READING ROOM

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