Aesthetic Realism is a cult
Who they are, how they operate • Written by former members

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Fourteen lies Aesthetic Realists tell

by Michael Bluejay • April 2022

For the first six years I ran this website, I avoided using the word "lie" to describe what the Aesthetc Realists say.  I preferred to just describe how the AR people weren't telling the truth and let the readers draw their own conclusions.  I decided I'd let the AR people have exclusive use of that particular pejorative, which they forced down the readers' throat at every opportunity on their site called (what else?) "Countering the Lies".

So while I've known they weren't telling the truth, and I called them on it, I still tried to do so with some character and I avoided the L word.  But after seeing and hearing them repeat the same falsehoods for the umpteenth time, while they keep screeching without justification that I'm the one lying, I'm finally going to call a spade a spade.  I'm never going to make that the focus of the site (like the AR people did with theirs), but at least on this one page, I'm point out the AR folks' dishonesty a little more directly.   And unlike them, when I make the charge of lying, I'm actually going to back it up.  I'll be quoting their own writings and history extensively, as well as showing the proof that what they're saying is untrue. So let's get started…


The “gay cure”

1. The gay-change program “was not fundamental to Aesthetic Realism”.

2. “Aesthetic Realism never saw homosexuality as something to 'cure.'”

3. “Aesthetic Realism most certainly does not consider homosexuality a mental illness.”

4. “Gays can change but that doesn't mean we feel they should change.” (paraphrased)

5. “We are not anti-gay and never have been.” (paraphrased)

I debunk the above distortions in a separate article, "Cutting through AR's spin on its gay-change program".

The founder's suicide

6. "Eli Siegel [AR's founder] didn't kill himself."

FACT: Did, did, did, did, did!  Siegel died after he took an intentional overdose of sleeping pills, after careful planning with his highest-ranking students.  After he died, his widow wrote a letter explaining what happened.  She was too emotional to read it to the group, so Ellen Reiss, Siegel's successor, read it, explaining how he had taken "pills designed for sleep" to end his life.  This account has been corroborated by numerous former members.

But the Aesthetic Realists deny it.

  1. They screech all over their (ironically-named) "Countering the Lies" website that I'm "lying" by saying that Siegel killed himself, and that I'm providing "misinformation".
  2. They repeatedly censor any mention from the Wikipedia article about Siegel's suicide, claiming in the discussion that it's not true.
  3. My mother's sister (who is still in AR, mother is not) told my mother point-blank that Siegel didn't kill himself.
  4. At an AR presentation at a library, an audience member asked if Siegel ever recanted saying that homosexuality was a form of selfishness before he took his own life?  Laurin replied point-blank that Siegel did not commit suicide.  Let's go to the source:

Audience Member: You'd mentioned Eli Siegel and his views on contempt and selfishness. And, I was reading just a little bit about him before I came here.…Uh, one thing that was interesting, though, he said that he believed homosexuality was a form of contempt and selfishness. Did he ever recant that before he committed suicide?

Dale Laurin: Uh, first of all, ah, he didn't commit suicide...

Here's some audio of that quote.  The reason there's a sound change before the first time that Laurin starts speaking is that his voice was barely audible, being far away from the questioner, so I boosted the volume and added some noise reduction.

Later on, after the presentation, another audience member goes up to Laurin and asks, if Siegel didn't kill himself, then how did he die?  Here's how Laurin responds:

Audience member: [mostly inaudible] You didn't say...I couldn't understand why all of a sudden this guy wondered...

Dale Laurin: Do you know how many people die in this country, and they're in the hospital, and they are suffering tremendously? And every person has the right to end their life when they feel that they have been tortured. That's what happened to Eli Siegel. And there's a person on the Internet who used the word "suicide" to describe the kindness of a person having the right to end their life in dignity. That is what occurred with Eli Siegel.

Audience member: Okay, thank you....

Dale Laurin: Exactly. See, and don't you think it's malicious that a person would turn that into suicide, with a reckless abandon?

Audience member: [quickly] Yeah, yeah, thank you...

Dale Laurin: This was a man who suffered at the hands of doctors who had ill will for him, who like this person I'm referring to, had anger at their respect for him. And this doctor actually admitted this after the fact. Mr. Siegel's life was ruined in the operation. He valiantly lived and continued to teach for many months after that until it became [inaudible]. And then he did what every person I feel has the right to do.

So in the same breath they're saying that Siegel didn't kill himself, but then pretty much admitting that very thing.  (All the while calling me a liar for pointing out that Siegel killed himself.)


7. "AR has been up front about how Eli Siegel died."

FACT: Not even close!   First, let's see their claim, made on their "Countering the Lies" website:

A final misrepresentation I want to refute here is the manner in which those attempting to discredit Eli Siegel have portrayed his death.... The events that led to his dying have long been knowledge in the public realm, because Ellen Reiss has described them, often in detail, in the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known at least once every year since 1987!

No, she hasn't. No such writing exists. I challenged the AR people years ago to provide this alleged admission of Siegel's suicide from the AR journal, but they can't, because they were never up front about how Siegel died.


About their critics

8. "Michael Bluejay was only two (or three) years old when he was involved in AR."

FACT: Don't they wish!   For years I've had the picture at right on this site, from when I was 12 years old (dutifully wearing my AR "Victim of the Press" button), but the AR people continue to say I was only 2 or 3 when I was involved.  They've repeatedly tried to get wording like the following into the Wikipedia article about AR: "One of the more persistent critics of Aesthetic Realism is Michael Bluejay of Austin, Texas, whose connection with Aesthetic Realism is that his mother once studied Aesthetic Realism when he was an infant." (source)

One of them also sent me some anonymous hate mail referring to me as being an "infant" when I was involved. One of them actually said that I never studied AR! (source)

As I've said many times, after my family moved to Texas (and away from the AR headquarters) when I was five, my mother started an AR study group and gave AR lectures in Texas which I attended.  When I was 12 I returned to NYC for the summer to visit relatives, and since they were still AR adherents, they promptly dragged to the AR headquarters where I attended numerous classes, presentations, and had the "consultations" (therapy).  I also participated in an AR vigil outside the New York Times building, where we were protesting the Times' refusal to cover AR's gay cure.  My subjection to AR didn't end until my mom snapped out of it, which was around high school for me.  (And as for mom, she didn't "once" study it, she studied it continuously, from infancy into adulthood.)

But no, according to the AR people, I was only 2 or 3 when I studied.  Here's one of AR's leaders, Dale Laurin, lying through his teeth following an AR presentation he gave at a library, saying twice that I was only 3 years old when I was involved.  (He didn't know he was being recorded.)  These are two different instances he said this, spliced together.

It's unlikely they're fooling anyone about this.  A third person at that library presentation (who, again, I do not know) asked Dale Laurin the obvious question: "If he was only three years old at the time, then why is he doing all this?  What's his motivation?"  (Laurin gave the stock AR answer: I'm supposedly angry at my great respect for Eli Siegel. That's their answer for anyone who's ever critical of AR for any reason.)


9. "There are no 'adherents' of Aesthetic Realism--that implies an uncritical acceptance." (source)

FACT: Aesthetic Realists are absolutely adherents, and their acceptance of the group's teachings is beyond complete, it's fanatical.  They believe that their founder was the greatest person ever to live, that one should be "grateful without limit" for the knowledge of Aesthetic Realism, and that the media's disinterest in covering Aesthetic Realism is "a crime against humanity".  If that doesn't describe an adherent, I don't know what does.


10. "There are no credible critics of [Aesthetic Realism] at all." (source)

FACT:  Geez, how many examples do you want?  There's the New York Times, New York Magazine, Harper's, New York Native, the associate editor of Literary Times, cult expert Steve Hassan, a boatload of former members, and non-members.  Here's a list of 22 critics.  Here's a quote from just one of them, since it fits the theme of this article:

“[The Aesthetic Realists] should be considered liars.  I made my appraisal of Aesthetic Realism only after extensive thought, research, and field trips.  I could only conclude that as philosophy it is primitive and, as religion, worse than having none at all....The absurdity of the movement is well illustrated by its propaganda.” (associate editor of Literary Times) 


11. "AR critics don't want you to see the AR site, Countering the Lies."

FACT: Then why have I linked to it, repeatedly, all over this site?! (Here's another link. Please, go have a look!) I'm only too happy for people to see AR's site because it shows just how fanatical they are. In essence, they help me make my point. I believe in that old saying, "Give 'em enough rope, and they'll hang themselves."

The AR people made the "don't want you to see" charge on an earlier version of their Countering the Lies site, though they recently removed it, quietly. They also repeated their charge on Wikipedia.

Incidentally, this particular charge is rather duplicitous, since they have never linked to the site you're reading now. In other words, they don't want you to see this site. In fact, they repeatedly censored any mention of it from Wikipedia.

12. "AR's critics are Ellen Mali, Adam Mali, and Heide Krakauer. Bluejay was just enlisted because of his internet savvy, and took to the job eagerly." (source)

FACT: The Aesthetic Realist who said this (Arnold Perey) just pulled it out of his ass.  I started this site myself, as my own idea, of my own volition, and without any help from anyone. Once I put out the call for former members to share their stories a number of them did, but as I write this in July 2009, none of the above-named people has submitted one word to this website, nor supplied any other information about AR for me to use.

Note that on the very same page where Arnold Perey made his claim, he also said:

"[He] attacks by stating misrepresentations as if they were truths.  There is a word for that, and the word isn't criticism; it's lying."

Hypocrisy, much?

The Gay Cure, Part II

13. “The success stories profiled in the first gay-change book didn't fall off the wagon.” (paraphrased)

Aesthetic Realists would have you believe: "It was not that some men 'fell off the wagon' so a new book with completely different names had to be rushed into print. That is ludicrous!" (source)  But they absolutely did.  Here's what became of them:

  1. One was kicked out for still having gay sex.  AR leadership knew he was doing this but still had him appear on TV, in the book, in their ads, and in their film to promote the cure, before eventually deciding to kick him out.
  2. One essentially admitted to another member that he hadn't changed.  He also got arrested for having sex in a subway restroom.  Yet he was one of the three AR teachers leading the therapy sessions to counsel men on how to not be gay.
  3. One left the group and by all accounts identifies on gay again.  He was also one of the three men leading the gay-cure therapy sessions.  I contacted him in January 2005 to inquire about his experience and he told me that he hasn't had anything to do with Aesthetic Realism for 23 years, and no longer wanted his name used in conjunction with it.
  4. The last one was also kicked out of the group.

(Incidentally, the three who left AR attended my lesson with Eli Siegel when I was two years old.)

14. "AR wasn't concerned with changing people from being gay before 1971." (source)

An Aesthetic Realist said on a Wikipedia talk page, "What 'continuous concerns' about homosexuality did Aesthetic Realism have prior to 1971?  That is pure fiction." (source)  The fact is that the Aesthetic Realists themselves represented that they've been trying to change gays to straight as far back as 1946.  They told the New York Daily News that in 1946 Sheldon Kranz was the first man to change. (source)  In their own book, The H Persuasion, they describe Kranz's lesson with Siegel to try to purge his homosexuality. Siegel told him things such as:

"The way you see the world is inaccurate. As that changes, the H situation will change. You made some bad philosophical and ethical choices at an early age which have to be revoked. H is a superstructure you built on to yourself as a way of solving your relation with what you saw as an unfriendly world." (p. 26)

And on p. xvii of the same book, they say:

"Since 1965 there has been a more or less continuous effort to have some coverage of the documented changes from homosexuality through the study of Aesthetic Realism." (emphasis added)  

This particular bit of revisionist history wouldn't be such a big deal, except, as per above, they claimed anyone who said otherwise was lying.

What's so ironic about all this is that the AR people claim their critics are the ones who are lying, and they put up a whole website about us called "Countering the Lies".

The Aesthetic Realists should try looking in the mirror sometime.

Aesthetic Realism at a Glance


The Aesthetic Realism Foundation




Eli Siegel, poet & 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.


We have a tendency to look down on others to make ourselves seem superior by comparison (contempt).  Every single problem in the world (including homosexuality) is the result of contempt.  By studying AR, we can learn to purge our contempt so the world will be perfect.  Also, beauty comes from the contrast of opposites.


New York City (SoHo)


About 66, as of 4/22, as ~23 teachers + ~43 teachers-in-training.  (In 2009 it was ~77 (33+44), and ~29 regular students.  You could consider them members, but I'm not including them in the total.)  Anyway, with only ~66 committed members, much for world domination.

All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers.  Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".
StatusIn serious decline.
They might have ten years left.

Method of study

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

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, and family members who refuse to join
  • Odd, specialized language.

  • More about cult aspects...

What former members say...
They reeled me in like a brook trout... Guilt was introduced into the experience. They told me I was "not showing respect for this great education I was receiving" by [not getting more involved].
If there is anything the Aesthetic Realists are good at, it is convincing people that if they think they see anything wrong with Siegel, AR, Reiss or how the organization is run, there is really something wrong with them. Any time I began to question things or think I saw something amiss, I had been programmed to think that what it really meant was that something was terribly wrong with me.
My new AR friends were starting to apply the hard sell a bit more so the word "cult" did come to mind , but I naïvely believed that it couldn't be a cult because it wasn't religious in nature.
They get you to actually control yourself. A lot of people's lives have been hurt --ruined.
So, there was Eli Siegel, who came up with all these rules, but to whom none of the rules applied, and there was everybody else.
[Eli Siegel] was a hurtful person. He was a sociopath. He was a control freak, and he was a cult leader.
Poor John then would be the subject of an onslaught of criticism to help him see his own contempt for Eli Siegel.... This is merely one example of the way people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line or didn't conform to accepted behavior.
We all had to present ourselves as essentially miserable failures whose lives were in shambles until we found the glorious "answers to all our questions" in AR.
It was very difficult for me to surrender to AR in the total fashion they seemed to want.
I received a call from one of the AR bigwigs asking me to donate money to the foundation.  When I told him I was low on cash I received a considerable verbal drubbing.
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.
I felt a bit raped psychologically.... if you are thinking of getting into the AR consultation process, realize that they could end it all suddenly, and that you could find your most intimate thoughts on tape in someone else's possession.
They flatter you to death and tell you that you're so wonderful, and you have all these qualities that others have never seen. And then there's this horrible criticizing.
That's when I finally knew for sure: AESTHETIC REALISM IS A CULT.  I swore on that moment that if I was ever given the opportunity to tell the world what these people did to me, I would.

When I left I was definitely shunned by other students. I would meet people in the NYC streets -as I still do to this day - and they would turn the other way to avoid me, or some even made derogatory comments about me.

[New AR students] would be shocked if they knew that the lives of the people they are supposed to learn from are very different from the principles they are taught in consultations. Even though publicly the AR foundation preaches respect for people and like of the world, inside the organization the message is very different. The underlying feeling is, "People who do not study AR are inferior to us, and the world is our enemy, out to get us." We had contempt for outsiders and were scared of the world. We huddled together for safety, secure in our sense of superiority.
When I was studying, we were allowed to associate with our families only if they continuously demonstrated that they were grateful to and respectful of Eli Siegel and AR. This did not include going to visit them if they lived far away because then we would have had to miss classes, and that would have meant we were "making our family more important than AR."
Some of the students I remember going at most intensely and viciously to stop them from associating with their families, (and whom we succeeded in stopping for many, many years), are people who are now bragging on the AR website about how great their relationships with their families are and writing as though that was always the case.
There were even instances of students refusing to visit their parents when one of them was dying because the parents did not "express regret" and renounce their unfairness to Eli Siegel and AR. There were parents who literally begged their son or daughter to relent so they could see them one more time, but the child refused. The parent died without ever seeing their child again. Far from being criticized for such behavior, students who went this far were seen as heroes in AR. They received public praise from Ellen Reiss.
While I was in AR, I did believe that Eli Siegel was greater than Christ.... It would have been accurate to say I worshipped him.
People were told that if their families did not support aesthetic realism, they were not their families.
Some of the people with statements on the Countering the Lies website claiming that AR students do not shun former students have actually passed me on the street, looked straight at me, and pretended they were seeing right through me. This includes people in the highest positions in the organization.
More and more the AR zombies demanded that I express gratitude to ES and AR. Every paper that a student wrote had to end with the obligatory "I am so grateful to ES and AR for..." along with "I deeply regret that I have met this great knowledge with contempt..."
Eli Siegel was an evil person. And I don't use the word evil lightly.
See former members' stories in their entirety
The best bits:  Cult aspects of ARDream to NightmareA journalist infiltratesAll the articles

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