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Hideo Higashibaba left the cult he was born into when he was 22 years old. The Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, was founded in Korea by a man named Sun Myung Moon who proclaimed he was the Second Coming of Christ. In Growing Up Moonie Hideo asks people he grew up with what their childhoods were like and shares his struggles to make sense of his weird sheltered youth and the person he grew up to be. Edited and co-produced by Quinn Myers. 

If you would like a transcript of any of these episodes please email Hideo at


Mar 4, 2019

In this final episode Hideo shares his reasons for leaving the Unification and all he lostand gained—when he left.




Hideo Higashibaba [00:00:01] Thanks for listening to Growing Up Moonie. Just a heads up for our listeners, this episode includes mention of mental health crisis, rape, family abuse, death, hospitalization, homophobia, and child abuse. Please take care of yourself as you listen. And now the final episode of Growing Up Moonie.

News Announcer [00:00:21] A decade ago, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was accused of controlling the minds of young people creating so-called Moonies.

News Announcer [00:00:28] So called Moonies, followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church, who became well-known in the early 80s for his mass wedding ceremonies.

Interpreter [00:00:36] Do you pledge to establish an eternal family with which God can be happy.

Crowd [00:00:44] Yes!

Interpreter [00:00:45] It. We are talking about absolute fidelity here. If anybody deviates from this. God. You may be about to go.

News Announcer [00:00:55] But the church has a different plan for the second generation.

2nd Gen [00:00:58] I felt like we weren't equipped for the world. You know we aren't just like this bubble.

2nd Gen [00:01:03] To me it sounds culty. I know it's what brought our parents to church but it's not what you see in the church.

2nd Gen [00:01:08] Even if I'm not doing everything that they want me to do or I don't believe everything that they believe we still have this like line that connects us.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:20] My name is Hideo Higashi Baba. I am queer, brown and transgender. I like reading, watching TV, swimming, and hiking, and hanging out with my dog Stanley. And oh yeah I grew up in a cult. This is Growing Up Moonie, stories of people who grew up in the Unification Church, Also known as the Moonies. And for this last episode I wanted to tell my story.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:01:48] For the most part before I left, I was a really good Moonie. When I was 18 I told my parents I wanted an arranged marriage just like they got. I read the sacred texts, I didn't date or smoke or drink. I got good grades and honored my father and mother. At church, I was taught the Divine Principle the sacred teachings of the church. I learned that the source of all sin was sex that I had to save my virginity for my husband. In my heart I knew what the founder Sun Myung Moon told us about the world was right and it was my job to protect myself from anything that would contradict that.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:30] I am my parent's third child out of four. There are my two older sisters than me than my younger sister. Before I was born my father Shinichi prayed and prayed for a boy but all he got was another kid with a vagina. He doesn't know that I'm transgender. I'm pretty sure he would not be happy to find out.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:02:51] My parents had four children in six years, and from the moment we were born we were told we were special. Unlike my classmates, their parents, the people we saw out in the world, we didn't have Original Sin and that meant we were better than everyone else. It also meant that we had to be better. Better behaved, better in school, more modest, discreet, and generous. We were literally born to save the world from Satan, to reunite humanity with God. And we could not fuck that up.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:03:27] But there's something else. I grew up in an abusive family. My mom Andrea would fly into rages and yell at us until she was hoarse. She also hit us. My dad Shinichi did too. You might not know that much about abusive or co-dependent family structures; in my family, we were raised to take care of Andrea. Our needs came second. No matter how much she yelled at us or hit us. Our job was to make sure she felt OK. How we felt didn't matter. As a kid I tried not to cry when she hit me but it wasn't because I was tough. It was because I didn't want to make her feel bad for what she was doing. This co-dependent relationship and isolation from the outside world meant that our relationships with the church were inextricable from our relationship with Andrea. You couldn't get one without the other. Doing things Andrea didn't like weren't just annoying to her. She made it clear that what you were doing was a sin. Like if we tried to run away when she wanted to yell at us or hit us that was disrespecting our elders, against God's instruction to honor our father and mother. She told me that she hit us because she saw a defiance, a kind of sin in our eyes. She could tell Satan was working in us and she had to beat him out.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:04:57] I was discouraged from having friends and I wasn't invited to a lot of sleepovers or parties. So I spent a lot of time at home. At the time. I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. In fact I thought it was all a good thing. My family meant everything to me. They were more important than my feelings, my dreams, or anything I wanted, and that was completely normal. Sun Myung Moon told us to honor our father and mother that the family was where the love of God resides. And I believed him.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:05:34] It's not that I wasn't curious or didn't have my doubts. I was told that if something didn't make sense it was because I didn't have enough faith. I just had to pray about it and God would provide me the answers. Having a different opinion or being something other than what was expected of me was not an option. My job was to prepare myself to be married to get blessed. No one asked me what I wanted because no one cared. If I contradicted my parents or the church I would be yelled at or hit. So I developed a deep denial about everything. I learned again and again to ignore my feelings, ignore my body and my instincts. So the arranged marriage, the homophobia, the self-loathing, it all seemed perfectly normal to me. When my extended family who are not in the church made fun of me for my faith I defended the church and my parents. I'm still baffled by why my grandparents aunts and uncles thought it would be funny to tease a seven year old about their beliefs. I certainly didn't have any say in the matter.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:06:45] Anyway, my immediate family was controlling but I was never discouraged from learning or traveling. When I wanted to go to a tiny liberal arts college in Ohio, they supported me, but I wonder if they would have if they knew how much it would change me. In college, I met all kinds of people and it got harder and harder to maintain the bigotry I was raised with. I also started crushing on a boy almost immediately and that terrified me. I had already promised myself to the blessing and with this crush I felt like I was betraying that promise. I pushed my feelings for this person down as hard as I could and eventually I got over it. So I thought I knew what to do when another boy at school named Ian after me out a couple years later. I told him, no I don't date, but Ian was different. I don't mean that he was particularly nice or interesting or even good looking. What made Ian special was that he did not go away when I told him I wasn't interested. He just kept hanging around saying all he wanted to do was spend time with me, that he just liked talking to me, yada yada. All the things a naive and inexperienced person like me wanted to hear. And it just felt so nice to be liked and my sister had married someone outside the church. By that point it just didn't seem that bad to go out with a non-Moonie.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:08:17] When we did eventually start dating it was weird and awkward and embarrassing like so many first boyfriends are. Now, I wouldn't even consider it a relationship. But at the time I did. Shortly after we started dating, I left for an internship and most of our relationship was over the phone. I'm taking the time to tell you this embarrassing story about Ian because we got into a fight that shattered my faith which is where I started the story when Jenn from the first episode of this podcast asked me why I left the church.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:08:52] I got a huge theological argument with my boyfriend at the time who was Jewish and he basically was like, 'why do you believe this?' And it took like three days worth of arguing with him about this particular piece of scripture, because I was like, I don't know for me, you know, for example the fall of Adam and Eve, like that's for me at the time was like this is inherently true and this is something that I can believe happened and he was like, 'well I just think that some people made it up, like some people made up the story as a way to make women feel bad and like to oppress women. And I never literally never thought about it like that.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:09:26] We fought about the anti-Semitism of the Bible and Christianity and I defended it. It was a three day long argument over the phone, him back at school, I was back at home on break by that point. It was just a total mess. But finally, I sent a message apologizing. I said that if my beliefs were oppressive and anti-Semitic then I would have to change what I believed. I had no idea how much that single text would change my life.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:09:57] I don't think he knew that he was wasn't like an intellectual exercise for me, like, we were having an argument over like my entire belief system. Like how I made sense of the world and why the color blue was the way it was and why was born and like it was really existential and I don't think he understood that it was. And kind of spiraled out of control like that.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:10:24] Throughout this three day shitshow I told my sisters I'd been fighting with Ian but not what it was about exactly. I told them about the apology but not what it said. They did not like that. My sister Anshin cornered me and demanded details. She said I shouldn't change for anyone especially a boy. She was so angry and I knew I had somehow betrayed my faith but I couldn't take it back. And I didn't want to.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:10:59] Later that day I heard my older sisters talking in the kitchen. It sounded serious. So I asked them what was going on. Anshin told me that our mother Andrea had been brutally raped when she was 16. My sister was the first person Andrea had told in 40 years.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:11:19] The secret hit me like a punch to the gut. Like 100 punches. I couldn't speak. All I could think about was my mum as a 16 year old girl covered in bruises all alone. Then I thought about her 30 year miserable marriage with a man who she hated, who hated her. I thought about the effort they put into having children and how scary and traumatic that must have been for her.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:11:48] And for the first time in my life I doubted God and Sun Myung Moon, the True Father of the movement. I didn't understand why God would put my mother in such an unhappy marriage knowing what he did about my mother's past. All my doubts, the fighting with Ian, all came to a head and in that single moment my faith was gone. I couldn't believe any of it anymore.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:12:17] That night I prayed for the last time. I couldn't sleep so I went to one of my favorite spots, the top of a hill way out near the river. The moonlight sparkled on the snow and I shivered in my puffy winter coat. I asked God for forgiveness and begged for understanding. I felt God in my heart, telling me that understanding would come with time. I just had to have faith. Even if I didn't understand now, I would one day. I drove home and fell into a deep sleep. I woke up the next morning and started screaming. And I couldn't stop.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:01] When I think about it, over the last couple of years, I think there were hairline fractures in my beliefs.

Jenn [00:13:08] OK.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:08] Like over the years. You know, one of them that I think about was when they were organizing protests against gay marriage at the State House when Massachusetts was about to be the first state to pass gay marriage, or one of the first states. And that just didn't make sense to me. Like, if God was love and we were supposed to love everyone we wanted everyone to be in the church, then like how would going to tell people that they couldn't have what they wanted going make them like us. Like, they're not going to like us after, that they're not going to want to join the church.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:13:39] No one in my family ever went to those protests. But when I asked Andrea about it she said, sometimes you just have to do what's right. And that didn't seem like a good enough answer. But I was scared of my mom. Challenging her usually meant I'd get yelled at or hit. Questioning adults was disrespectful, against God's Commandment to honor thy father and mother. If I didn't get something I was told to pray so I assumed I didn't get it because I was too young or stupid to understand.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:14:15] In the winter of 2014, I got suicidally depressed and what I really needed was a hospital but my family doesn't believe in modern medicine and they didn't want me to go to a psychiatrist. So, I was repeatedly telling them that I was going to kill myself, and they were basically like, please don't do that. I was going to a therapist but I didn't really think it was going to be enough and I was worried. So I moved in with my best friend's parents.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:14:45] Cleo was my best friend. We'd met in college. She was worried about me and saw how awful my family was, even when I couldn't. So she asked her parents to take me in and they did. They saved my life.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:14:59] I moved to Arizona and for whatever reason when I got there I stopped talking to my family. I didn't answer texts I didn't answer phone calls I didn't answer emails and of course they got worried and the longer it was the nastier the emails got because they got so, I think just because they got so worried.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:15:21] I stopped answering emails and phone calls because I felt like I was going to kill myself. I wasn't intentionally setting a boundary. I didn't have any keen insight about the nature of abusive families. All I knew was that seeing messages from my family made me feel worse.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:15:47] I had to move to the other side of the country to realize I didn't know why I believed anything I believed. My faith was gone. I had to figure out who I was without it. It seemed like every opinion or preference I'd ever had was handed to me by my family. Did I like music or did I just say I did because my sisters did? Did I actually think gay people were sick and evil? Was I really on the fence about whether or not birth control was OK? I couldn't tell where I ended and my family began. I had to go back and re-evaluate everything I ever believed or knew about myself.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:16:31] The church, my faith, my family, gave my life purpose. My mother taught me the Divine Principle so I didn't have to think for myself. It explained everything, why the sky was blue, why I was born. It imbued everything in my life with meaning. And overnight that meaning was gone.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:16:55] For three months in Arizona I spent every waking hour wishing I was dead. I fantasized about killing myself hurting myself. I went to bed hoping I would die in my sleep. I cried when I woke up, realizing I'd survive the night. But with my friends parents I got the help my family couldn't, or maybe wouldn't, get me. I was in constant crisis, but I was alive. I didn't trust anyone. I felt like my family had lied to me for 20 years controlling me into the person they wanted. My whole life I was actively discouraged from trusting my own feelings my own instincts. I was told that if something didn't make sense to me it was my fault for lacking faith. I was unbelievably angry.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:17:49] I told Cleo all this. I was living with her parents and I told them to but Cleo was the only person I trusted. I was on medical leave from college but she was still at school and Ian was studying abroad and mostly ignoring my emails. It was a lot of pressure for Cleo but I didn't realize it was too much until it was too late.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:18:17] After a term away from school I decided I was ready to go back. What followed was a cascade of terrible events that are almost ridiculous in hindsight. The week before I left Arizona my grandma died. I decided to not go to the funeral. Within an hour of being back on campus Ian broke up with me and I went to the hospital for a week. Then Cleo and I had a fight and she didn't speak to me or acknowledge my existence for nine months. Almost all my friends kind of disappeared, stopped talking to me or asking me how I was. I think they either chose Cleo or couldn't handle being around a suicidally depressed person all the time. Or maybe they just didn't know what to do so they did nothing. For most of 2015 it was all I could do to stay alive and in school. I dragged myself to classes forced myself to eat and do laundry. I took long breaks from homework to lie on the floor of my room in abject misery. I cut myself. I went to seven hours of therapy a week. I realized I was gay.

Ally Hills singing [00:19:30] We're all the same. We just want to belong, so let me explain in the form of a song...

Hideo Higashibaba [00:19:34] It took months but eventually I figured out that Cleo and I had been more than friends. More even, than best friends. I'd spent the last six months fighting like hell to be myself, without my family or faith. I combed through every thought belief or preference I'd ever had, asking myself if it came from me or my family and the church. It made sense that I had to re-evaluate this part of me too.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:20:06] At first the realization I was gay filled me with dread. It made the likelihood of ever reconciling with my family feel very far away. But once I accepted it I was elated. It felt like I'd hit the jackpot of self realization. It was the best and happiest thing that had ever happened to me. I couldn't stop talking about it, honestly, I still can't. I told anyone who would listen and most of them were not surprised. Most of them thought Cleo and I had dated for two years, which I guess we had even if neither of us realized.

Ally Hills singing [00:20:43] Who ever sent you this told me to say give you a hug and kiss and also wanted you to know they're gay.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:20:52] In the two months after I came out I was so happy. My life was still a shambles and I still had no friends. I still hadn't seen or spoken with my family in months but I was gay and that was awesome.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:21:13] Later that year my sister Anshin had her third baby and I went home to meet her and get some of my stuff. I stayed with friends and went home to visit a couple times. I wasn't gonna tell Andrea I was gay, but old habits die hard and when she demanded one-on-one time with me it all came spilling out. She said, 'you know how I feel about that kind of thing.' Later she emailed me saying she loved me no matter what. That her prayers for me were for my health and for my health only. Anshin, on the other hand, wanted me to know that she was not homophobic, but she was pretty sure I had decided to be gay. She was mad at me, but it was for other reasons not because I was gay.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:21:59] I don't know what I expected. Sun Myung Moon the leader of the church once described gay people as,'shit eating dogs.' In the church there was nothing more Satanic than homosexuality. I guess I thought my family might make an exception for me. You know, their kid. Maybe if it was just the 'gay thing' my family could have adjusted. But by the time I came out, our relationship was beyond repair. I couldn't apologize for ignoring them for months and they could not or would not understand why I did.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:22:43] Over months I slowly stabilized and got stronger. I worked to keep myself in school and eventually I graduated summa cum laude only six months later than my classmates. In the beginning of 2017 I got an internship in public radio and moved to Chicago. I started dating a boy. And I still could not believe how alone I felt. I told Katie about that feeling.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:23:10] Listening to you talk about the church thing and you know the things that you want the things that you value and the things that people in the church value I just feel so isolated from all that and I feel so unwanted in all that and I just don't belong there at all.

Katie [00:23:30] And also hard, there's so many grey areas. This makes it so difficult.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:23:36]  I just really don't belong there at all. And I really don't feel like there's never been a time where I really felt like oh like this is where I'm supposed to be this is where I belong. And it's just hard to hear about, like this project has been super great but it's been really difficult you know because most people are most people are like somewhere between you and me like I'm 100 percent out. Really angry just super pissed at all times and you're going to the fucking blessing in September which is like the ultimate prize, right? And most people are like in the middle, most who I've talked to are dating other people, not in the church.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:24:22] I feel like the closer I get to being who I am by coming out as gay and coming out as gender nonconforming, like, the further I get away from the people who raised me and the further I get away from the Church and the less and less I wanted. That stuff would not go down at all. There is no shred of doctrine I could justify my existence at this point.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:24:50] I'm still learning to live in this reality, in a world without my family or faith or meaning, where people use facts and science to explain the world. Where everything is really complicated and there are no clear answers. Where I am responsible for my own happiness. Growing up in a cult and abusive family there were huge swaths of my personality that just didn't develop. They didn't have to because the beliefs of the church just filled it all in. Now I have to fill it all in on my own. I have to discover and develop my own personality from the ground up.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:25:39] It's hard to accept that the trauma of my family and the crazy bullshit from the church will always be with me. It's hard to accept that this will always be painful. But accepting that it's shitty and heartbreaking feels good. It feels like progress. And I've learned that you can't avoid pain. All you can do is find people in your life who see you who see all of you and love you enough to witness your struggle without trying to fix it or fix you or pretend that it's not just totally awful and shitty. People who text you back, cheer you, on hold you when you cry. It has taken me years, but I am slowly beginning to believe that I deserve to have people like that in my life. That I deserve to be free.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:27:03] This has been Growing Up Moonie a podcast about the children of the Unification Church, it's second generation. If you've made it this far and listened to even some of these episodes I am so grateful. A lot of love and work and tears went into this project and I am honored that you took the time to listen. I'd like to thank all my guests Jenn, Teruko, and Katie for sharing their stories with me and the world. This episode was written and produced by me, edited by Quinn Myers, music by Blue Dot Sessions Kai Engel and Alan Spiljak. The Coming Out Song is by Ally Hills.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:27:39] Thank you to all the people who have loved and supported me throughout this project. First my sweet sausage dog Stanley my best friend and ever present companion. Also human beings: Lewis Wallace and Billy Dee for giving me a home and so much more, Noa Nessim and Cucumber the cat for helping me make a home. Chris Kugler for composing the music for the trailer, Katherine Kavanaugh for designing our beautiful logo, Elecia Harvey-Spain for truly living out disability justice, Kate Bennett for her can-do, how-can-I-help attitude, WUNC  for the use of their studio, Juliet Fromholt for logistical support and overall cheerleading. And every person I met in the last two and a half years who told me this was a good idea and I should keep going.

Hideo Higashibaba [00:28:23] And lastly a very big thank you to Quinn Myers my creative and tireless editor who dedicated a year of his life to this project, listening to my doubts and worries and helping me make this dream come true. If anyone needs a talented skilled audio producer call me! Haha, then call Quinn. We both need the work. I'm Hideo Higashibaba. Thanks for listening.