The Last Closet – A Book Review
The Last Closet Opens
I read Moira Greyland’s book The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon (Castalia House, December 2017). Every. Painful. Word.
I also read countless blog posts and comments about the revelations contained therein. It is quite a time-consuming and heartbreaking rabbit hole to dive into, as anyone who makes even a cursory exploration will find.
I have quite a lot to say about the book from the perspective of a Pagan woman, a book publisher, and as a thinking, rational person. Some of my impressions and subsequent research appear in this review and more will come later in an article that relates both to this book and the elephant that strides intrusively into the room when we talk about this book.
For those few people who may not know, The Last Closet details the sexual, emotional, and physical abuse Greyland endured from her mother, author of The Mists of Avalon and other SciFi/Pagan/Fantasy fictional works, and her father, science fiction writer and rare coin expert, Walter Breen, as well as many of their friends.
In full disclosure, my roots in the Pagan community, particularly in the Sacramento, California area, run deep, beyond knowing a few people who know a few people. I am a founding member of North Western Circles Association and have played an integral role in the administrative side of multiple local festivals since 1999. I have worked as a Pagan teacher and lecturer for over thirty years. I am the author of a series of books called The Seven Sisters of Avalon that draws heavily from the canon created by Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as a large number of Pagan-centric non-fiction books.
I am a cis female in a long-term – twenty years and counting – monogamous relationship.
I am also a child sexual abuse survivor.
Yes, you could say that I do have a dog or two in this fight, however, I deliberately came at this book with a blank slate to absorb it without filters as much as I possibly could. It became one of the hardest and ugliest tasks I have performed in quite some time and in this case, “taking one for the team” was quite a bitter pill to swallow.
Taking One For My Team
As I read through countless blog posts, comments, and discussions about the book, it became clear that almost no one addressing the issues actually read the book. Many said they did not wish to give any money to the publisher, who is an unapologetic alt-right, anti-gay, anti-anything-except-fundamentalist-Christian warrior. Some did not want to risk the trigger factor of reading explicit descriptions of child molestation. Some wanted to play armchair critic and wisdom keeper without doing the work of research. This article is for those who did not read the book, for whatever reason. I intend to present a critical analysis of the book itself, as well as some observations regarding the perspective of the author.
From a publishing standpoint, I cannot advocate for Castalia House. The book is a technical disaster and good editors could easily have shaped it up into a more presentable package, correcting the misspellings and smoothing the structural anomalies. As an example, Ms. Greyland often repeats key stories throughout the book, introducing them as though the reader did not just hear the same tale a few chapters or even pages back. It is like visiting with an elder on the edge of senility who tells you the same story two or three times in one conversation, anticipating wide-eyed fascination with each telling. At several points, the narrative does not flow well, such as when, without the benefit of a decent segue, the author abruptly launches into several pages of discussion about her experiences as a dominatrix in the BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, SadoMasochism) community after a lengthy discussion centered on her profound talent as a singer and a harpist. The shift was quite abrupt and I am still nursing literary whiplash from the lack of transition. In short, the book is just sloppy. Since the author states that her anti-gay perspective regarding the abuse her parent’s inflicted only dawned on her in November and the book released in December, it is likely that a “rush to print” approach is at fault for the poor technical condition of the book. And yet, the anti-gay perspective is a huge component of the book’s message. So why the rush to print?
Why Now? Does “When” Matter?
The author is clear that she wrote the book as a catharsis. She openly admits that she struggles with mental health issues because of complex post-traumatic stress syndrome and severe panic disorder resulting from her abuse. I do not doubt this at all. Her decades of silence ended four years ago with allegations against her mother, Marion Zimmer Bradley. It was already well-known and a matter of public record that Ms. Greyland’s father and Bradley’s husband, Walter Breen, was a convicted serial child molester and that MZB was at minimum complicit in his crimes, based on her testimonies in his court proceedings.
Many wondered why Greyland dropped this bomb now when the abuses occurred decades ago. Most of the people she accuses of molesting and abusing her are dead and unable to defend themselves, which may or not be a coincidence. This observation peppers discussion of the book and is held up by many who speak in defense of those she accuses as far too convenient to be accidental.
The author makes no secret of the fact that her mother, a multi-millionairess at the time of her death, financed many of her educational and personal ventures, bought her a house and an expensive concert harp, and paid for her education, as well as other considerations, much as any parent in that position might do. The fact that it would hardly serve Ms. Greyland well to criminally implicate or even bring bad press against the person who is underwriting key components to her adulthood does not go unnoticed by her critics. Her mother, however, died nearly twenty years ago, so that criticism does not hold up unless the author continued to receive benefits from her mother’s estate, which is not immediately apparent.
One person still living who Ms. Greyland aggressively disparages is Elisabeth (Lisa) Waters, author and long-time administrative assistant and lover of Marion Zimmer Bradley. Greyland refers Waters to as her “stepmother.” To my knowledge, Ms. Waters has not addressed the author’s assertions, but she did publicly counter accusations from the father of one of Walter Breen’s victims. (Note: This link includes both Ms. Waters’ statement as well as the father’s rebuttal to her statement) Elisabeth Waters held the golden key to MZB’s fortune both before and after her death in 1999. Although many posters bring up that Greyland was disinherited, in The Last Closet, she states that she accepted the house her mother gave her in lieu of any claim on her mother’s estate.
The Blog Post Heard ‘Round the World
The initial accusations against Marion Zimmer Bradley surfaced in 2014 when blogger Deirdre Saoirse Moen reached out to Moira Greyland to oppose Tor.com’s article praising Bradley. The reply to this email became what Greyland refers to as, “The Blog Post Heard Round the World.” In her email, Greyland claims MZB was not only complicit in her husband’s ongoing sexual abuse of children, but that she was herself a serial child molester.
At that time, regarding the question of why she waited to come forward with her claims, Greyland said, “The reason I have given, and stand by for not talking is this: I know many people found value in my mother’s books, and I did not want to harm them or disturb their lives.” Apparently, some driving force won out over her stated concern for the fans of her mother’s work, who she blatantly criticizes and belittles in The Last Closet. I am not saying she should not have spoken out. I, for one, would prefer to know the truth. What I am saying, however, is that something shifted, motivating a tidal wave of revelation rather than the reason she gave at that time and no longer stands by.
Had the book served only as a cathartic release of emotions regarding the horrible abuse Greyland suffered at the hands of her monstrous parents, this review would read much differently than it does. Instead, The Last Closet is a devasting and heartbreaking declaration of the experiences the author endured wrapped up in a much larger denigration of Paganism and any kind non-cis, heterosexual lifestyle. In short, unless you are a cis straight Christian, you are part of the reason she was abused.
A Tiny Closet of Acceptable Social Norms
One problem with the book is that we have an adult attempting to impose a mature psychoanalysis of the actions of her parents from the traumatized memories she formed as a little girl. From a very early age, she experienced horrible sexual situations, both first and second-hand, that no child should have to endure. Within the writing, however, she presumes to understand them with something other than the child’s mind that experienced them, which is very nearly impossible. Her retroactive speculation is stated as fact, reaching far into what she believes her clearly disturbed mother thought and felt. Ms. Greyland grapples with presumed thoughts and motives, juggling them amongst her own memories from ages three, five, six, and older, to establish a basis of fact that may or may not be accurate, but is nonetheless presented as absolute. She is equally unyielding in her misinformed statements regarding Pagan and LGBT people.
The author is apparently unaware of the scientific premise that correlation does not equal causation as she directly and explicitly faults cultural correlations for her parents’ behavior. Again, make no mistake… her mother and father were horrible, deplorable people who committed atrocities against her, her brother, and countless other children. Non-parental adults in her childhood environment blithely looked the other way when she and her siblings were in desperate need of advocacy. Adults failed these children profoundly at every turn. Aside and apart from the direct sexual and other physical abuses, from the descriptions offered by Greyland anyone who took a moment to observe the family dynamic and living conditions would clearly see rampant neglect and emotional abuse. Innocent children suffered not only at the hands of these two co-dependent sociopathic parents but from the apathy and neglect of nearly every other grown person around them.
But also make no mistake that the author places panoramic blame for this abuse not only on her dysfunctional mother and father or the specific people in their social circle, but on 1) Gay people, 2) Paganism, and 3) the relaxed social norms of the 1960s counter-culture. She freely assigns the worldview and values of her abusive mother and father to all of Paganism, all of gaydom, and to everyone from the 1960s counter-culture. This perspective is quite overt and colors most of what she relates in the book. She seems compelled to revisit this conviction on a regular basis just in case we forgot from the previous page that she would never have been abused were it not for all those gay Pagans.
Conviction Does Not Mean You Are Right
Ms. Greyland’s views on the LGBT culture and people are profoundly limited and ill-informed. For instance, she has no concept or understanding of bisexuality, insisting that it does not actually exist because some “gay” people go on to enter a heterosexual marriage. When she speaks of marriage between two gay people, she uses quotation marks (“marriage”), presumably to distinguish it from “real” marriage of opposite gendered people.
The author redefines “pansexual” from the accepted “not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity” to “preferring sex with EVERYONE of EVERY age and EVERY gender rather than wanting to be limited to one person” (emphasis is the author’s), espousing and quoting the views of aggressively anti-gay psychologist, Jeffrey Satinover. She qualifies this perspective by saying that “back in November,” it dawned on her that “maybe gayness WAS an issue [in her abuse]” and identifies her “research” on homosexuality as “a guilty secret” since she was raised in an environment of enforced tolerance. Polyamory also engages her derision and she refers to the practice as “a ‘game where men psychologize the women they want with stories of how humans are not biologically intended for monogamy.”
Interestingly, she cites “cognitive bias” as a reason why high-IQ people like her parents can be “stupid,” but she consistently ignores her own cognitive biases regarding Paganism or LGBT issues.
Also, Obesity is Offensive
Ms. Greyland frequently and uncomfortably engages in what I would qualify as “fat-shaming” language, with a strong focus on her mother’s obesity and how it disgusted her while making just as many references to how slim and fit she is herself.
Isaac in The Last Closet
Again, I have no doubt that the author experienced the horrors she described and likely much more… “more” because she seldom actually discusses the actual abusive horrors she experienced, turning away from specifics and relying on euphemisms indicating that what happened was far too horrible to describe. She alludes to what happened, but rarely actually states what happened. The one exception is the rape she experienced at age five by her father, an act she depicts in tremendous detail. While it is understandable that Ms. Greyland is under no obligation to regale the reader with graphic depictions of these acts, she does leave a great deal to the imagination and unwritten inference. Most of us, especially those readers who went through sexual abuse ourselves, will fill in the gaping blanks with the worst case scenarios. Whether this is incidental or by intentional design is up for speculation.
The Pagan and Sci-Fi/Fantasy community reeled when her 2014 accusations against her mother became public, but many were unprepared when implications against the late Pagan pioneer and ADF founder, Isaac Bonewits, appeared in her book. Again, with one exception, she deflects and infers rather than outright accusing in her discussion of Bonewits. She never actually says what he did to her. Although she talks about him for approximately two pages of the book, the summation of her contact with Bonewits when she was six-years-old is that she “smelled things [she] did not want to smell and tasted things [she] did not want to taste.” She goes on to describe the basement in author Diana Paxton’s house where she implies she was victimized by Bonewits, then states that she hated him with every fiber of her being. Her only direct indictment of him is when she writes that she and her friend, Jean, overheard Bonewits asking her mother if he could have sex with her.
Since the book’s release, Phaedra Bonewits, Isaac’s widow, and Deborah Lipp, Isaac’s ex-wife, as well as his son, Arthur, released statements expressing regret over what Ms. Greyland experienced but also saying that these accusations were not in keeping with what they knew of Isaac. There were others who knew Bonewits (I did not) who were not as surprised by the allegations. Ultimately, it appears that anyone other than Ms. Greyland who knows for certain what happened is dead.
An Unfortunate Spectrum
Our culture is currently polarized between a long-prevalent “blame the victim” mentality and a more socially aware pushback that believes the victim at all costs. Comments on blog posts about the author’s assertions clearly reflect this dichotomy. Ms. Greyland’s brother, Mark (formerly Patrick), corroborates her story, although the web page with his statement that does so is no longer online (the dreaded “404: File Not Found”). Public records of court testimony and many online sources confirm that both Marion Zimmer Bradley and Elisabeth Waters knew that Walter Breen was a serial child rapist, primarily of young boys. Breen died in prison, convicted of eight felony counts of child molestation with an additional civil suit pending against him. The assertion that Ms. Greyland, her brother, and an unknown number of other children were violated in horrible ways is beyond dispute and the tragedy of that is incomprehensible.
The idea of catharsis is fully understandable, however, using her experience to further an anti-gay, anti-Pagan agenda feels suspect. One gets the feeling she is lashing out, seeking some explanation beyond the multi-generational family legacy of child-rape and abuse to explain why her parents behaved as they did, In doing so, she settled on very nearly every cultural influence around them, looking for something or someone beyond them to blame. Or could it be something more sinister than that? Or both?
As one blog poster wrote, “It’s reprehensible. Moira Greyland, the daughter of fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley and science fiction fandom figure Walter Breen, was abused by her parents. Now, she is abused by Theodore ‘Vox Day’ Beale” (her publisher).
Still in a Closet
I will leave you with some direct quotes from the book that caught my attention and seem to speak to her overall worldview which, I feel, is as narrow and dark as I imagine the closet she speaks of in her book’s title to be.
Referencing the behavior of a dramatic and needy woman Ms. Greyland was involved with romantically: “How can men stand women? If that is what we do, then seriously, how has the species survived?”
“There is no room at all for promiscuous sex in an adult man or woman. It is irresponsible to the children who need their parents to not be idiots and to the grandchildren who need thier [sic] parents to not be destroyed by their grandparents.”
“Denying gender roles denies adulthood and adult responsiblities [sic]. It creates an extended adolescence and encourages ongoing stupid decisions.”
“When women reject femininity, they usually become a bad caricature of a man. Men who reject masculity [sic] end up as bad caricatures of women…the bottom line is that women end up hyper-responsible, and the men end up useless.”
“Worst of all, men lie to women that they do not take seriously as long-term partners. Why? Because telling women the truth usually results in screaming fights and ends sexual access.”
“…women who are ‘strong’ or ‘dominant’ are invariably angry that their men aren’t stronger while they emotionally pound them into the ground every time they show a hint of spine.”
“Pedophilia is the inevitable result of limitless sexual ‘freedom,’ and its defenders are hiding in plain sight in the gay community.”
“Modern paganism is not historical in the slightest but comes from speculation, wishful thinking, and outright falsification of history.”
Her description of SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, which her mother and author Diana Paxton founded together): “…instead of sacrificing one other at Stonehenge, as the archaeology indicates was the case, the Druids were reimagined as happy, free feminists, skipping naked through the trees, practicing Western free love, open marriages, and magically avoiding all normal consequences.”
Describing her mother’s alledged rejection of the Christian god: “The results of this decision were tragic, as over time, it encouraged tens of thousands of her readers to follow in her footsteps, away from Christianity and into a spirituality that pretended to offer more.”
Lastly, she quoted a poem of her father’s that she said, “expresses the truth of the gay movement, and how it is hardly exclusive to one sex or age or even species”: “I am a dirty old man. I make love wherever I can. Little boys, little girls, little sheep, little squirrels… I am a dirty old man.”
I read every word and I cried over some of them. I cried because in our society, then and now, there are precious children who are brutalized by the very people who should keep them safe. As much as I cried over her pain, I cried because, in 2018, we are still having these unwinnable conversations where the misdirected blame for sociopathic behavior lands on good and innocent people for no reason other than fear and ignorance. I am ashamed that there are still people in this country who are not only cloaked in willful ignorance as Ms. Greyland is but who have an amplified voice to spread that ignorance throughout a culture that is already steeped in fear and desperation.