The Sexy UFO Religion Behind Go Topless Day

You may have been to a Go Topless event, but did you know that the group that puts on the annual event is actually a religion that's all about cloning, extraterrestrials and sex and, one might say, freedom?

Go Topless Day was founded in eight years ago by a man who calls himself Raël, the spiritual leader of the Raëlian Movement, in reaction to the arrest of Phoenix Feeley, a topless activist who was arrested for going topless in New York in 2005. Because toplessness is legal there, Feeley scored a $29,000 settlement from the city for her wrongful arrest. However, she was arrested again in New Jersey for going topless in 2013.

The Go Topless events started out in four cities in 2007, according to Lara Terstenjak, who produces it annually in Venice Beach. It is now held in over 60 cities, and how topless you can go depends on each city. Since women can't go topless in L.A., they must wear pasties or tape over their nipples. It's been legal for women to go topless in New York since 1992, so women there don't bother with the pasties. In San Francisco, being naked is pretty whatever, so only two women actually showed up their event in 2013. And while the breasts are freely bouncing in those cities, a woman was cited in Chicago last year for showing up to the event with only paint covering her nipples.

The eighth annual Go Topless Day is scheduled for Sunday, August 23. Basically, Go Topless Day wants to end that silly rule that men can go shirtless, but women must cover their nipples. We went to the one in Venice Beach last year and found a handful of women with tape over their nipples, a few male supporters wearing bikini tops, a number of male spectators with cameras who we're pretty sure hadn't been assigned to the event by any media outlet, some angry Christians with signs about Hell, and some bored police officers making sure things didn't get too wild.

Terstenjak told LAist she was particularly interested in the Go Topless movement after living in Europe. There, she was accustomed to seeing breasts on TV and in commercials. She said that right around the time Go Topless Day was being launched, she had her own odd experience with boob puritanism.

"I was in Florida, in a private apartment complex of a friend who I was staying with," she said. "I was alone at a swimming pool when the gardener, with a big belly and breasts the size of mine, yelled at me, 'You should put your top on—there's children.'"

Terstenjak said she looked at him and it struck her that it was sort of strange that he could be shirtless, but it was somehow indecent than she was.

Terstenjak has also been a Raëlian for 20 years.

The Raëlian Movement was founded in 1974 by Claude Vorilhon, a French writer and race car driver with very liberal views on sex. He has called himself Raël in the past, though a reporter from io9 who went to a Raëlian event in 2011 said his followers now call him Maitreya. There are supposedly 90,000 members or so in 90 countries throughout the world. They have a temple in Japan and headquarters in various cities around the world, including Geneva, Las Vegas and Buenos Aires.

Raëlians believe that we were created not by evolution or a single God, but by a species of aliens called Elohim. Elohim is a Hebrew word for "God" or "gods," but Raëlians don't believe in gods, necessarily, as Elohim made humans using science. Elohim also created the Earth in the same way—not through magic, but by using methods such as terraforming and genetic engineering.

An Elohim is best described as an extraterrestrial, but not an alien—that's sort of a pejorative. When the Elohim appear to us, they look like human beings, but they're actually androgynous, almond-eyed, greenish beings who used to have nine races, but now only have one. They are pacifists.

According to Vorilhon, the Elohim presented themselves to him in 1973, and took him aboard their spacecraft two years later. Vorilhon then became a prophet for the Elohim, determined to spread their message of harmony to the rest of his fellow Earthlings.

The basic idea is that if humans could just get their shit together and become peaceful and aware, the Elohim will contact us again. This is sort of the Raëlians' version of the Apocalypse. The Elohim will come down and meet humans at an embassy they've asked the Raëlians to build for them. This embassy will have a landing pad for the Elohim spacecraft. They will then tell the humans about all their advanced science and technology, and humans will be able to build life on other planets, as the Elohim have done for us. But, as you may have gleaned from reading the comments section of any website, we're not quite ready to be so amicable with one another yet.

From their website:

If we believed in God, we might ask "Who created God". If we believed in evolution and the "Big Bang" we might ask "where did this matter and energy come from that created the big-bang?"

For the Elohim, it is the same - they were created by people coming from the sky as were their creators. It's an infinite cycle of life. One day scientists from earth will also go to another planet and populate it.

Buddha, Jesus and various other peaceful spiritual leaders were prophets of the Elohim, too. They are half-extraterrestrial, the result of an Elohim mating with a human woman.

There are many similarities between this religion and the writings of Jean Sendy, a French author who also wrote extensively about humanity being created by space traveling scientists.

Raëlians also believe in cloning, big-time. The movement has a company called Clonaid, which
Vorilhon founded in 1997, but which is now run by a Raëlian bishop named Brigitte Boisselier. In 2002, the company said that they had successfully cloned a woman, born, of course, as a baby girl. The baby clone was named Eve. The truth of this clone birth is doubted by, well, most people, though it did draw significant media attention at the time. Vorhilon has said he no longer has much to do with Clonaid.

The company has indicated an interest in using cloning and mind transfer to achieve immortality. Raëlians don't believe in a soul, but do believe that our memories and genetic makeup are recorded on an Elohim supercomputer. Therefore, if you can clone a baby you and use science to make baby-you grow up faster, then transfer your mind and memories to your clone, essentially you could repeat the process over and over. You could live forever.

The Elohim, however, may use this to resurrect and judge us later. So, you could be punished for stuff you did, even after you've died—though considering that Raëlians don't have as many rules as other religions, you'd have to be a pretty bad person. (Vorhilon has suggested cloning Hitler and putting him on trial.) Those who are not evil, but did not contribute to making the world a better place will not be punished. They just won't be brought back. Raëlians who are excommunicated are only banned for seven years. Raëlians believe that after seven years, all your cells have regenerated.

On four dates each year, new Raëlians can be baptized by senior members of the religion, done by putting water on the new Raëlians' foreheads. This is called the 'transmission of the cellular plan,' as, remember, Raëlians believe that all their genetic information is kept on a computer. These dates are August 6, the bombing of Hiroshima; December 13, the day that Raël first met the Elohim; October 7, the day that the Elohim took Raël into their spaceship and introduced him to Jesus (who, as you recall, is half-Elohim); and the first Sunday in April, which is when the Elohim created humanity.

raelian_symbol.jpg The old symbol (left), and the new symbol (right)

Raëlians use the swastika frequently, but mean it as a symbol of peace (as it has been used by other cultures in the past), not of neo-Nazism. The swastika appears inside the Star of David. In 1991, Raëlians adopted a different symbol because, as you can imagine, the old one was giving them some trouble—particularly when it came to the group's attempt to become active in Israel, and the time they attempted to get Lebanon to let them build their Embassy there.

Raëlians, and this may surprise you, love GMOs. They believe that GMOs and nanotechnology may one day free us from having to work so hard, or at all. In this utopia, there would be no money and we'd all share. The Raëlians, thus, support Monsanto .

Raëlians are pretty into sex. They are big fans of self-pleasure, and unlike other religions, they advocate the use of contraceptives and condoms. They're cool with nudity and all orientations, so long as the sex is consensual and safe, and isn't between adults and minors. Meaning, adults can have sex with adults, and teens can have sex with teens, but adults shouldn't try to have sex with people who aren't adults. They believe in sex-positive feminism, and they once handed out condoms to Catholic students in Canada. (Raëlians have been highly critical of the Catholic Church often, especially when it comes to pedophilia scandals.) You can watch this clash in real time if you go to Go Topless Day. While the Raëlians will be joyfully letting their freak flags fly, we're willing to bet the same protesters will show up to scream at them about Hell and damnation over their breasts again this year.

Raëlians also practice Sensual Meditation, which is described in a book Vorhilon wrote. The practice involves a series of activities. First, is the "Harmonization with Infinity." You will find a nice, chill room or maybe you'll go outside under a peaceful night sky. You will be naked or wearing soft, comfy, loose material. You will breathe deeply and try to feel the cells that make up your body. Then, you try to link your cells to your nervous system. Other steps include "Becoming Aware of Our Life" and "Body Awareness," before receiving a massage from your meditation partner. This is the last step for Raëlians who don't have sexual partners, but if you do, you can move onto the "Eroticism and Mutual Excitement" step. Sensual meditation is not the same as, or affiliated with, Orgasmic Meditation.

The Raëlians also want to open a 'pleasure hospital' in Africa called Clitoraid that would repair the clitorises of women who have been victims of female genital mutilation. Some groups have opposed this idea, saying it lacks sensitivity or cultural understanding. In particular, some oppose Clitoraid's funding gimmick: "adopt a clitoris."

Raëlians have seminars where they mediate and enjoy various music performances. They also wear bracelets to show others whether they're looking for friends or more, or if they want to be alone. Kind of like a hanky code. These gatherings are reported to have some sexually liberal, sex-positive elements to them at times. They have denied reports that they organize orgies, though it's hard to imagine the Raëlians wouldn't be cool with them.

The Raëlians, as peaceful and free-loving as they appear, are not without controversy. Vorilhon has been accused by both his ex-wife and some media of not only hosting orgies, but using sex for other weird, nefarious means. The religion's website defends themselves from accusations that they're too liberal about sex, but it doesn't actually get any less weird.

From their website:

Some articles even refer to the Raelian order of angels, a congregation of women who want to develop their femininity and who can make the vow, if they wish so, to devote their sexuality only to our Creators and their Prophets. They would then wear a pink feather around their neck to openly show their desire to have no sex. These women decide freely to do so, just as catholic nuns would do; this is part of the free sexuality that we profess, the right to say no to sex as well. 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.

Two filmmakers who went to a seminar purported to expose the Raëlians as some sort of sex recruitment cult. They also found it suspicious that Raëlians were asked to tithe, but hey, the Raëlians have that Embassy to build. And I think we can think of a few other religions that ask their congregations for money.

Another website from an ex-Raëlian rails against Vorilhon, but not the Raëlians themselves, saying they're "just victims for their docile spirits" and some of the "finest people on Earth."

Bill Maher interviewed Vorilhon for his documentary Religulous.

Though Raëlians will likely never be a mainstream religion—Terstenjak calls it a "science-based philosophy demystifying God" that stands for "absolute non-violence and the freedom to be you"—their advocacy for toplessness has found mainstream allies. Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Miley Cyrus have been lending their famous faces (and nipples) to the "free the nipple" movement. Terstenjak likens the "ripple effect" that's happening with the nipple to previous changes in social mores. Belly buttons, knee caps, thighs and ankles have all been considered inappropriate by some cultures, but you'll see a lot of those parts on any given day in L.A. Terstenjak says that it's really a Constitutional right: equality for all. If women have to wear shirts, so should men.

Even though the movement has taken off and gone mainstream, Terstenjak hasn't always felt great after each event because of some of the people the event attracts.

"When you're down at the base level, standing in the crowd, and you're there with 20 other girls and 150 guys with their iPhones out... It's like, 'Okay, I feel like I'm at a zoo right now, and I'm a crazy monkey that's supposed to jump around because I'm showing a square inch of flesh that isn't supposed to be seen,'" she said. "Some years, I'm like, 'Wow, that was amazing,' and the next year I want to cry because of the energy and the looks I get. But at the same time, is that going to change who I am? This is about the freedom to choose."

For better or worse, Terstenjak doesn't feel that by exposing the nipple it'll ruin the sensuality of the body part. She says that breasts will remain sensual in intimate situations, the same as every other part of a human being. And if you don't want to see boobs on the beach, just do what she does when there's something she doesn't care to see: don't look.

"It's not something to be scared of if your child or your husband looks at a pair of breasts," she said. "We're taking it a little bit lighter this year and we're having some fun."

Venice has been the most truly welcoming place for the event in L.A., considering that the Venice Neighborhood Council wants to allow topless sunbathing now. Terstenjak said they'd tried to secure a permit to hold the event in Hollywood last year, but were denied. They tried again this year, six months in advance, and once again found themselves out of luck. So once again, the event will be held on Venice Beach, and it might be their biggest yet, with the inauguration of a topless pride parade that ends with a performance-heavy event co-produced by Cosmic Carnival.

Those interested in marching can meet up with the group on August 23 at 1 p.m. at Navy and the Boardwalk. The group will march to the stage at Windward Circle at 2 p.m. At 3:30 p.m., there will be performances from comedians, burlesque dancers, jugglers, musicians and perhaps even some lectures from politicians or activists who are all about equal nipple rights. Terstenjak said the parade will feature hula hoopers and stilt walkers, many of whom will be costumed in a whimsical, 'fake breasts' kind of way. The event ends at 4 p.m.

There will be a pre-event rally on August 21 in West L.A. hosted by Cosmic Carnival. Details will be given to those who RSVP here.

So, if you want to meet some Raëlians, hit up your local Go Topless Day event. You don't have to be a Raëlian to participate, and given their love of peace and freedom, they'll probably accept you with open arms.