Welcome to OBSESSED, in which I provide you with information and/or a media consumption list that speaks to my primary hobby: doing obsessive amounts of research into a singular topic or story for no reason, usually because I saw a documentary about it. This week I watched the Netflix documentary Escaping Twin Flames, which was an excellent follow-up to the October Prime Video Documentary Desperately Seeking Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flames Universe, about two self-proclaimed spiritual gurus in suburban Michigan who promised their followers that with the right spiritual alignment and self-help therapy and online classes, they would find their soulmates.
What is the Twin Flames Universe and Where is Twin Flames located?
The concept of “twin flames” — having a destined, exclusive soulmate — has been around for eons, particularly in spirituality circles, with roots in Hindu teachings. The popular understanding of “twin flames” in American culture seems to have begun with American New Age writer Elizabeth Clare Prophet and her book Soul Mates and Twin Flames: The Spiritual Dimension of Love and Relationships. The concept apparently perhaps reached its online zenith in late 2021, on account of celebrities like Alicia Keys and Megan Fox speaking openly about their own perceived twin flames.
Enter Michigan couple Jeff and Shaleia Divine, creators of the Twin Flames Universe YouTube cult, which promises its followers that abiding TFU principles will absolutely undoubtedly lead to them securing their own harmonious twin flame relationship — entering into a lifetime partnership with their best friend in the entire universe, designed for them by G-d. They feel qualified to lead this group because they found each other and are living in twin flame harmony. Furthermore it appears that Jeff thinks he might be the second coming of Jesus Christ. From their YouTube Channel’s “about” section:
The Twin Flames Universe YouTube Channel represents the collective divine life force that courses through the Twin Flame Ascension School and Life Purpose Class community, as created and loved immensely by our beloved Spiritual Teachers and Twin Flames Jeff and Shaleia…. Some people believe that we must “leave” (a belief of separation from God) in order to experience this NEW EARTH that everyone in the spiritual communities is buzzing about. We, the students of Jeff and Shaleia, believe in Union with God where there is no separation and love is right HERE, NOW.
Jeff and Shaleia of Twin Flames Universe were originally located in Farmington Hills, Michigan, a tony suburb of Detroit, but have since moved to Suttons Bay in Northern Michigan.
The Netflix documentary Escaping Twin Flames has been number one since its debut two weeks ago, and a three-part Prime Video documentary, Desperately Seeking Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flames Universe, narrated by journalist Alice Hines, who initially wrote about the group in Vanity Fair, explored the Twin Flames Universe through the stories of its followers and assorted experts. What’s revealed in these documentaries is not only intriguing to me from the perspective of CULTS but also because of the specific methods they used to recruit and then psychologically destroy their LBGTQ+ followers.
Who are Jeff and Shaleia Divine?
Jeff Ayan and Shaleia (real name Megan Plante) are the self-appointed gurus who, since 2018, have been releasing hundreds of YouTube videos on various New Age topics, most of them focused on finding your Twin Flame. “There is nothing outside of you that prevents you from being with your love,” they instruct. “Only you.” Jeff has a business degree from Western Michigan, and prior to Twin Flames was running a “lifestyle design” company in Hawaii.
Like similar cults, such as NXIVM and Teal Swan’s whole deal, Twin Flame Universe has its own psychobabble philosophies about “mood alignment” and “healing modalities” that promise to help participants overcome past trauma. They present a successful romantic match as the ultimate goal and cure-all to one’s emotional problems, and anybody’s failure to secure their match is framed as a result of their own insufficient spiritual work, lack of obedience to Twin Flames principles, or a lack of financial investment in Twin Flames tools. Followers are often pressured to cut off contact with their families, put in volunteer work for Twin Flames, and travel to exclusive, expensive Twin Flames events. The most dedicated followers can advance far enough in their own trainings to become official “coaches” for others.
Their rapidly-growing community has an extremely active Facebook group and regular Google hangouts, so devotees can easily lose their life to Twin Flame activities.
Students are encouraged to fixate on pursuing their Twin Flame regardless of said Twin Flame’s level of interest in them. This often leads to humiliation and frustration at best and restraining orders and stalking charges at worse. Some students even spent time in jail for actions taken in pursuit of their twin flame. Some were encouraged to remain in abusive relationships, or blamed for their twin flame’s mental illnesses.
The Twin Flames community is, therefore, especially attractive to people distraught over unrequited love who find comfort from others experiencing similar emotions and validation from a group philosophy that discounts mutual desire as relevant to destined romance.
How do Jeff and Shaleia Make Money From Twin Flames Universe?
Jeff and Shaleia have gotten very rich from this work and they are proud of that! They flaunt their luxury cars and are very Prosperity Gospel oriented.
Access to exclusive workshops, courses and individual “mind alignment” therapies (all conducted online) cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars. They’ve sold meal plans through a start-up called “Divine Dish,” which promised customers a reignited sex life by reconnecting with their body through lots of carbs and red meat. One participant in the Netflix documentary gained 70 pounds in 9 months on the diet.
They sell books and meditations. They sell videos of events where they and other Twin Flames couples share the stories of their Harmonious Unions. $333 will teach you how to become irresistible to your Twin Flame and a $777 E-Course will enable you to build the life of your dreams. Ascension coaching, which all members are encouraged to seek out, is cited as “between $20-$200 per session.” Followers were encouraged to max out their credit cards, quit their jobs to focus on Twin Flames and required to have regular, expensive, coaching sessions.
While Hines was visiting the couple to do reporting for her story, there were several Twin Flames followers living in the basement undergoing a “spiritual bootcamp” that seemed to consist primarily of doing chores for Jeff and Shaleia.
The (Formerly) Golden Lesbian Couple
The Prime Video documentary spends a lot of time with Catrina and Anne Irwin, two lesbian mothers who’d met and fallen for each other while married to men. Twin Flames affirmed their need to leave their marriages for each other at a time when that reassurance was hard for them to find elsewhere.
Catrina and Anne eventually became Twin Flames coaches, earning $120k combined in one year while also taking on the unpaid, laborious positions of VPs of sales and managing their own small cohort of coaches. But in the third part of the documentary, Anne explains the tension that arose when Jeff began pressuring her to adopt a new identity: specifically, Jeff wanted her to begin identifying as a man. When Anne resisted, Jeff sent texts like: “You guys look dumb as fuck hiding behind the lie still. Take a guy’s name and a guy’s pronoun or I will need to put someone else in charge of sales who does respect my work.”
As any trans person can attest, it’s incredibly psychologically grueling to be told by an authority figure that you are wrong about your own gender, and yet this was an approach Jeff was adopting with gusto and paradoxically aiming it at cisgender followers.
How did they end up in this place?
The Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine
Jeff and Shaleia had always believed that every partnership contained a 100% divine feminine and a 100% divine masculine partner. In the Wondery Podcast “Twin Flames,” Jeff is quoted as saying that while homosexuality isn’t a sin, “homosexuality doesn’t even really exist. If you’re two divine masculine energies having sex, you’re just shaking hands ’cause it’s not your twin flame anyway.” They denied the existence of bisexuality, asexuality and nonbinary identities.
Ascension Coach Angie, who identified as cisgender and bisexual, had to pass this idea on to her students, even though it conflicted with who she knew herself to be. But things got even trickier for Angie when Jeff and Shaleia decided that she was actually a man.
As the group kept growing and evolving and its mostly female membership began waning in enthusiasm due to not successfully pairing with their twin flames, Jeff and Shaleia decided to shift their focus to matchmaking within the Twin Flames universe. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a lot of male members to go around.
Thus, a fix arose: matching previously-thought-to-be straight women with each other. Obviously this was met with some skepticism and resistance, so Jeff and Shaleia came up with a different way to make these love matches work: insisting that one of the two women was actually transgender. This also required convincing previous same-sex couples in their community to fall in line with this new approach.
In Alice Hines’ 2020 Vanity Fair piece, she cites meeting three followers who were medically transitioning at Jeff and Shaleia’s urging who felt great about it. They agreed with Jeff’s assessment of their gender and were grateful for the support in pursuing who they knew themselves to truly be. Hines also met five followers who resisted accepting their new genders and therefore ended up leaving the group. This eventually became the reason for Anne and Catrina’s departure as well.
Arcelia, a trans woman former TFU sales manager who appears in both documentaries, felt embraced when she first joined TFU, early in her transition, but said she eventually felt “love-bombed” into being the LGBT+ poster child for the organization. Once Jeff and Shaleia began telling their followers what genders they were, she left the group. “It is not their fucking place to decide what gender somebody is,” she remembered thinking. “That is something people need to do on their own.”
As Hines writes in Vanity Fair, this circumstance, in which cis people are convinced by authority figures that they are trans, does “feel like bait for the anti-trans lobby.” Arcelia described the situation as what might happen “if excessive liberal progressives got drunk and had a baby with conservative Christians.”
Jules Gill-Peterson, a historian of sexuality and gender, also commented on this phenomenon in the Prime Video documentary, noting that the progressive LGBT-accepting language on the surface of the Twin Flames Universe actually masks a practice that is similar to Conservative Christian ideology. She draws a parallel to conversion therapy — it’s not truly acceptable to be queer in the Twin Flames universe. But instead of going the traditional route of convincing you to change your sexuality, they convince people to change their gender.
What Jeff and Shaleia claim in the FAQ of their website is that they “encourage and invite students to gain clarity on their sexual and gender identity through the students’ own self-discovery and exploration.” They are co-opting progressive values to push forward a conservative agenda, making it difficult to push back on these assertions without feeling like we are fighting ourselves. It’s almost the most clever thing these yahoos have ever come up with.
Cassius Adair, a trans writer and researcher who consulted on the Wondery podcast, spoke to this in a bonus episode: “I want to caution everybody when they hear stories like this — that if there are bad actors who want to control people or coerce people, then gender is one axis on which control or coercion can operate. But that’s not the same as this being a kind of microcosm of how trans communities really function.”
One section on the Twin Flame website is devoted to successful Twin Flames relationships, where you can read about each couple’s relationship. Despite Jeff and Shaleia’s claim that they are “a safe and tolerant place for all members of the LGBTQ+ community,” all the couples on this page are couples containing one (1) man and one (1) woman. Several are trans.
More Reading and the Twin Flames Universe Podcast
The first major Twin Flames expose came from Vice in 2020: This YouTube School Promised True Love. Students Say They Got Exploited Instead.
This is the Reddit Thread mentioned in the Netflix documentary: “Twin Flame” Cyber Cult? Concerned for a loved one.
Alice Hines original Vanity Fair piece: Everywhere I Went, They Went With Me, Because They Were on My Phone, uses many of the same sources an stories as the docuseries, but there’s a lot in here that’s not in the document. One of those stories is that of “Katie,” a former devotee who was encouraged by Jeff and Shaleia to pursue an ex who’d repeatedly denied her advances until she ended up in jail. An interesting tidbit from the podcast about this article was that Jeff and Shaleia were confident the article would be flattering and bring an influx of new students, and were preparing actively for that rush. The Twin Flames Universe Website has its very own “media statement” in which it declares all negative media about their group to be the result of disgruntled and malicious former students unable to overcome their own internal blocks through the program.
In early 2022, Wondery released Twin Flames, a seven-part podcast narrated by our very own Stephanie Beatriz. They speak with several former students, including the story of Angie, a then-straight woman who was matched with another woman as her Twin Flame and then was told she had to embrace her divine masculine, which eventually led to her split from the group.
You can also read the unsuccessful case Jeff and Shaleia filed against former members who talked to Vice reporters and posted negative things about TFU on Reddit. It’s a wild ride!