Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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Aesthetic Realism’s attempts to "cure" gays

by Michael Bluejay, former member • First version 2005; Last Update Jan. 2015

"Eli Siegel [AR's founder] does not approve of homosexuality..."

-- AR's own book on the subject, The H Persuasion, p. 48

The number one goal of most cults is to recruit as many members as possible.  Easier said than done—it's hard for most groups to garner much interest from the public.  What they need is a gimmick, and in 1971, the Aesthetic Realists hit the jackpot: they said they could "cure" homosexuality and turn gays straight.  Soon hundreds of gay men were flocking to the foundation's headquarters seeking the cure, and AR was able to parlay that into newspaper and TV interviews as well.  Of course they milked the attention for all it was worth.  At the same time, they complained bitterly that they weren't getting enough press, especially from the New York Times.  Worse, for them, some media articles correctly identified the program as a fraud and the group as a cult, including a particularly scathing piece in New York Native.

By 1990, the group had two more problems:  First, society was becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, and the group would face increasing criticism over their idea that sexuality could be altered.  Second, many of AR's poster children for the cure kept inconveniently falling off the wagon and reverting to gay life.  The AR people couldn't talk about their cure with a straight face any more because it clearly wasn't working.  So they stopped offering their gay-change therapy, and stopped talking about it.  In fact, they're now trying to sweep the whole mess under the rug.  One AR leader now claims that AR never professed to have a gay cure, and that I'm a liar for saying that they did!  Here's what the executive director of AR says on Countering the Lies, a website they set up for the express purpose of combating my critique of AR:

Michael Bluejay writes: "AR says that homosexuality is a mental illness" and "AR professed to have the 'cure' for homosexuality." This is completely untrue.... Similarly, Aesthetic Realism never saw homosexuality as something to "cure," and—whether through Mr. Siegel or any Aesthetic Realism consultant, whether in writing or in speech—Aesthetic Realism never presented itself as having a "cure."

Is that so? Well, the evidence says otherwise:

  • There's the group's 1971 book, The H Persuasion: How Persons Have Permanently Changed From Homosexuality Through the Study of Aesthetic Realism With Eli Siegel.
  • There are the two 1971 television interviews they did on the subject. (Entire half-hour program on NYC's Channel 13 on Feb. 19, and the David Susskind program on April 4.)
  • There's the group's 1982 film, Yes, We Have Changed.
  • There's the group's 1986 book, The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel and the Change from Homosexuality.
  • There's the ad shown at right boasting of the gay cure, which AR students purchased in the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post.
  • There's the double-page ad they bought in the New York Times, which says, "We say what history will say: the American press has blood on its hands, has caused misery and death, because for years it has withheld the news that men and women have changed from homosexuality through study of Aesthetic Realism."
  • There are the thousands counseling sessions they held to try to help gays change. I have a transcript of one such session here.
  • There's the inquest of an AR student supposedly cured of his gayness and quickly married off to a female AR member, but who was then found to still be cruising for gay sex.  As the transcript shows, the group was furious at him.

Here's a telling quote from the preface of the 1986 book written by Ellen Reiss, the current "Class Chairman" of the group:

"It is a beautiful fact that through study of Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy founded by the American poet and critic Eli Siegel, men have changed from homosexuality. ... Eli Siegel's statement of the cause of homosexuality [contempt for the world]... is scientific law."

But supposedly I'm a liar for saying that AR claimed to have a gay cure.  Yeah, I'm just irresponsible like that.

Cutting through the spin

How is AR trying to say with a straight face that they never promoted a gay cure?  The answer is that they simply never used the actual word "cure".  See, they promised a "permanent way" to "change" from homosexuality, since gayness is "unethical and selfish" and a form of "mental trouble", but they don't consider that that meant they were promoting a "cure".  Riiight.

AR is also fond of saying that they're "For full civil rights for everyone."  That's true.  But it simply means that they believe that those mentally-screwed-up gays shouldn't be denied their civil rights.

These days, the AR folk try to weasel out of the controversy by saying that their gay-change program operated a long time ago and they've been out of that business for some time now.  What they conveniently leave out is that they still believe that homosexuality is a mental condition caused by contempt, and that by studying Aesthetic Realism one can learn to like the world properly and thus stop being gay.  They have to believe this, because their founder and leader said so, and no cult ever goes against the teachings of their Leader.  The proof that their beliefs haven't changed is too easy:

Several Aesthetic Realism members and leaders are among those who were "changed" back in the 70s or 80s and quickly married off to other Aesthetic Realists.  They still insist that they "changed".
Just this week, one of them said on a Wikipedia Talk page "The change from homosexuality is not a belief, it's a fact."  Can't get much more current than that.
Tellingly, AR has never said that its efforts to change gays was wrong, and they've certainly never apologized for it.

The basis of the cure?  Worship Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism!

The main teaching af Aesthetic Realism is that we have a tendency to see other people and things as inferior, as a way of building ourselves up.  They call this "contempt", and consider it the sole source of all mental illness.  They view homosexuality as one such mental problem caused by a person's contempt for the world.  So the "cure" involves studying Aesthetic Realism to purge contempt, because once a person sees the beauty of the world accurately then s/he won't feel like being gay any more.  Here's AR's founder Elli Siegel saying so in AR's first book on the subject:
"Get rid of your contempt and you will get rid of one of the chief ingredients in homosexuality." (p. 19, 38)

Whatever.  But there's also a more insidious part of this.  The way you're supposed to purge your contempt is by expressing absolute devotion to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism.  In fact, I have a transcript of a therapy session where the AR people tried to cure the subject of his gayness, and you can see plainly how they expect him to show this kind of fanatical devotion, saying things like:

So do you think that you are tremendously, tremendously grateful that you met the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel? ...

So why do you think, Mr. Carson, you didn't begin this consultation saying this, something like this: "Gentlemen, before you begin the consultation I want to tell you how grateful I am to Aesthetic Realism and to Mr. Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, that I'm hearing the questions and the principles, and that you're teaching me this knowledge, because I'm seeing it -- there's a lot more for me to see, I don't want to pretend that I see everything, hardly, gentlemen! But I'm seeing how Aesthetic Realism is true, and I'm grateful! I've never been happier in my life! I've never had this much hope in my life! So I want to say that as I begin."

Paul Grossman infiltrated the AR group to research it, and discovered that this constant demand to praise the founder and his philosophy is one of AR's methods of mind control.  Here's his groundbreaking article on the subject.

The "permanent" change was anything but

In one of AR's books, one of the supposedly-changed men says:

"With every cell in my body, I thank Mr. Siegel....My homosexual feelings stopped....In being closeto my dear wife, in holding her in my arms, I have emotions more powerful and kinder than I expected to have ever in my life."

Pretty moving stuff, huh?!  So what became of this person?  Well, er, he kind of divorced his wife and left thegroup.  (That ex-wife is the current leader of AR, by the way.)

Unfortunately for the the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, their poster children for the cure inconveniently kept deciding they were really gay after all and leaving.  A full 76% of those who signed the "We Have Changed" ad on the top of this page left the group—some of them actually kicked out after it was discovered that they were still having gay sex.

Of the four contributor's to AR's H Persuasion book, three left AR and the fourth is dead.  One of those who left was actually kicked out after being discovered to have fallen off the wagon.  I contacted one of the others in January 2005 to inquire about his experience and he told me that he hasn't studied AR or had anything to do with those who do for 23 years, and that he no longer wanted his name used in conjunction with it.

So after almost all the original success stories profiled in The H Persuasion book had fallen off the wagon and/or left the group, the AR people had to come up with a completely different book, profiling completely different people.  But then people in that book wound up reverting as well. 

Ironically, the back cover of The H Persuasion says that Aesthetic Realism "changed the way [these men] see themselves and women permanently."  Inside, the book says:
"We have all changed permanently. We have not 'accepted' homosexuality, nor 'adjusted' toit; we are not bisexual; we have not 'repressed' homosexuality. None of these. We have changed, permanently." (p. xi)

Could have fooled us.

At one point the AR people made a short film about the cure called "Yes We Have Changed".  But after production one of the subjects was found to still be having gay sex, so they hurriedly edited him out of it before they released it.

Then, of course, there are the hordes of students who never felt they changed in the first place.  For example:

  • Ron Schmidt tells how he was kicked out after he was unable to stop being gay.
  • Wayne Smith described AR's failure to fix his gayness, and concludes with: "Their disapproval means nothing to me now. I felt bad all the time I was there as nothing I did could please these people. If I disappointed them, then I now consider that a badge of honor."
  • A former member says he got some good things out of the experience, but that they "most certainly did not change [his] sexuality", and that they're definitely a cult.
  • A former member who undertook study to be cured of being bisexual now writes:  "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."
And then there's this sad story:
Consider "Shalom," a gay Jewish physician in his early 40s who was in conversion therapy for 11 years....[After various other approaches] failed, he entered Aesthetic Realism, a New York-based group that works with gay people to change their sexual orientation.....[One day] he broke down in the cab and began crying. "I felt emotionally raped," he says. "I couldn't keep acting. I decided to accept it. At 31, I came out to myself." Conversion therapy, Shalom says, is emotionally destructive. He says a friend of his who was "cured" of gayness later tried to take his own life.  "You don't change," he says.  "You only end up hating yourself even more." (source)

At one point, the Aesthetic Realists took to buying big advertisements in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, claiming "We Have Changed" from homosexuality. One such ad appears at the top right of this page.  (I have blotted the names since some of the signers no longer wish to be associated with Aesthetic Realism. I leave one name unblotted because it is that of my late grandmother, May Musicant, mother of my own mother (out of AR) and her older sister (still in AR).  But not everyone who signed the ad did so willingly.  A former member recently sent me this:

One of the men who signed the "We Have Changed" ad along with me was to tell me some 15 years later that, at the time the ad was being prepared for publication, he hadn't wanted his name to be included, because he really didn't believe that he had changed from homosexuality and therefore it wouldn't be honest to sign a statement claiming that he had. He was battered with criticism for withholding his name and was told that he definitely had changed, but that was too cheap to see it or acknowledge it.  They told him the reason was that he couldn't stand the size of his gratitude and respect for Eli Siegel. Eventually, the pressure tactics succeeded and he reluctantly added his name to the list.
Of course, there are some Aesthetic Realists still with the group who still maintain that they really did change.  Those claims should be treated with suspicion, not just because most of those who underwent the therapy either decided that they never changed or that the cure was a sham, but also because, well, the "cured" have just never seemed very cured.  More than one observer has remarked that when the AR people debated a gay rights group on David Susskind, the Aesthetic Realists "read" as gay more than the gay rights people did.  In a novel by Sallie Parker, one of the characters describes the AR people on Susskind:
"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.’
Hal Lanse, who failed to be "cured" by AR, has this to say:
After a year of consultations, I confessed that I still felt gay. I was having sexual thoughts about another male group member. Sheldon Kranz, the “first man to change” giggled nervously and said, “You’d be surprised at who still has those thoughts.” I was then served the standard AR excuse: I was having gay fantasies because I hated my “gratitude” to Eli Siegel and therefore wanted to make him look bad.

I learned that many of the men who’d gone “straight” eventually quit the cult and returned to a gay lifestyle. One man who married and had a child confided in me that sex with his wife was never as “hot” as it was with men. I heard from some of the “changed” men’s wives and girlfriends that their sex lives were pathetic. One woman confided that her husband hated having sex but loved to make cookies with her.
I've also personally offered to pony up the money for biological testing so the Aesthetic Realists who still insist they've changed can prove it.  (See the first blue sidebar at right.)  After all, the Aesthetic Realists have repeatedly insisted not only that they've changed from being gay, but that the basis of their change was "scientific".  So are they game for a scientific test?  Of course not.  They will never agree to such a test — for obvious reasons.

The "Press Boycott" of the cure

The Aesthetic Realists loudly trumpeted their gay cure loudly throughout the 1970's and 80's, and insisted that the popular press announce the wonderful news about it.  When the press ignored them like they ignore all weird cults, AR decided that the press was actively boycotting them. (A typical characteristic of cults is paranoid feelings of persecution.)  Here's what AR said about this in a double-page ad they bought in the New York Times:

"We say what history will say: the American press has blood on its hands, has caused misery and death, because for years it has withheld the news that men and women have changed from homosexuality through study of Aesthetic Realism."


To protest this imagined press conspiracy, AR devotees wore buttons that said "Victim of the Press". Here's a photo of my aunt, a friend, me, and another friend, every last one of us dutifully wearing our Victim of the Press buttons:

And here's one of me with my aunt, both wearing buttons, and showing the detail of my button:

Incidentally, in trying to discredit me, the AR people say that I stopped being involved with AR when I was two years old. But how old do I look in these pictures to you?  (Hint: I was 12.)

AR students also held vigils in front of the New York Times building in protest of the supposed boycott of AR.  I'm embarrassed to say that I was a vigil participant.

After being publicly ridiculed for wearing these buttons in a 1998 NY Post article exploring the cult aspects of Aesthetic Realism, the AR people stopped wearing these buttons around 1999 or 2000.

There's more about AR's belief that they were being actively boycotted by the press on the Cult Aspects page.

Aesthetic Realism says homosexuality is wrong

Aesthetic Realists didn't merely tell

Aesthetic Realism ad in the Village Voice

someone that they could change if they didn't want to be homosexual any more (which is their current spin).  Beyond that, they firmly feel that homosexuality is wrong.  An entire chapter of their 1986 book is devoted to that subject, titled "How Ethical is Homosexuality"?  They answer that question on the very first page:
"Eli Siegel stated the main reason homosexuality is not ethical, and [he] related homosexuality to all other ways that a man has been against the outside world. He explained, 'There is only one thing that is immoral in the world: liking oneself too much and the outside world too little'.... Eli Siegel's understanding of the cause of homosexuality as an insufficient care for what is not oneself, makes it possible for homosexual persons to change."

This is followed by a chapter entitled, "Homosexuality: A Form of Selfishness".  And in The H Persuasion, Eli Siegel wrote:

All homosexuality arises from contempt of the world, not liking it sufficiently.

This changes into a contempt for women....

Homosexuality, like biting one's nails, depression, excessive gambling, arises out of a disproportionate way of seeing the world.

There are other ways a person has of not liking himself, but homosexuality is one.

Okay, so we see that AR believes that homosexuality comes from contempt.  And how do they view contempt?"

"According to Aesthetic Realism, the greatest sin that a person can have is the desire for contempt." (source; emphasis added)

So Aesthetic Realists believe that homosexuality is tremendously sinful. But it doesn't stop there.  They also think gays are crazy. The AR motto itself is "Contempt causes insanity."  It was the title of the preface to their founder's book Self and World (which is basically their Bible), and they've used it as a headline of their monthly newsletter.  And as we saw above, AR thinks that homosexuality is caused by one's contempt for the world. So if homosexuality is a form of contempt, and contempt causes insanity, then homosexuals are....insane.

In fact, AR doesn't think that contempt is one cause of insanity. They think it's the only cause of insanity.  As one of the AR teachers writes:

One of the greatest humanitarian and intellectual achievements of all time was the discovery by Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, that contempt causes insanity; in fact, that it causes all mental trouble. [emphasis added; see also their op-ed saying the same thing]

The only way that the AR people could plausibly say that they don't view homosexuality as a mental illness, is if they say that they don't view insanity as a mental illness. That would be a pretty bold claim, but they're welcome to try.

AR members still retain their antigay prejudice privately even though it's not part of their current rhetoric.  Indeed, some of the people on Countering the Lies who say I'm a liar were contributors to the 1986 book about the gay cure, denouncing homosexuality throughout its pages, and led therapy sessions trying to help people not be gay.  This is important, because whenever someone brings up the gay cure, the AR people shriek, "That was in the past! That was a long time ago!"  But what they're not admitting is that while they no longer offer their program for change, their opinions about homosexuality haven't changed at all.  Here's what one of the AR teachers said on Wikipedia quite recently:

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation formally discontinued this single aspect of study because it was being sucked into the culture wars--with the far Right trying to use it to promote their bigoted agenda against homosexuality and the far Left furious at anything that even remotely suggested homosexuality was not biological.  In such an atmosphere Aesthetic Realism's sensible, philosophic approach to the subject didn't stand a chance of being considered reasonably. (emphasis mine; source)

Part of AR's current spin is that they simply helped people who wanted to change, and never said anyone should change.  Reality says otherwise.  They blew a third of a million dollars on a center-spread ad in the New York Times to tell the world things like this:

"We say what history will say: the American press has blood on its hands, has caused misery and death, because for years it has withheld the news that men and women have changed from homosexuality through study of Aesthetic Realism." (emphasis added)

Whoa!  That gives you some idea of how important they thought it was for people to stop being gay.

AR is trying to backtrack on that now by cherry-picking a quote from Eli Siegel where he says "If the homosexual likes himself then the matter has come to a just and triumphant end."  Of course he said this years after the first book on the cure went to press, when AR was getting a lot of flak and felt a need to do some damage control.  For this reason, any Siegel quotes on the subject after 1971 should be treated with suspicion.

But more importantly, it's what the AR people are not saying that's important.  Siegel's new gay-friendly quote is that *if* a gay person likes himself then there's no problem, but AR believes that a gay person cannot like himself.  Their whole idea about the cause of homosexuality as that it's the result of one's not liking the world and not liking him/herself.  So it's pretty disingenuous for them to try to now claim that they see nothing wrong with being gay.  To them, being gay is an unaesthetic difference of opposites, and a result of one's contempt for the world, and it's impossible for someone to like himself and be gay at the same time.  Here's a telling quote from their first book, that shows how little respect AR has for people who are happily gay:

"So, when we are told--and it is more often belligerently told than not--that someone likes being gay and wouldn't change for anything, we listen, but with an attitude of benevolent semi-conviction.  This is not meant to be patronizing.  It's just that we are helplessly unconvinced." (p. xi)

In a televised interview, when the interviewer asks, "Can you conceive of any homosexual as having a good, healthy, noncontemptuous relation with a homosexual?", AR changeling Sheldon Kranz answers, "I would say no." (The H Persuasion, p. 14)

Ellen Reiss' quote in the New York Daily News is telling: "We are not psychiatrists; psychiatry has essentially failed. People who go to psychiatrists don’t change. They don’t get better."

Note her choice of words: Gays who see psychiatrists don't get *better*!  So it's pretty clear that AR views homosexuality as an affliction.


The H Persuasion

When AR's first book about its gay cure, The H Persuasion, was published the New York Times said:

"This is less a book than a collection of pietistic snippets by Believers. There is no reason to believe or disbelieve these ex-homosexuals who claim that Eli Siegel put them on the straight and narrow by showing that homosexuality was unaesthetic and therefore contemptuous of life. By the aesthetic realization that Beauty lies in Opposites, they were cured. Nor is there reason to believe that anyone reading this volume would be moved, intrigued, or piqued enough to try the cure."

This resulted in an angry letter to the Times by Aesthetic Realists:

To the Editor:

   Your recent Et Al. column devoted one short paragraph to "The H Persuasion.".... The undersigned feel your brief dismissal was outrageous -- and that your comment on the book ("a collection of pietistic snippets by Believers") was ugly, narrow and dishonest.

     You owe it to suffering families, and to men who want to change from homosexuality, to print an article by the four contributors [names], allowing them to present the basis of their change through their study with Siegel.

     For your readers' information, we are (respectively) a medical photographer at the St. Albans Naval Hospital, a member of the Phoenix School of Design, a lumber industry executive, a literary agent, a grandmother -- and a student of aesthetic realism. . . . Which (we may add) has contributed honest hope to peoples' lives, and to the beauty of the world.

David Bernstein [my uncle]
Nancy Starrels
Jack Musicant
[my grandfather]
Alice Bernstein
[my aunt]
May Musicant
[my grandmother]
Rachel Jane Bernstein
[my cousin]
New York City

I note with amusement how they authors spread out the three Bernsteins' names and two Musicants' names to try to make it look like a bunch of unrelated people were writing in, rather than two families plus one other person. Who did they think they were fooling?

Oh, and those four contributors to the gay cure book whom the AR people wanted to get into the Times?  Besides one who died, the other three either later decided they were gay after all and/or left the group.

AR tries to sweep the whole mess under the rug

In the 1990's AR realized they couldn't really promote their cure with a straight face any more after so many of the changelings decided they were really still gay after all and left.  It also became harder to promote the cure as society had become more tolerant of homosexuality.  By 1990 a lot fewer people were desperate to change.  The gay cure isn't part of AR's current rhetoric and there is no mention of it anywhere on their website.  In fact, they've been going around the Internet trying to remove all references to their position.  On Freedoms Ring, for example, they convinced a webmaster to remove an article about the AR gay cure and replace it with some PR spin instead. Here's what the webmaster says about this:

This article has been removed because of a request from the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.  Their statement is reproduced below.

And here's that statement:


Aesthetic Realism is about how a person sees the whole world--not about homosexuality. The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel is education in the largest sense possible--more comprehensive than has ever been before. It is a true description of the world.

As is well known, there is now intense anger on the subject of homosexuality and how it is seen. The Aesthetic Realism Foundation does not want to be involved in this atmosphere of anger. Therefore, the Foundation has discontinued its public presentation of the fact that through Aesthetic Realism people have changed from homosexuality. And consultations to change from homosexuality are not being given. We do not want this matter, which is not central to Aesthetic Realism, to be used to obscure what Aesthetic Realism, in its largeness and beauty, truly is.

Let's translate that back into English:

Aesthetic Realism still believes that homosexuality is unethical and a form of selfishness but since holding that idea makes us unpopular we're no longer admitting that we feel that way.

Homosexuality is "bad aesthetics"

We saw earlier that AR thinks that homosexuality is caused by one's contempt for the world.  Learn to respect the world (which includes being "grateful without limit" to Eli Siegel and AR), and you won't be gay any more — or so the promise goes.  But there's another part to it.  AR believes that homosexuality is unaesthetic because two men together are not beautiful opposites the way a man and a woman are.  From AR's first gay cure book:

"Aesthetics, according to Aesthetic Realism, is primarily concerned with the making one of opposites.... A person of the opposite sex obviously represents the world as different more than a person of the same sex." (p. 48)

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire?

AR's claim that they never had a gay cure (and that I'm supposedly a liar for saying they did) is covered above, but here are some more details.

Here's a telling quote I found from a neutral party on another website:

If the Aesthetic Realism Foundation has [really] seen the error of their ways, why are they not now attempting to combat homophobic prejudice as vigorously as they oppose racial prejudice?  Why [are they] not making films promoting tolerance for gays now? (source)

Good question.  But the answer is obvious.  A group that thinks that homosexuality is "unethical" and "a form of selfishness" is not a group that is gonna spend any time championing gay rights.

And now let's talk about the word "cure".  On the AR website called, ironically, "Countering the Lies', the group's executive director Margot Carpenter says:

Not only does Bluejay misrepresent Aesthetic Realism on the subject, but he actually puts the word "cure" in quotation marks to make readers think he's directly quoting some statement of Aesthetic Realism, when he is not.

I thought it was perfectly obvious that I use quotation marks not to quote AR rhetoric, but to point out the silliness of their position -- as though homosexuality can or should be "cured". For the record, I've never heard Aesthetic Realists using the actual word "cure" in relation to their efforts to fix gayness.  They're not that dumb.

And I'm not the only one to characterize their position as a "cure": In its review of AR's first book on the subject (see above), the New York Times used the same term.  And Harold Norse, a contemporary of AR founder Eli Siegel, phrased it the same way in his memoirs.  And New York Magazine used the same word.  So I'm certainly in good company.

Carpenter also says:

Aesthetic Realism most certainly does not consider homosexuality a mental illness; in fact, Eli Siegel always objected to homosexuality's being seen that way.

They could have fooled us.  For decades they said that "homosexuality is a form of contempt".  And the AR motto itself is "Contempt causes insanity." (It was the title of the preface to their founder's book Self and World (which is basically their Bible), and they've used it as a headline of their monthly newsletter.)  So if homosexuality is a form of contempt, and contempt causes insanity, then homosexuality is....a form of insanity.

See, AR doesn't think that contempt is one cause of insanity. They think it's the only cause of insanity. As one of their leaders writes:

One of the greatest humanitarian and intellectual achievements of all time was the discovery by Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, that contempt causes insanity; in fact, that it causes all mental trouble.

So when Margot Carpenter says AR never saw gayness as a mental illness, what she's really doing is playing with words. What she means is that AR carefully and cleverly never used the terms "illness" or "cure" to describe their prejudice.

It's like a racist website I visited recently when it was in the news, and their FAQ had something like this, which I paraphrase:

Q: Are you racist?

A: No, we're not racist! We simply believe that all races should be carefully segregated for purposes of ethnic purity. But we're not racist or anything.

The Aesthetic Realists are playing the same game:

Q: Didn't you say that homosexuality was an illness and that you had a cure?

A: No, we never said that, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. We simply said that was homosexuality is selfish and unethical and a result of one's contempt for the world, and that by studying Aesthetic Realism it's a beautiful fact that people could stop being gay. But we never said that it was an illness or that we had a cure for it or anything.

Perhaps the Aesthetic Realists could add some clarity to this issue by answering these questions:

  1. Is homosexuality selfish, as was written in AR's book The H Persuasion?
  2. Is homosexuality unethical, as was written in AR's book The H Persuasion?
  3. Is homosexuality a result of one's contempt for the world?
  4. Does contempt cause insanity?
  5. If contempt causes insanity, and homosexuality is a form of contempt, are homosexuals insane?
  6. Did people cease to be gay as a result of studying the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel?
  7. If so, was that a good thing?
  8. If the answers to any of the above questions is "no", does that mean that Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel were wrong for all those years when they said the exact opposite?

We're waiting.

Related:  Letters to the editor by Aesthetic Realists promoting the gay cure

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.


(We won't publish your name unless you say it's okay, but we have to have it in order to verify submissions.)

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Aesthetic Realism at a Glance


The Aesthetic Realism Foundation




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


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.


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".


New York City (SoHo)


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 book 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.

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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