kids, and there was again, this new huge community with all these. people and a leader who was demanding his, you know, his time and energy that it was just me getting less and less of my father. So in that way, I was not excited.
Janice Selbie: Wow, that is just heartbreaking, even to think up for a child to kind of suddenly feel like they’re losing their, uh, their parent, or at least that closeness, that place that they had with the parent. That is just so challenging. Um. And so you were now part of, um, this group and, uh, your parents had separated.
Were you attending school? Did the, did the group offer any kind of, um, education for the children?
Dr. Tamara MC: There was what was considered homeschooling on the commune, but homeschooling really meant schooling in religious texts and religious languages. It was not actually in math and English and like regular subjects that would be studied in school. So on my mom’s side, I was being traditionally educated. I went to just a regular low to middle class.
public school. And then on my dad’s side, I would be homeschooled. I spent about four and a half months with him every year. So I would be homeschooled on his side. Hold on one second.
And so, for example, like my sister who was just wanted to learn how to read so much, like she didn’t read until she was much older just because there were no like studies in reading. And so I would like teach her how to read. So it’s kind of like, and also because I had more schooling or I actually had some schooling, I became in charge of teaching a lot of the children, their studies.
So I became one of the teachers, even though I was so young.
Janice Selbie: Wow, what a huge responsibility. So only, you know, roughly not quite half the year you’re with your mom and you’re attending a kind of regular school and then the other time when you’re with your dad, there’s not really any schooling going on other than kind of the spiritual, uh, religious aspect that they were trying to, um, indoctrinate or teach all the children.
Yes, that’s correct. Yes. And we’re, um, were the boys and girls also segregated when it came to schooling or could little Children be together?
Dr. Tamara MC: No, girls and boys could not be together. So we were completely segregated. Boys actually had a lot more schooling than the girls. So the girls really had Much, much less schooling because the girls and now I’m getting to when I’m a little bit older.
So this is probably beginning at nine years old, for example. So I kind of switched up in time, but already by nine years old in our community, nine year old girls were considered women. And so we had women responsibilities, which meant that we were in charge of taking care of the little babies. Cause there was always babies as there are in these sort of communities.
There was lots of babies. So we are in charge of babies and helping to cook and helping to clean at that point. So there was really no time for the girls to have a proper education.
Janice Selbie: The nine year old girls were considered to be women. I’m just trying to let that sink in because that is. Just, um, inappropriate on so many, so many levels and so different, certainly for the, our typical, um, Western mindset.
It’s just, it’s very different. So, um, now, did you, were you able to continue with your education all the way, uh, through, you know, up to, to your teens when you were with your mom?
Dr. Tamara MC: So, yes. So my dad wanted me to live with him full time and that was always the goal. And as did the community But my mother was willing to let me visit my dad, but she wasn’t willing to let me live with him full time.
And so she pretty much said that I couldn’t live with him until I graduated from high school. So that was the rule that I was given. And that just seemed like I was going to be so old. Like, it just seemed like it was insurmountable to get to that age. Because at that point, I wanted to live with my dad because I had had so many years.
Of like mind control, like this is what I had to do. And like, you know, with my mom was super liberal and didn’t have rules and just wanted me to be a good person. But then when I go to my dad’s, it’s like, like you mentioned, I was just indoctrinated constantly from sunrise until way past sunset because we’d have to say, you know, we were sleep deprived.
So we’d get up about 4 a. m. and go to bed by midnight. So we were lucky. Like if I got four hours of sleep, like there was almost no sleep and there was no naps. Um, naps were not allowed, rest wasn’t allowed. So I thought that I wanted to live with my dad full time because if I didn’t, I was going to go to hell.
And that was like what I was taught that if I didn’t follow all of these rules and I didn’t do everything that they said that God was going to send me to hell. And so learning that from the time you’re five years old is this young little girl, it’s like, this huge fear. And I always was just a rule follower and I would have never broken rules.
So I thought that the way I was going to get to heaven was through living with my dad. So that was the reason I was in such a rush to live with my dad.
Janice Selbie: What a burden to place on a child, the whole concept, the whole threat and idea of you will go to hell ever. Um, but specifically If you maybe follow the ways of your mother was that did that conversation come up or what was it like for you to be living in what sounds like quite a conservative group environment and then going to stay with your mom who loved you very much and also happened to be quite a liberal person.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. So, so yes, I was told that like, and it was always about if I lived with my mother, I was going to become like my mother, which was like the worst thing that could have happened to me. That’s what the community taught me just because my mother lived in the world. So because she was part of the world and the world was evil, um, because she lived there because she worked, of course she had to work.
She was a single mom and had to support me. And, uh, so, I mean, obviously she had no choice. And just because. My mom wore shorts like that was a horrible thing because our clothing was controlled. We had to cover ourselves from head to toe. And from the time we were, you know, before we were nine years old, we had to cover every inch of our body as young girls, not boys, but as young girls.
And so, yes, so it was very much that My mom was living in sin and that I could not live with her because she was living in sin. So I was really afraid that like, oh my goodness What if I become like my mom because they would tell me my mom’s going to hell And so I was going to follow her there
Janice Selbie: Wow so then what’s it like as a child then when you’re uh, when you’re having to stay with your mom and she’s Nice to you.
She’s kind to you. She says loving things to you, but you’re also trying to grapple with this idea that’s been put in your head that she is evil or she’s at the very least on the wrong path.
Dr. Tamara MC: I became quiet. I stopped talking. I became a selective mute when I was very young, which means that I only talked when I was spoken to.
And so really on the on the outside, there was just pretty much This very, very quiet person that you like. Like nobody really knew what I was thinking, but within me, I was just struggling all the time with these two very distinct and separate lives. And where did I fit in and like, and of course, what’s the worst thing that a child could think of that they’re going to hell or their parents are going to hell.
So that’s kind of the worst thing imaginable. So I was just completely lost and just, I had to not speak. So I could like work through things all the time within myself.
Janice Selbie: Wow. Okay. And so again, back to the time you spent with your mom, would, would you watch TV? Would you listen, listen to the radio? Would you do things kind of that were considered more normal or regular in your, in your secular kind of peer group.
Dr. Tamara MC: So in the cult, there was absolutely no media. We had no televisions, no radios, not even books and not even school books. So everything was controlled. Now this was, you know, the 1970s, early 1980s. And so there wasn’t like internet at all that we have now. So it was also much, much smaller, like. My mom had a tv in the house, but she watched the five o’clock news and That was kind of it.
So it’s not like TV was really part of my life. Anyways, when I was younger, I mean, I would occasionally watch something, but it wasn’t like a big deal in my life television. But really, after I pretty much became 9 years old. All the rules that I followed at my dad’s I’d bring back to my mom’s. And so I’d pretty much follow the same rules.
My mom wouldn’t necessarily know that, but it was just within myself. Like I just wanted to make sure because they would tell me that I couldn’t. like that people became, they would tell me that after 30 days I would become like the people I was living with. And so it was like this horrible thing that after 30 days I would turn into my mother and into the outside world.
And so it was almost like this threat and also like This sort of challenge, like, but maybe you’re going to be the one that, like, breaks this rule and can go more than 30 days and not turn into the people. So I was always really trying to stick to the rules that I was told because, like I said, I was a rule follower and I.
thought that I loved God and I didn’t want to go to hell. So those were all very good reasons.
Janice Selbie: Right. And, uh, they prescribed that the clothing that you had to wear, um, in the cult, did that follow you to your mom’s as well? Or did she have a regular kind of clothing for you to wear when you were spending months with her?
Dr. Tamara MC: Um, it would follow me like after a certain age. Um, I didn’t really have a lot of control over my clothes because also my mom didn’t have a lot of money. So it’s not as if I had like an option for clothes like I would just have whatever there was like I didn’t. We didn’t have money and So I guess in that way, it was just kind of what I could have.
But then definitely at a certain point, like, no, I never wore shorts and I was very covered up.
Janice Selbie: And I’m wondering, did your parents, um, speak to you about each other? Did they speak poorly of each other or did they just not really talk about each other?
Dr. Tamara MC: My mom didn’t talk about my dad. Um, my dad in the community would talk about my mom.
Janice Selbie: Sure. Yeah. Wow.
Dr. Tamara MC: And it wasn’t like about her. Yes. It was nothing about her. It was just her being in the world because she didn’t follow. So because she like had chosen to kind of live that secular life and she was one of You know, the masses of Westerners who, like, lived in a certain way. So it wasn’t personal about my mom,
Janice Selbie: right?
And and it sounds similar to so many fundamentalist groups that are very, very fear based. Um, and so if you see you’re constantly concerned, if you step out of line 11 foot step out of line, you’re in danger. You’re in terrible danger. And that is so confining, um, and constricting and exhausting to be have to all the time, try and think about the rules.
Am I following the rules? Am I doing it right? Am I doing it correctly? So it’s a tiring time. And you must have been very tired because you mentioned yeah. Sleep deprivation, not allowed to nap, and from a young age, being responsible for the other children, the smaller children in the group.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes, and just the workload, because by the time I was, like, We started doing all of the cooking.
The young girls were in charge of all of the cooking for the whole community, which was about 150 members at the height of it. And so we were in charge of all of the cooking and all of the cleaning up of like the dishes and putting them away and drying them. And all of that, like there would be a woman in charge.
And I’m putting that like an air quotes right now, who was kind of like our whip master who would tell us what to do. So she didn’t do anything. She would just like, tell us, this is what you have to do. So she just be like, chop this, do this, do that. And so, um, so there was like one adult in charge, but whoever that adult was, was always so angry that they were in charge.
So they would just take it out on us.
Janice Selbie: Oh, no. Wow. Wow. So, um, there wasn’t really any nurturing that was going on behind the scenes that you had hoped the child would be receiving.
Dr. Tamara MC: No, I can’t think of nurturing. There wasn’t hugging. There wasn’t kissing. We weren’t put to bed. Um, and on the In the commune, which I didn’t mention is we didn’t actually live in a regular house.
It was kind of like a dormitory. So there was like a courtyard and then around the courtyard there was rooms and then there was a communal bathroom and then a communal kitchen. So I didn’t actually live in a room with my dad and my step mom. They lived completely across the courtyard by themselves and I lived in a room with all of my new siblings.
And so Like I was just completely alone. So it’s not as if we were even in a house where nurturing could happen. It was just like the children were completely alone pretty much the majority of the day.
Janice Selbie: Wow. Wow, so, um So then what, uh, what happened as time, as time went on, so when you, when you got to be nine years old, many more responsibilities and restrictions, uh, were placed on you, and you were caring for children and, and doing the meals and the cleaning, and I’m guessing still had to be available for all spiritual and religious kind of teaching and training that was going on, and you mentioned the boys didn’t really have to do much,
Dr. Tamara MC: They definitely didn’t have to do as much as the girls, that’s for sure.
And yes, I mean, we were praying so many hours of the day. We’d have to stay up sometimes all night long in chanting sessions. We wouldn’t even be allowed to sleep and we’d have to sit up the whole time. And like, we couldn’t even nod off in any way. So like the religious part of it, like this, that part of it was so strong, like.
Like when we weren’t cooking clean and watching kids it was like the memorization of like chance like there was so much memorization there was so much stress and like making sure that we knew these different um parts of like the holy book and so like we had to memorize them because that was gonna help get us to heaven and so Always, we were taught, like, in the back of the mind, in our, the back of our mind, like, we had to be repeating God’s name.
So, like, at every moment, I was, like, trying to remember to repeat God’s name. And so, God had, like, all these different names. And so, we had, like, to memorize all the different names of God. And so, we’d have to constantly try to chant them within ourselves, like, as we were, like, drying a dish. Like, we’d be chanting God’s names, like, inside of ourselves.
So, it was All consuming. There was never a moment to just like, like, even like it could be like, okay, maybe now I’m just washing the dish and my mind can wander. It couldn’t wander like there was no time for our minds to wander.
Janice Selbie: Wow. Wow. And we really, we absolutely need that. And especially as as Children, we need to be able to daydream and think about things and process things through play.
Wow, that’s just so much to think about. So even we’re even the Children not permitted to nod off or fall asleep or nap. What were the what would happen in that situation if you are one of the Children fell asleep?
Dr. Tamara MC: Well, there would Like we were in circle, so there would be like a women’s circle and a men’s circle.
And sometimes the man who was leading the chanting would come in the middle of our circle and he’d like kind of make sure like he’d look at everybody continuously. And so if you nodded off, he could slap you across the face. He could start screaming at you. He could tell you to stand up. He could shame you like.
All things could happen. And then the women also within the circle, like when the man wasn’t in the middle of the circle, they always had their eyes on us too. So they could at any moment, um, reprimand us.
Janice Selbie: No freedom whatsoever. Right. Well, then if you would, um, take us forward a little bit to, uh, the title of your book, you know, being married at 12, what, what happened?
Dr. Tamara MC: So sure. So when I finished seventh grade, I, I would travel to my father’s house the next day. And so I traveled to my dad’s house and. Just, like, remember, like, this was my first year of middle school, so it was already super stressful, and the end of a semester, you have exams, and it was, like, everything was new in middle school, and it’s, like, I had so much pressure, but, and I had lockers for the first time, like, all the things that a middle schooler would go through, and, so, Right after I finished seventh grade, I went to my dad’s.
I went back to the commune. We drove there after I got off the airplane. But then I learned that the leader wanted me to live with him that summer. And the leader lived an hour away and he had a personal residence. So he didn’t actually live with us. And so he lived on a separate hill that was about an hour away and he had Three wives and I think six Children at the time.
And so my father thought it was such a great honor. No other child had been chosen. Like here I was being asked to live with the leader. Nobody went to the leader’s house and I was being asked. And so my dad just took me the next morning and I went through, like, at that time, it was crazy because it was so long ago.
But I mean, there was like a metal electronic gate, which is like unknown at that time with like an intercom. And so like, we’d have to be, you know, my dad had to call in and say that we’re there. And then after they knew it was us, the metal gate opened up and like, my dad drove me up this hill and it just kept getting steeper and steeper.
And We got to one of the houses, which was the leader’s second wife’s house, and she just let me in, my dad, you know, my dad knocked on the door, she let me in, and then my dad left, and I was just there completely alone, and I didn’t know why I was there, necessarily, like, I just didn’t quite understand, but I quickly learned that I was there to watch the second, second, Wife had four children under six years old.
So the second wife had four children under six years old. There was a six month old baby and a 2-year-old, and I was there to take care of all of her children. And so the following day there was what was called the playroom. And the playroom had no choice in it. There was just like. Like kind of a, uh, mattress on the floor.
And I was just left with these four kids and the door closed behind me. And I was supposed to entertain them with no toys. No toys, no books, no, nothing, just me.
Janice Selbie: Wow.
Dr. Tamara MC: 12 year old me was supposed to entertain these and not only just entertain three of them, but I had a baby that I had to hold the whole time.
So like a baby who couldn’t even sit up.
Janice Selbie: Incredible. Wow. That is, I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine that as a grown woman, let alone a 12 year old that’s just finished grade seven. That is just. So wild. So then you’re, you’re staying there with this family that you don’t, you know, the mom that you didn’t really know, or I should say the leader’s wife, not your mom.
Dr. Tamara MC: Um, what were your interactions like with the leader and with the wives? Were they pleasant? Were they neutral? Were they, what was
it like? Well, I mean, I would only see the leader occasionally because he had three wives and he was going between houses and teaching. So it’s not like he was very much part of my life, but very much.
The second wife was because I was watching all of her Children, and it was just as she was British and had a very heavy British accent and came from a very, very wealthy family. As did the leader, the leader had a lot of money. So like the community where I lived, like we had no money like we were. So poor like so little food, but the leader lived lavishly So I was suddenly in this gorgeous house, but I wasn’t there Is a family member is a daughter as, um, you know, is sort of somebody that was there as a friend.
Even I was there as their servant. And so how I lived was very, very different than how they lived and there was a room off of the playroom that was like a converted shed. Like it was an outdoor shed. And that’s where I stayed. And yeah. There was just a futon on the floor. There was nothing on the walls and there was like a glass door that went to the outside that didn’t lock and the rest of the house was gorgeous and had like heating and A.
Janice Selbie: Yeah, unpaid labor exploited. Yeah. Yeah. Well,
Dr. Tamara MC: and so I wasn’t special at all. There was no honor. I mean, like, I guess you could speak about there was an honor because they knew that out of all of the Children, they could trust me because I was very responsible and very trustworthy.
But that didn’t work in my favor because it just put me in a horrible situation. Like, for instance, my sister, who was a similar age, she wasn’t chosen. But But they wouldn’t have chosen her. She was completely rebellious and breaking rules all the time. And so, so they wouldn’t have, like, had her live with them.
They just knew that I would do anything that they told me to do. So my life there, um, so I was in this room and then within the first few days, the first week, maybe even the first night, somebody snuck into my room and it was the adopted son of the leader who was there and. There was nothing I could do.
Like, I was completely alone on this hill. Everybody was sleeping. It was at about midnight. I was sleeping in my little room by myself. And this person snuck in and began, like, um, sexually assaulting me. And that lasted for several days. And then one night he came in and it was like after I’d been washing dishes and my sleeves were soaking wet, I was exhausted.
And We were just sitting on the floor and he said to me that that he had to marry me because in like our culture he couldn’t be with me without marriage because like we came from this purity culture where you had to be married to have intimate relations and I mean, I was a girl who had never had an interest in boys.
I had never kissed a boy I hadn’t hadn’t held hands like I just had no idea what was happening at that point I just hadn’t even thought about marriage. It just wasn’t even in the back of my mind. It was just, it just wasn’t even something I had thought about. And so kind of in a, and then in a language that I didn’t even understand at the time, he asked me to repeat after him and I repeated after him.
And within less than like probably 20 seconds, we had a marriage ceremony because In this particular type of marriage, you don’t need any, um, witnesses, so it could just be the man and the young girl, for example, I’m going to say the young girl, so nobody had to be there, he could legally, when I say legally, I mean within our religion, within our belief system, he could be with me by just marrying himself to me.
Janice Selbie: Wow, wow, that is incredible and, and horrible and confusing, I’m sure. And he was older than you. You were 12 and he was more of a closer to adult age.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. He was, he was older than me. He was older than me. He wasn’t like a man, like he wasn’t like, and a lot of these child marriages, the man is like 10, 20 years older, but it wasn’t that case.
So there wasn’t a huge age gap, but there was a huge experience gap. Like he had lived with the leader. He’d been part of this community. He’d already spoken several languages. He’d lived abroad. Like he was, he was a big person too. He was already tall. Like, like, I think he had a size 13 shoe and I think he was close to six feet.
And I’m not, I mean, today I’m not even four, four 11. So I was even teenier then. So there was like a huge, like, size difference, like, even though the age difference wasn’t huge, there was a huge gap between us.
Janice Selbie: Absolutely. And so then he informs you that you’re married, I guess, to him after saying the, uh, the words.
So then what happens? Do you, do you just stay? living there in the servant quarters and you’re kind of pretending in public that you guys aren’t together. Does anybody else know?
Dr. Tamara MC: So, yes, it was. It was a hidden marriage. So during the days I was taking care of the kids, I was, we also had a community. It’s like There was a community building and so I would go there and like serve people and like work and then I would come home by midnight completely exhausted and ready to go to sleep and then he would sneak over and then by about four or five a.
Janice Selbie: Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe you were able to keep going. That is a tremendous, uh, endurance on your part. Just absolutely incredible. Um, so then what, what happened?
Dr. Tamara MC: So that schedule went on for the whole summer and Then the day before I was supposed to fly back to Arizona, my dad picked me up and I went back to him for a night and then I flew back to Arizona, started eighth grade and I didn’t tell anybody what happened to me.
It was a big secret that I had to hold.
Janice Selbie: Wow. Wow. How incredible. It must have been so hard to go from one world. To another world and then you’re just you’re surrounded by kids who are acting like kids and doing kid age appropriate kind of things and you are now a wife and also looking after all these children that that must have been just an incredible shock to endure every time that happened.
So, um, take us, you know, move us a couple of years, um, in the future. What’s, what does it look like for you?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. So he, the leader and Tim, they ended up leaving the country. And so a lot of my relationship with my husband became through letters and Then he would sometimes come visit me when I was at my dad’s house.
And so it was kind of this back and forth thing. Then when I was 16, I think I mentioned my mom, like I mentioned that my mom said I had to graduate high school. And for somehow I figured out how to graduate early. And this was much before anybody was graduating early. Like a lot of kids do now, but this was in the 1980s and I learned how to graduate early.
I graduated high school when I was 16. I don’t even know how I did it because Like when I went back to school, I wasn’t really in school. Like I was in my head all the time. Like I didn’t even hear what the teacher said. I just remember that I would take exams and just somehow get through things. But like, when I was 16, I was already taking college courses just to like, To get like my English class, like my senior English, I was taking college courses.
And so I was taking several courses in college at that point. I graduated early and then I went to go live with my dad full time at that point. And so I was just living with him. And then by then my husband had come back and was living in America as well. And so then our relationship like was growing at that point in a different way.
Janice Selbie: Okay, so you were living with your dad. And your husband came back, but he wasn’t living on the compound or in the community where you guys were.
Dr. Tamara MC: Well, we had a couple of communities. So he lived in a different community. So I was going back and forth. He was in a different state. So I was kind of going back and forth and then he was coming to our state.
So it was just kind of a lot of back and forth. But then when I was 17, I moved to where the leader was living because he had always like his goal from the time I was 12 was to have me quit school so I could live with him full time and work for him full time. And when I say work again, it’s, it’s, it’s unpaid labor.
And so I was always thinking that I was just going to live with him and his wife. And even though Like, you know, when I talk about it now is like, how did I get through that? Why would I ever want that? But I didn’t think I had another option. Like being close to the leader was guaranteeing me getting to heaven because he was the closest to God that there could be.
So I was the closest to God. And cause I was like this chosen child and I was the only one allowed in their house and not only the only child, but. They didn’t even allow other community members like my stepmom didn’t even go into their house like it was just me and so I just really wanted to live with him so I left the country and I began living with him and working for him and doing the exact same thing I did.
Before and he had two new babies at this point. So I was taking care of a new six month old and a new two year old and my husband also moved to where the leader was living. So now we were also living together. So we were also reunited again. So this was kind of that was how I got from like 16 until I was 20 years old that that was sort of that time frame.
Janice Selbie: Right. Well, what I’m really curious about is how did you get out?
Dr. Tamara MC: Sure. So when my husband was in America and I was out of the country working, he stopped writing me as much as he normally did. And I kept asking him like, what’s happening? And he wouldn’t tell me anything. So By then, of course, I was in love with this person.
Like I had been with this person since I was 12 years old. This is like eight years, like during the most developmental years of my life. And there was always this promise of like, this life, this good life that we were going to live and like how we were both going to live with the leader and like, You know, it’s just it just seemed like ideal.
Like here we were these two people that only had access to the leader into his whole family. And so I was really, really in love with him and just waiting for like our lives to take off in a different way and for us to finally get to live alone together because we were still living in the leaders. out.
So we didn’t actually have a normal marriage in any way because I still was living in servants quarters. Like in the new house, there was another servant’s quarter. I was living in that, which again was like this shed that was like, I don’t know, they somehow put it together and there wasn’t air or anything like that in the shed.
So So it was still like, there was still like a lot that hadn’t happened in terms of a regular marriage between us. And so he didn’t tell me what was happening, but then when he did come to live in Europe with me, he, you know, I just kept asking, you know, why? Like, why, you know, was everything okay? Because I could just tell he was different.
He didn’t look at me the same way. He didn’t seem like he had that like sparkle in his eyes, like when somebody’s in love with you and is the intro, like, He always seemed so in love with me and so excited by me and interested and he no longer had that. There was just this dullness and then one night when we were just sitting on a rock outside and I was begging him, he finally just said, I married another woman.
Oh my gosh. Yes, so he had married another woman while he was in America and he was now married to both of us and I was in a polygamous marriage without my consent and he just said that he loved her and that he was staying with her and that I had to accept it like there’s nothing I could do about it and I just knew within me by that point at 20 years old that I could not accept polygamy.
Okay And it may seem like odd for somebody to know that, but this is a girl who was brought up in a polygamous cult. So polygamy was all over me, all, all around me. I’m sorry. So all of my girlfriends at that point were getting married off at 14 to men who were much older than them as second and third wives.
And then the men would divorce them and then they’d be alone with babies. And so like I had watched so many of my girlfriends as lives. fall apart. And I was like, always in the middle of wives, like talking about each other. So one wife would be talking about the other wife. And so that was within the community itself.
And then when I lived with the leader, I was with him and his three wives who all hated each other. So I was like in the middle of all three of their worlds. And it was so stressful that I just knew. No way do I want to live in polygamy. Like, there’s no way I could do this. So that was really my boundary.
And I just continued for months begging him to please leave her. And he just kept telling me, no, that he loves her and he’s not leaving her. And so that just went on and on. And then like the hardest thing I had done up until that point. Was I just decided that I couldn’t do it and I had to leave like that was it?
like I just knew that I could not live like that for the rest of my life and So I got on a plane and flew back to America
Janice Selbie: I know did you did you tell your mom you were coming or did she know? It’s such an incredible story.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, so my grandmother’s partner at the time had died and they’d been together for many years right about that time.
And so my grandmother was suddenly alone and so I had an excuse to fly away because my step grandfather had died. And so in terms of with the cult leader, I had a wonderful story and then kind of, I, I thought that I was I knew I was leaving my husband, but I thought I was just going back, but that I was going to return to the leader’s house and continue to work for him.
So, so I was really not leaving forever. I was just leaving my marriage forever, but I didn’t even know what that looked like. I mean, what could I have really known?
Janice Selbie: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. So you flew to America. Um, and then what happened?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, so I came back and I started waitressing and then I found out that I could actually go to college and it wasn’t even something I had planned to do.
And I found out that there was a course that I was really excited to take and it was a five credit course and that I could apply and I could go in part time with six credit hours. And so I applied in my first semester. I took six credit hours and then the next semester I took 12 credit hours and then I think it increased where I was taking like 27 to 33 credit hours a semester.
Oh, my gosh, full time students almost because I was so voracious to learn. Yes. Yeah, I was so excited to be there that I graduated college in about three years, like, after everything I grew. And that was just where I, I just, I loved university. Like when I went to school, like high school and middle school, I was so out of it.
I didn’t learn anything. Like even in elementary school, I don’t even remember learning anything because I was always in my dad’s community. Like I was always reliving things even when I was alone. But then when I suddenly went to university, it’s like, I felt like. Like my mind expanding like I could almost feel my brain cells growing.
I could feel my skull like, like actually expanding almost like there was expanders inside and, and I just loved it. So it great, it gave me so much joy. So that was really how I was able to begin healing was through education.
Janice Selbie: Fantastic. And were you living with your mom at that time or other family members at that time?
Were you starting to talk at all about what you’d been through?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes, I was living with my mom. I met my second husband. I believe, like my second year and we got married. So we both graduated at the same time when I was a junior, but he was on a five year plan and I was on a three year plan. So, um, so we both graduated together and, um, right after I graduated.
But we, we got married a year before we graduated and then when I graduated, I found out right afterwards that I was pregnant and so then I had two children, right, you know, back to back and so my life just kind of took off and I didn’t talk about my colts. It wasn’t even part of my life. Like, after I left.
I didn’t talk about my child marriage. I didn’t talk about my call. I just completely like I, of course I went into college, but then I was married very quickly and then I had these kids and then my kids became my world. So like there wasn’t even a me like once, like once you become a mother and you’re nursing and you have back to back kids and all these responsibilities, like, like I only thought about my children.
So I really didn’t think about all of this until quite recently that I began Like it came back up in my life. Of course, it was always there, but I was married for approximately 18 years to my second husband, and we got divorced about 12 years ago and. You know, it was incredibly sad for me because, you know, I just wanted to be married forever.
But by then my boys were almost out of the house. So it was, it was nice. And I just had several years of healing from my divorce. I had, I still, oh, so after my bachelor’s, I went on for my master’s and I went on for my PhD. And When I was going through the divorce, I still had like a couple of years left for my PhD.
So I was so busy with that And my boys were also like at the height of teenagehood, which is like so tough So suddenly I was a single mother to these two kind of wild sons at the time, you know the most wild stage that they would ever be and So I was I had a lot going on so it really wasn’t it took me you know, because I had to build my career from there because I still hadn’t like built my career because I was still going to school.
I was still raising my boys. So I still had to like build my career. I still, you know, had to find housing for myself, like all the basic things. It’s like I had to start over anew. And so really it’s been in the last several years that now my boys are doing wonderfully, you know, they’re in their mid twenties and like I’ve really been able to go back to my past.
And like really revisit what happened.
Janice Selbie: Wow. Wow. That it’s it’s just Wow, your story is so much, um, neglect, betrayal, exhaustion. Um, I am really amazed by you, by the person that you are today, the person who endured all that. still had the will to keep going and growing and learning. And I know that motherhood is something that’s been very important to you.
And I’m sure you gave your sons a completely different, um, experience growing up than what you had.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes, thank you. Yeah, their upbringing was night and day. I mean, I was in their life, like, you know, I was there when they went to school. I was there when they came home. I was at all of their, you know, extracurricular activities were so big for me to make sure my children just had so many hobbies.
And I mean, they had so many toys, like you talked about play, like their whole childhood was just one big playhouse. I had a whole room that was just like their costumes. Like I just use, I was obsessed with them having costumes. I love it. Every single Lego, like just their entire lives were just like play because that was what I didn’t have.
So I just wanted them to have like a childhood, like it’s so important for children to have a childhood.
Janice Selbie: Well done mom. That’s excellent. So, um, we just have a couple of minutes left. Can you talk a little bit about, um, the advocacy work that you’re doing now?
Dr. Tamara MC: Sure. So, you know, it wasn’t. I, I began learning creative writing in the past decade.
Like I was in academia, but now I’ve become a creative writer. And so I’ve studied, I went back after my PhD for an MFA, which is a master of fine arts. And I went to study creative writing at Columbia university in New York city. I was actually accepted into their program and it was like so exciting.
Yeah. So I’ve really been studying creative writing. And then through that, like I’ve been learning like journalistic writing and, So in the past. really two to three years. I’ve been writing several essays and many different outlets that I’ve been published in. I have also begun working with different child marriage organizations, different human trafficking organizations.
I’ve been speaking, I’ve been being on podcasts, just pretty much. I’ve had people reach out to me from all over to share my story. And now I can really. Combine like my phd work, you know, kind of like I learned such such incredible critical thinking skills through Getting my phd which is something that I was completely lacking growing up in a cult And so i’ve really developed that that now that now I can like You know, I can read so many different things and be very critical about them and then be able to comment on them.
Um, I’m just I mean, there’s just such a wonderful community right now. A fellow girl and I’m calling him girl. But we were girls at the time. But like cult survivors who, like, grew up like I grew up in this particular religious community. But It’s almost identical to like another girl who was brought up in a completely different community.
Like it’s so crazy how similar it is. So it’s like all of a sudden, it’s like I have this new community of women who are so strong and they’re just doing such, such incredible activism work. And I mean, it’s just kind of being around them as well. And just us teaching each other.
Janice Selbie: Wow. So part of. Your healing journey has been, um, creating or sharing community with other people who have similar experiences who have also come through, um, very difficult and traumatizing cult, uh, experiences.
Um, and I’m sure also you have read books related to cult recovery or even I know there I think of, um, Uh, Dr. Yanya Lawledge, Dr. Marlene Wanal, Dr. Steve Hassan, um, all really big names in the recovery field for people who are recovering from religious trauma and, of course, from, uh, cult life also and coercive control.
Tamara, it’s been such a pleasure meeting you and having you on my show. Thank you very much. I hope that in the future you might be willing to address us at the conference on religious trauma sometime. We’d love to learn from you.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. Thank you so much. Yes. It was such a, such a good conversation. So thank you so much for all of your questions.
Janice Selbie: And can you please tell our listeners how they might find you? Where
Dr. Tamara MC: can they find you? Sure. So, um, generally you can find me on any of the social medias at either Tamara, T A M A R A M C, just two letters, M C. And so pretty much Tamara, M C P H D and I was on Twitter more, but now it’s X. I’m not sure, but yeah, just find me.
And, um, yeah. And I’m always open to like share my story and collaborate. So I really love doing that.
Janice Selbie: Wonderful. I’ll make sure we get your, um, your links in the show notes so that people can find you. And I’d like to thank our listeners and our viewers for joining us today to hear this really interesting and important story.
So thanks to you, Tamara, and thanks to you for joining in. Take care, everyone.
When she was only 12-years-old, Dr. Tamara MC had a secret wedding …
Tamara MC, PhD tells her story of living in a Sufi cult from the age of 5 years old.
Dr. Tamara MC is a cult, child marriage, and human trafficking survivor and activist who advocates worldwide for girls and women to live free from gender-based violence. Her…