BOOKS: Exploring The First Ex-Gay Cult In “Erasing Reason”

Sheldon Kranz with his wife, actress Anne Fielding

We tend to think of the attacks on the dignity and freedoms of the gay community as a relatively recent phenomenon, coming from the Christian right and tied to an increase in awareness and inclusiveness.

But way back in 1946, Latvian-born Eli Siegel, leader of the Greenwich Village-based movement Aesthetic Realism, presented WWII veteran Sheldon Kranz as proof his group could turn gay people straight.

For decades, AR attracted hundreds of gay followers—all hoping to be “cured”—and waged an aggressive publicyt campaign for its miraculous therapy: In the 1970s members accused the press of ignoring AR’s cure and hounded editors with phone calls, letters, ads and vigils outside their homes. (Some members even wore buttons that read “Victim of the Press.)

Siegel died in 1978 and AR finally back down from its conversion claims in 1990. By that point, many of the so-called converted homosexuals had return to their true orientation but irreparable damage had been done.

In his new book, Erasing Reason: Inside Aesthetic Realism (Queer Street Press), AR survivor Hal W. Lanse presents the movement as a cult, and incorporates personal stories, documents and transcripts from AR’s encounter groups and internal meetings, to back it up. It’s a cautionary tale about how such so-called cures can be worse than ineffective, they can be toxic.

“Aesthetic Realism spent decades trying to turn its homosexual members into heterosexuals while setting them up with other opposite-sex disciples,”  explains Lanse, who was driven to write Erasing Reason because conversion therapy is still accepted by many as a legitimate practice. “Homosexuality, the cult teaches, is a manifestation of ‘contempt of the world,’ an ethical failing that begins in early childhood as a reaction to an overly adoring mother,”

Overly adoring mother? How would that explain right-wing harridans like Phyllis Schlafly and Lynne Cheney having gay kids?

Photo: Ken Kimmelman


Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #aestheticrealism #books #erasingreason stories and more


  • arjuna52

    I remember in the late 70’s when I was a young actor living in New York and gay guys I knew from acting and dance classes would show up at auditions with “Victim of the Press” buttons on their lapels. AR preyed on gays and lesbians who’d been abused and often disowned by their families. I recall that AR took out an ad in the New York Times with some sort of letter from “ex” gays and lesbians. Their names were printed for the whole world to see. Sad.

  • Little-Kiwi

    hilarious. and ignores the reality that un-loving parents create Gay Republicans.


    i wonder why there’s homosexuality in the animal kingdom.

    did the lion cub have an absentee father and an overly-protective mother? did the goose get molested by a duck? did the young penguin succumb to peer-pressures in the “liberal media”?


  • michaelbluejay

    As a correction to this article, where it says:

    “Siegel died in 1978 and AR finally back down from its conversion claims in 1990.”

    That’s not correct. AR has *never* backed down from its conversion claims. The only thing that changed was that they no longer actively *counsel* gays on how to change, and they no longer advertise that they have a “cure”. But they steadfastly believe that the study of Aesthetic Realism definitely stops homosexuality. Among their ranks are many who were “cured” in the 70s and 80s (and quickly married off to other members of the group). They’ve never said their gay-conversion efforts were wrong, and they’ve certainly never apologized for it.

    They *have* to continue to believe that AR cures gayness, because that’s what their leader claimed, and no cult ever goes against their leader. And that’s the other point that this story didn’t touch on much, which is that AR isn’t just a group that thinks it has the cure for homosexuality, it’s a full-blown *mind-control cult*. As such, they remain dangerous even though they’re no longer hawking their gay cure. The gay cure is just the tip of the iceberg. See my website “Aesthetic Realism is a Cult” for more.

Comments are closed.