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We were just as excited as anyone when Go Topless Day hit headlines. The international network of events—where women protest unequal nudity laws by going topless in public—hits over 50 cities this Sunday, August 28.
Who doesn’t love women’s equality—or, for that matter, boobs?
Twitter seemed pretty thrilled about Go Topless Day too.
Go Topless Day is this Sunday!!! It makes no sense to outlaw female nipples, I hope some of you guys decide to support the cause! 🙂
— Lexie (@LexieBennett) August 26, 2016
It all seemed like a grand old time until we started looking into the origins of the holiday, which always takes place the Sunday after Women’s Equality Day (August 26).
Go Topless Day—and its parent organization Go Topless—was founded in 2007 by a self-described spiritual leader named Rael, founder of the Raelian Movement sometimes called Raelism. The 69-year-old French man started out as the editor of a French car-racing magazine, but claims that in 1973 he was casually hanging out in a volcano when an alien craft descended, and an alien guy came out and told him the secret history of humanity.
Rael believes that people were created by alien scientists who came to Earth a bazillion years ago and designed everything and everyone.
Here’s a video in which the founder of Go Topless talks about his transformative alien encounter.
Rael’s belief that women should bare their boobs doesn’t necessarily stem from extraterrestrial instructions. According to his website, the charismatic cult leader has an, um, ongoing interest in sexual issues.
Over the years, Rael has inspired several public actions from the promotion of the use of condoms in schools to the promotion of masturbation…[to] the creation of Clitoraid, an association to help women who have been circumcised to have their clitoris repaired so that they can experience pleasure again to the call for the gathering of all African traditional chiefs to create the United States of Africa.
Clitoraid? Sounds refreshing. But really, it’s an organization Rael founded to offer reparative surgeries to women who underwent female genital mutiliation. Because he believes they should be able to orgasm just as much as other women: “Clitoraid aims at empowering FGM victims by helping reach their first orgasm,” reads the Clitoraid website.
In a video posted to YouTube on August 23, Rael described the reasons why women should be allowed to be just as shirtless as men.
“The battle for equal topless rights appears insignificant compared to wars, violence or child starvation, yet its achievement will have a direct, healing impact on these male-created horrors,” said Rael in a press release posted below the video. “GoTopless is changing the world by pushing societies to give the exact same rights to women as they do to men in all areas and without exceptions—especially in the taboo area of topless equality.”
But is Rael really a women’s rights advocate?
His ex-wife Marie-Paul Cristini sure didn’t think so. In a 2003 Daily Mail interview, Cristini cried as she described abuse, inappropriate sexual conduct, and brainwashing.
“He destroyed my life and our children’s lives. They were so young and innocent. They should never have been exposed to the debauched and wicked things that went on in our home,” Cristini told the Daily Mail. “No child should be expected to witness adult nudity and exist in an environment so close to people having orgies.”
According to Wikipedia, Rael at least waited until later-wife Sophie de Niverville turned 16 before marrying her. De Niverville was allegedly the daughter of a Raelian follower who was fast-tracked into marrying the guru as soon as she was legally of age. The Raelian movement has gone after multiple French and Canadian news outlets in court—one of whom, Montreal’s Le Devoir, printed a story alleging that Rael liked “very young girls.”
In 2007, according to Agence France-Presse, Rael was denied entry to nearby Switzerland because authorities were disturbed by the spiritual leader’s “approach to children and sexuality.”
Rael preaches a doctrine of “complete sexual liberty” and believes parents should show their children how to obtain sexual pleasure, “which by its nature can lead to sexual deviance with underage children,” the authorities said in a statement.
The Daily Dot was not able to verify the authenticity of any allegations that Rael or the Raelian Movement may have abused kids, but the existence of such allegations at all is concerning.
According to Rael’s website, pedophilia is “not welcome” in the movement, and anyone found guilty of sexually abusing a minor is kicked out. The same statement goes on to describe a “Raelian order of angels,” a group of women similar to nuns except that they reserve their sexual activities solely for the “creators and prophets.” That order can include underage girls—who then refuse sex with boys their own age so they can wait until they are old enough to get it on with Rael, assumably.
In this organization angel minors also have to signal the fact that they are under the legal age for sex, by wearing a black feather around their neck to make sure that no adult Raelian approach them at any time with sex in mind. Some of these minor angels also choose to have no sex at all, thus refusing sex with potential minor partners which most young girls experience during their teens. They would then wear a pink feather as well. Some newspapers have seen the minors’ beautiful decision of reserving their sexuality for our Creators as an indication of pedophilia, which is completely ridiculous.
It’s impossible to summarize a 30-year-old religious movement in one article, and this article doesn’t seek to condemn or promote Raelism.
And Go Topless Day isn’t the only movement that seeks to liberate women’s breasts: There’s also #FreeTheNipple, not to mention the vast majority of U.S. states that have laws protecting women from being arrested for going topless; New York City legalized public displays of the female breast way back in 1992, when a state court ruled in favor of a group of feminist activists who went bare in protest.
However, one thing is clear: Rael and his followers are most definitely the creators of Go Topless Day.
So maybe this Sunday, just wear whatever the f*ck you want.
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.