Aesthetic Realism is a cult

  Who they are, how they operate • Written by former members

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Letter to the editor promoting AR's "gay cure"

by Michael Bluejay

The Aesthetic Realists sent untold numbers of letters to the media trying to promote their supposed gay cure.  In reality, they were stumping for Aesthetic Realism itself; the gay cure was just the bait with which they tried to attract interest to the cult.  (They stopped trying to convert gays around 1990, not because they decided it was wrong, but rather because they were being increasingly hassled by gay rights protesters, and because so many of the "cured" had reverted to gay life that they couldn't really talk up their cure with a straight face any more.)

Below is an example of the kinds of letters that AR used to send to the press.  Make no mistake, to this day  they still flood the media with letters to the editor promoting Aesthetic Realism, they just don't mention the gay cure any more.


Omni magazine, June 1982, p. 5 (source)

Omni's article "Gay Origins" has perpetrated a lie.
    I met Aesthetic Realism by chance in 1974.  After much critical inquiry, I found it to hold truths about the way the mind works in a way that psychology could not.  Aesthetic Realism describes the self accurately in showing how one's deepest hope is to be fair to the world and how the desire for contempt interferes with it.  (In the film Yes, We Have Changed, Aesthetic Realism's founder Eli Siegel's first lesson is "Get rid of your contempt for people and you will get rid of one of the chief ingrediens of homosexuality.")  This knowledge benefited my life tremendously.  Judith Hooper misrepresents Aesthetic Realism and the people who study it.
   The power and logic of Aesthetic Realism can make emotional and organic changes in people.
         Pamela Goren
         New York, N.Y.

Comments:

  1. Her citation of AR's film about their gay cure Yes, We Have Changed might be more compelling if the ARists hadn't hurriedly edited out one of its subjects from the film after they found he'd reverted to having gay sex.
  2. Notice how she lunges for the word "lie" in the very first sentence.  For decades, when anyone has been critical of Aesthetic Realism, the Aesthetic Realists scream "Liar!"
  3. My policy is to anonymize names when the writer is ex-AR (i.e., those who woke up and are no longer apologists for Aesthetic Realism).  I left Ms. Goren's name as she's stil an AR supporter, as evidenced by her piece on AR's ironically-named "Countering the Lies" website.  (There's that word "lie" again.)


What's on this site

Cult Aspects

What is Aesthetic Realism?
An explanation about both the AR philosophy and the group that promotes it.

Cult aspects of Aesthetic Realism
Fanatical devotion to the leader, cutting off relations with families who aren't also believers -- it's all here.

AR and Homosexuality
The AR group used to try to "cure" people of being gay. They stopped that in 1990 because high-profile success cases kept deciding they were gay after all and leaving. AR has never said their gay-changing attempts were wrong.

AR's founder killed himself
AR's founder Eli Siegel killed himself, but the AR people have been trying to hide that fact. They can't hide any more, since enough former students have come forward to confirm the truth.

Attempts to recruit schoolchildren
Some AR members are public schoolteachers, and yep, they do try to recruit in the classroom.

How cults recruit new members.
Explains how a rational person can unwittingly get sucked into a cult group.

Mind control tricks
This article explains AR's use of Directed Origination, a classic tool for brainwashing. Also see the article where someone infiltrated the group to learn about their mind control methods.

Five reasons you can't trust an Aesthetic Realist
One reason is that most people who were in AR eventually woke up and got out. See more about this, plus four other reasons.

Lies Aesthetic Realists tell
They say they never saw homosexuality as something to cure. They say the leader didn't kill himself. They say my family left the group when I was an infant. These and more are debunked here.

Hypocrisy of the Aesthetic Realists
It takes some serious brainwashing for the members to not realize that they're guilty of what they accuse others of.

Aesthetic Realism glossary
We explain the real meanings behind the loaded language that AR people use.

AR in their own words

Actual AR advertisment
The AR people spent a third of a million dollars for a double-page ad in the NY Times to tell the world that the press' refusal to cover AR is just as wrong as letting hungry people starve to death.

Ad for the gay cure
AR bought huge ads in major newspapers to trumpet their ability to "fix" gays.

Actual letters from AR people
When a theater critic casually dissed Aesthetic Realism in New York magazine, the AR people responded with hundreds of angry letters, calling the article "a crime against humanity".

Actual internal meeting
The AR people blunderingly made a tape recording of a secret meeting they had, where they lambasted a member who had supposedly been "cured" of his gayness, but then found to still be cruising for gay sex. Their screeching hostility towards him is matched only by their fear that the secret will get out.

Actual AR consultation
For the first time the public can see what really happens in an Aesthetic Realism "consultation" (thanks to a former member sharing his tape with us). In the session the AR counselors tried to help the member not be gay, explaining that the path to ex-gayness was to express deep gratitude to AR and its founder.

Actual AR lesson
I had a lesson with the cult leader, Eli Siegel, when I was two years old, which, like everything else, they made a tape of. The highlight is Siegel taunting me with "Cry some more, Michael, cry some more!"

Ad in the Village Voice from 1962
The AR folks try to deny that they're a cult in this ancient ad -- showing that people were calling them a cult as far back as 1962!

AR responds to this website
The AR people have tried to rebut this website with their own site called Countering the Lies, whose title ought to win some kind of award for irony. Here we explain the story behind that site.

What former members say

Aesthetic Realism exposed
The ultimate statement by a former member, who was involved for well over a decade.

A tale of getting sucked in.
This former member describes exactly how he initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more involved.

Growing up in a cult. An ex-member who was born into AR tells what it was like growing up in the group, and how she got out.

Aesthetic Realism ruined his marriage. "I consider my 'study' of Aesthetic Realism to be one of the factors that led to the eventual breakup of my marriage, to my eternal sorrow."

On having all the answers. A former member explains how AR members think they have all the answers, and feel qualified to lecture others about how they should view personal tragedy.

Kicked out for remaining gay. Former students describe how they were kicked out of AR because they couldn't change from homosexuality. Ron Schmidt and Miss Brown.

"Leaving, however was only the first challenge.". One of the original teachers of Aesthetic Realism explains the cultic environment inside the group, and how she got out.

"If I disappointed them, then I now consider that a badge of honor." A former member tells how AR try to change him from being gay, and convinced him not to spend Christmas with his family.

"...people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line...". The experiences shared with us by a member from 1974-80, now a Fortune 100 executive.

"I want Ellen Reiss questioned!" This former member wonders why there hasn't been a class-action lawsuit against the foundation yet.

They took his consultation tape. Describes how the AR people kept his consultation tape with his most intimate thoughts on it, and told him he couldn't study any more unless he incorporated AR more radically into his life.

"There isn't any question: Eli Siegel killed himself."
A former member who had sought AR's "gay cure" explains how the group's leaders admitted that the founder took his own life.

Confirms all the criticism. A former member from 1971-80, confirms that AR students don't see their families, are discouraged from attending college, and shun other members. He also offers that he was mistaken when he was involved about thinking that AR had changed him from homosexuality.

Michael Bluejay's description. Your webmaster describes his own family's involvement.

Members interviewed in Jewish Times. This lengthy article in Jewish Times quotes former students of Aesthetic Realism extensively.

NY Post article. A series of articles in the NY Post quotes many former members who are now critical of the group.

Aesthetic Realism debunked. A former student explains the cult aspects of AR. Posted on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website.

Other Goodies

Thinking of leaving AR?
If you're thinking of leaving the group, you're not alone. Let's face it: Most people who have ever studied AR have left -- and not come back. There's got to be a reason for that. Curious about what they figured out? Worried about the fallout if you do decide to leave? Here's everything you need to know.

Recovering from your AR experience.
People who leave cults often need special therapy to cope with what they went through. Whether you decide to seek counseling or choose to go it alone, here's what you need to know.

Media Reports
NY Mag called AR "a cult of messianic nothingness" and Harper's referred to them as "the Moonies of poetry". We've got reprints of articles, plus some help for journalists researching AR. (And here are shortcuts to the landmark articles in New York Native, the NY Post and Jewish Times.)

Site News / Blog
Here's some news and commentary that I add from time to time.

Share your Aesthetic Realism story!

If you did time in AR, had or have a friend or relative in AR, or had some other run-in with the group, I hope you'll share your story on this site. If you'd like to write something that you don't want to appear on this site, then please write directly to my email address instead.

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Aesthetic Realism at a Glance

Name

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation

Founded

1941

Founder

Eli Siegel, poet and art/literary critic.
Committed suicide in 1978

Purpose

To get the world to realize that Eli Siegel was the greatest person who ever lived, and that Aesthetic Realism is the most important knowledge, ever.


Philosophy

The key to all social ills is for people to learn to like the world. Having contempt for the world leads to unhappiness and even insanity. (Their slogan is "Contempt causes insanity".) For example, homosexuality is a form of insanity caused by not liking the world sufficiently.

Also teaches that "beauty is the making one of opposites".

Location

New York City (SoHo)


Membership

About 106 (33 teachers, 44 training to be teachers, and 29 regular students). Has failed to grow appreciably even after 70 years of existence, and is currently shrinking.

All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers. Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".

Method of study

Public seminars/lectures at their headquarters (in lower Manhattan), group classes, and individual consultations (three consultants vs. one student).


Cult aspects

  • Fanatical devotion to their leader/founder
  • Belief that they have the one true answer to universal happiness
  • Ultimate purpose is to recruit new members
  • Feeling that they are being persecuted
  • Wild, paranoid reactions to criticism
  • Non-communication (or at least very limited communication) with those who have left the group
  • Odd, specialized language.

  • More about cult aspects...

A scientific challenge...

A former AR student wrote to suggest that we challenge the AR Foundation to provide scientific proof that its gay cure really works. But how much more proof do we need? We already know that many of the "success stories" decided they were really gay after all and left AR. Heck, even three of the four success stories profiled in AR's first book on the subject left the group. (The fourth is dead.) When I contacted one of these subjects he told me in no uncertain terms that he didn't want his name used to support AR's efforts. So why do we need to re-prove what's already been proven?

Maybe because even many of those who haven't left and continue to claim that they changed, haven't really changed at all. Here's the challenge our reader laid down to the AR Foundation:

"AR Foundation, if you are truly interested in providing evidence [of the change from homosexuality], then let it be quantifiable, scientific evidence. Let your body provide the evidence. Scientists can measure all sorts of bodily reactions to certain stimuli. For instance, they can measure dilation of the pupil when something pleasurable is gazed upon. They can also measure such things as blood flow to the genitals, a faster heartbeat, and changes in breathing in response to sexual stimuli. I propose that the ARists who claim to have changed from homosexuality submit to an experiment in which they are shown sexually explicit images of men and women (separately) while having their bodily reactions monitored. If they are truly confident of their change, and if they truly want to provide "evidence" of this change, they should be happy to participate. Of course, I'm sure they'll have all sorts of reasons for not participating. Either that, or they simply won't respond to my challenge."

The reader is right: the AR Foundation won't respond to the challenge. I made repeated offers to debate AR publicly but they never even acknowledged my offers, much less accepted. Still, for what it's worth, I'm willing to fund up to $2000 of these experiments, if the AR Foundation accepts. But they won't.

-- Michael Bluejay, editor

 

Aesthetic Realism in popular culture

A draft of a novel by Sallie Parker contains this exchange between two characters, about AR trumpeting its "gay cure" on the David Susskind show:

"You know what they were saying? They were saying, in these ridiculously queeny voices, ‘We ussed to be homossexsuals, but now we are ssstrraight. We have found a cure through this new way of looking the world. A new philosssophy.’

“Oh! You’re talking about Aesthetic Realism,” Gorbles shouted. “Right. That David Susskind Show! That’s legendary. Aesthetic Realism, yeah, they’re always putting up flyers around Washington Square. You’ve seen them. ‘We have changed from homosexuality, but the press covers it up.’ et cetera et cetera.”

“Those weirdoes!” Hornblower rocked backward in his seat. “They such bad news! Got into fight about it. Outside Julius’. Just coming out through side door. And one of those characters was handing out pieces of paper. Recognized the guy, used to be in Julius’ all the time years ago—so I looked at what he was handing out and I told him, ‘You sorry faggot.’ Old queen just loses it, calls me names, starts to chase me down Waverly Place. Drops his flyers of course, flying everywhere. Then he shouts after me, ‘You too can change!’ I’d rather run into a Jesus freak.”

“Jesus freaks,” said Gorbles thoughtfully. “Funny you mention. Now there’s a subject no one’s addressed properly.”

“Why would you want to?’ Hornblower had his face screwed up as he lit a joint. In his head he was still outrunning the Aesthetic Realism freak.

 

From The Globe and Mail (Toronto newspaper):

"Pity the lot of the Aesthetic Realists, a New York-based group with fewer than 200 members who are mad at the New York Times because the Times, they claim, refuses to print a story that 123 homosexuals have changed (to heterosexuality) through Aesthetic Realism. In fact, the AR people are so mad they've been bombarding the Times' city desk with more than 65 calls a day demanding that the story be run. Not just that - they have also taken to holding vigils in front of publisher C. L. Punch Sulzberger's home and those of other top Times officials, and to staging little protests in the Times news room. It's really quite funny, in a sad sort of way, a friend at the Times tells us. They come in a couple of times a week - three sorry-looking guys flanked by two women. The guys wear signs around their necks saying something like 'I used to be a homosexual but Eli Segal (founder of the AR movement) saved me.' At least they had an identity when they were gay; now they look as if they've been put through the laundry. The Times, we understand, is holding to its rise-above-it-all stance and has no plans to publish the story."

FYI Put those fears away, all citizens-to-be, (Robin Green, The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Ont.: Apr 28, 1978. p.8)

 

From New York Magazine:

On a cold, rainy Saturday, two men in drag with XXXGAYS stenciled on their chests burst into the Aesthetic Realism Foundation's offices on Greene Street and exclaim, "We're here for the cure!" ... But the men's seemingly sincere plea "Why don't you want to help us?" goes unheeded.

The Aesthetic Realists: An oddball presence in SoHo for more than twenty years... most famously, the group has also held that gay men can be converted from homosexuality, which "arises from contempt of the world, not liking it sufficiently. This changes into contempt for women." Aesthetic Realists' contention that the media ignored their "cure" led many of them to wear the familiar VICTIM OF THE PRESS buttons for much of the last decade.

Activism: A Scene in Two Acts, by Tom Roston, New York Magazine, Jan. 2, 1995, p. 26


A reader says...

I enjoyed reading this site. My exposure to AR came when I was doing graduate studies in music at Manhattan School of Music. My private composition teacher (who also taught other classes within my program) was Edward Green. Green was, and I believe still is, very involved with AR.

Green made use of AR principles in teaching. I have to admit that many of the concepts have been very useful to me. That contempt towards others and the world as a destructive force is both obvious yet important. Because of those concepts, I can see contemptuous behavior in myself an in others very clearly.. I can catch myself in that behavior.. and I can be kinder to those who are obviously suffering... I've always been an optimist, and I firmly believe that evil is just goodness corrupted.

At the time I was exposed to AR, I had already come out of the closet as a gay man, and was an activist for gay rights and for AIDS issues. Nobody was going to convince me that one could or should 'change from Homosexuality'.

Of course, Green kept inviting me to events at the AR Centre. (I never went.). And Green and I had several discussions about Homosexuality..

AR claims that Homosexuality is caused by men having contempt for women.. I remember telling Green "Well by that logic, wouldn't Heterosexuality be caused by men having contempt for those of the same sex?" I told him that AR seems to have contempt for Homosexuality. Green had this interesting habit of toying with one of the rims of his glasses whenever he felt challenged. A friend of mine (also gay, also a private student of Green's) and I referred to this nervous gesture as "changing the channel".

I'm glad that AR has decided to stop promoting this 'change from Homosexuality' but it's ridiculous of them to claim they never really made such claims..

Again, I enjoyed your pages.. Keep up the good work. -- Aug. 8, 2005

Diamanda Galás weighs in

Musician Diamanda Galás mentions AR's antigay position in an interview in the Village Voice. When asked "Who are your fans?", she replies:

People who find it necessary to think for themselves in order to survive, because they're damned by the fact they don't agree with the mediocrity that society shoves down their throats. They rise above this by continuing to educate themselves. This is especially true of homosexuals, who are born outside the law anyway. They're still figuratively and literally buried alive by the Egyptians and Turks. Here in New York they're visited upon by the Aesthetic Realism Foundation and treated with electroshock.

In fairness, the AR Foundation never actually tried to change gays with electroshock therapy. Galás is simply caricaturing AR's professed gay cure itself.


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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave