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ABOVE: Jeff and Shaleia Divine (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Is Twin Flames Universe Trans-Inclusive, Or Just Another Cult? 

According to Twin Flames Universe…if you’re struggling to find “The One,” simply try changing your gender…

By Courtney Hardwick

Finding love can be an exhausting process. If you believe there’s a “perfect someone” out there for you, that helps take a little of the uncertainty and loneliness out of the journey – but what if you were told you would have to change your gender or sexual orientation in order to be with the person who is meant for you? It goes against the wisdom that the right person will accept you as you are – but according to the co-founders of Twin Flames Universe (TFU), it might be necessary, and you might not have any say in the matter. 

Started in 2017 by Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, TFU is a mostly online community that promotes the concept that everyone has a “twin flame.” When you meet that person, the Ayans posit, you’ll feel an immediate connection that can’t be replicated with anyone else. This idea of twin flames or soulmates has been around for a while in New Age and spiritual circles, but Jeff and Shaleia have built an entire business out of helping people reach “harmonious union” with their “twin flame.” In theory, they are a self-help group that guides people to finding true love, but in practice, they operate more like a cult.

Two recent documentary series – Escaping Twin Flames on Netflix and Desperately Seeking Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flame Universe on Amazon Prime – explore the world of TFU through recordings of video meet-ups, first-hand accounts from former members, and in-depth reporting about the group by Vanity Fair and Vice. In both documentary series, one of the more shocking allegations is that Jeff and Shaleia encouraged, coerced and bullied people into changing their gender expression and identity in order to fit the ideal of a twin flame union…which is, of course, heteronormative.

At first glance, TFU appears to be welcoming and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Their website features multiple transgender and same-sex couples as official twin flame unions and certified coaches. However, according to former members, TFU’s stance as an ally is all superficial. One of the major pillars of the twin flame ideology is that everyone fits into one of two boxes: the “Divine Feminine” or the “Divine Masculine,” and a true twin flame union must include one of each. So, while there are plenty of same-sex couples in the Twin Flame Universe, the expectation is that the couple will still adhere to traditional, binary gender roles.

In the Prime docuseries, lesbian couple and former TFU members Catrina and Anne talk about Jeff using them as an example of the “Divine Masculine” and “Divine Feminine” in a same-sex couple. Both in private and on calls with other members, Jeff told Anne she should be living as a man, and called her “Dan” and “Anne the man” against her wishes. Catrina and Anne were eventually kicked out of the group because Anne refused to accept Jeff’s assertions that she was “a man on the inside.” 

They aren’t the only ones who experienced this kind of pressure. At one point, in an effort to create more twin flame unions to validate their own system, Jeff and Shaleia placed members into forced partnerships. Since the group was disproportionately made up of straight, cisgender women, they had to get creative. So, they not only assigned partnerships, but they assigned gender identities as well, giving one person in every union the role of the “Divine Masculine.” While this was the final straw for some members, who ended up leaving the group rather than pretending to be transgender, some people continued on and embraced their new gender identity and harmonious union. They not only came out publicly as transgender, but some of them started hormone therapy and are considering gender-affirming surgery.

While we can’t know whether these people would have come to the same conclusion about their gender identity had they never met Jeff and Shaleia, the reports of coercion suggest TFU was more interested in creating couples that met their heteronormative ideals than in facilitating genuine connections or supporting LGBTQ+ relationships. 

This brings up the question of whether people really can be brainwashed into being transgender. Cassius Adair, a transgender assistant professor in media studies at The New School in New York, says TFU’s approach to gender identity should be seen as an outlier when it comes to representing the trans experience. “This is a group that is not in the mainstream of what trans people do and what trans people believe.” 

While on the surface, TFU might seem to be an inclusive and supportive group for transgender experiences, Adair believes it’s actually the opposite. “I don’t see Jeff and Shaleia as supporting trans people by saying, ‘Hey, you can take hormones or get surgery.’ I see Jeff and Shaleia supporting anti-trans people by saying, ‘The gender you are is not determined by you; it’s determined by the people who have power over you.”

In the Prime series, Johns Hopkins University associate professor Jules Gill-Peterson calls Jeff and Shaleia’s coercion and manipulation tactics a sinister manifestation of conversion therapy. Their insistence that even same-sex couples operate within a masculine-feminine binary exposes their true intentions: they needed a solution to their problem of having a group about finding love that was made up of mostly straight women. For them, having some people change their gender was simply a convenient fix. 

Jeff and Shaleia’s relationship advice is clearly self-serving and designed to validate the system they’ve set up. While it claims to be a self-help organization that cares deeply about helping its members find love and harmonious union, the bottom line is that Twin Flames Universe is a business. There is an ever-growing bank of content available for purchase to teach students about “clearing inner blocks to love” and achieving permanent happiness with their “twin flame.” Their Twin Flames Ascension School, which is actually just 300+ recordings taken from Google Hangouts calls, costs over $4,000. 

Just like a few other organizations that have been accused of being cults, like NXVIM and Scientology, TFU exists in its own bubble, where members are expected to adopt beliefs that have no basis in reality. They cut off their family and friends, work for free, and commit their lives to the Twin Flames Universe. Taking away the option to choose your own gender identity is just one more manipulation tactic to add to the list. 

COURTNEY HARDWICK is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared online at AmongMen, Complex Canada, Elle Canada and TheBolde.

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