Aesthetic Realism’s attempts to "cure" gays
by Michael Bluejay, former member • First
2005; Last Update Jan. 2015
"Eli Siegel [AR's founder] does not approve of
-- AR's own book on the subject, The H
Persuasion, p. 48
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
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
"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.
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
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.
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
"Get rid of your contempt and
you will get rid of one of the chief ingredients in
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,
grateful that you met the Aesthetic Realism of Eli
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.
change was anything but
In one of AR's books, one of the supposedly-changed
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,
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
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:
And then there's this sad story:
- Ron Schmidt tells how he
was kicked out after he was unable to stop being gay.
- Wayne Smith described
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
- A former member says he got some good things out of the
experience, but that they "most
did not change [his] sexuality", and that they're
definitely a cult.
- A former member who undertook study to be cured of being
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."
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
"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:
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'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.
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. (source)
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
says homosexuality is wrong
Aesthetic Realists didn't merely tell
someone that they could change if they didn't want to
be homosexual any more (which is their current spin).
that, they firmly feel that homosexuality is wrong.
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
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."
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
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
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
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
"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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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:
- Is homosexuality selfish, as was written in AR's book The
- Is homosexuality unethical, as was written in AR's book The
- Is homosexuality a result of one's contempt for the world?
- Does contempt cause insanity?
- If contempt causes insanity, and homosexuality is a form of
contempt, are homosexuals insane?
- Did people cease to be gay as a result of studying the
Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel?
- If so, was that a good thing?
- 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?
to the editor by Aesthetic Realists promoting the gay cure
What's on this site
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
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
AR bought huge ads in major newspapers to trumpet
their ability to "fix" gays.
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".
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.
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!
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
The ultimate statement by a former member, who
was involved for well over a decade.
of getting sucked in.
This former member describes exactly how he
initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more
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.
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."
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.
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.
were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line...".
The experiences shared with us by a member from 1974-80, now a Fortune
Ellen Reiss questioned!" This former member wonders why there
hasn't been a class-action lawsuit against the foundation yet.
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.
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.
description. Your webmaster describes his own family's
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.
Realism debunked. A former student explains the cult
aspects of AR. Posted on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website.
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.
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.
Aesthetic Realism at a Glance
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
|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).
- 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
- 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
-- Michael Bluejay, editor
Aesthetic Realism in popular culture
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
“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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I don't endorse the advertisers.
From The Globe and Mail
"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?"
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
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
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
Musician Diamanda Galás mentions AR's antigay
position in an
in the Village Voice. When asked "Who are your
fans?", she replies:
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
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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I don't endorse the advertisers.
Google picks the ads, not me;
I don't endorse the advertisers.