Interviewer:

 Mason Funk

Camera:

 Kate Kunath

Date:

 August 14, 2016

Location:

 Home of Charlotte Wilson, Rosindale, MA

Charlotte Wilson was born in 1947 in Oklahoma City. Her father, who was part native American, was stationed in Australia during World War II; that’s where he met Charlotte’s mother, a native Australian. Charlotte’s parents divorced when she was young, and she was mostly raised by her mom. During these years, folks often called her Charlie.

‘Charlie’ lived in Oklahoma City through high school. Afterwards, she sold magazines door to door across America for a couple of years before joining the Women’s Army Corps, a branch of the US Army, in 1969. At this point in her life, Charlotte had some serious struggles with drugs and alcohol; but in the military, some friends saw her problem, intercepted some drug deliveries, and helped her to clean up her act.

In the military, over the course of multiple assignments from Texas to Germany, Korea, and finally Fitzsimmons Hospital Medical Center in Colorado, Charlotte worked as an operating room technician, and later as an instructor for OR nurses. After 11 years in uniform, she left the military and moved with her then-lover to Massachusetts. Her first job there was as a civilian at Fort Devens, about an hour west of Boston, coordinating the installation of the hospital’s first computers. This led Charlotte to get her degree in information management systems at Nichols College. After graduation, she was hired by the healthcare software company Meditech, where she worked for 22 years, retiring in 2014.

During her military days in Germany, Charlotte rode a motorcycle for the first time. After crashing into a tree, she was hooked on motorcycles for life. Decades later, she became a passionate participant and volunteer in Moving Violations (MVMC), Boston’s oldest women’s motorcycle club which over its history has raised tons of money for various women’s charities.  As part of Moving Violations community outreach, Charlotte and other MVMC members have provided motocrew support for multiple ‘Harbor to the Bay’ (H2B) bicycle rides and AIDS walks. In 2017, H2B thanked Charlotte for her years of service with a crystal clock with the inscription, “The greatest gift anyone can give is their time.”

OUTWORDS interviewed Charlotte at her home near Boston in August 2017. With her gravelly voice and easy chuckle, Charlotte mesmerized us with her tales of growing up gay in Oklahoma, surviving the military, making her way to Massachusetts, and finding a lasting sense of pride and peace with who she is. Today, she’s living in Florida with her new best girlfriend – a 2017 Honda Goldwing GL 1800 ‘trike’ (three-wheeled motorcycle) named Red Raven. But Charlotte’s real home is the open road. Keep your eyes peeled for Charlie – she’s bound to roll through your town one day soon!

Time Speakers Transcript Text
Charlotte Wilson: My name is Charlotte Wilson, C-H-A-R-L-O-T-T-E; and Wilson, W-I-L-S-O-N.
Mason Funk: If we are ever identifying you on screen, would you rather be identified as Charlotte or Char?
Charlotte Wilson: Actually, Charlotte or CW. I go Charlotte or CW. A lot of my motorcycle friends call me CW.
Mason Funk: If you’re ... In front of your full name, would it be ...
Charlotte Wilson: Charlotte Wilson.
Mason Funk: Charlotte Wilson.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okie-dokie. Done deal. Do me a favor and start off just by telling me when and where you were born.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:01:00] I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1947. My mother was a war bride,she’s from Australia; when my father was stationed over there and they met. He’s part Native American,he had this tendency of turning almost black when getting sun and stuff. It got really dark and everything. Australia had a ban against blacks in the middle, during World War II. No blacks were allowed to take their R&R in Australia.
My mother told me the story that she was telling her aunts about him and saying that he’s part Indian. They had a connection fit because they thought that it was India Indian and not Native American Indian. It almost banned her from seeing him and everything. My mom would go, “Woo-woo-woo-woo,” this type of Indian, “Woo-woo-woo,” to make the difference to them. They courted over there,they got married. My sister was born in Townsville, I was born in Oklahoma.
Mason Funk: Fantastic.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:02:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: Can you ... Do you have something in your left hand?
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Can you ... What is it?
Charlotte Wilson: It’s just a piece of paper. Just ... That I’m ...
Mason Funk: That you might just kind of just hold onto.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah, a little.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah, if you don’t want me to ...
Mason Funk: No, that’s fine. I just want to make sure what it was.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah. Treat here is like, “Oh, what are you ... You’re playing with my piece of paper, mom.”
Mason Funk: Okay. Cool. You were born in Oklahoma. Tell me just about ... Give me kind of a quick overview, just kind of your growing up years, what you’re into, and what high school was like, and ...
Charlotte Wilson: [00:03:00] Oh wow. I was a tomboy; always a tomboy. My sister was the girly girl and I was the tomboy. I did all the boy chores with my dad; mown the yard and stuff like this. I would always say, “Why doesn’t Kate do this? Why can’t ...” “No. She’s into Barbies. You’re into trucks and stuff.” I said, “Okay”, and do all that. That’s how it was.
I was ... I’ve been told I was quite a character, jokester, even little. Going to school, I was raised Catholic. I would go to school, and I would always wear my cowboy boots or my jeans and stuff like this. Mother Teresa is saying, “No, you can’t do that.” My mom would keep trying to put my clothes on, change me out every morning, and it was very tedious that I wanted to wear my little cowboy boots and go to school that way.
When the uniforms came into the system, the good old nun that she was, to go sistering, she says, “Oh, we’ll make Charlotte our little model, to show the uniform, make her a darling.” I was the model for the school uniform, making me the hot dog in the school, but I’d still put my cowboy boots on with my uniform. That was like the break.
Then, also, one of the stories is, during the recital, you had these little recitals and things, and I always ... We had ... My sister and I both had very long pigtails that was, back in the ‘40s or early ‘50s, and bangs; bangs and long pigtails. I’d always watch dad how he would shave and stuff like this. I would see other people, other guys with really short hair and it’s like ... I had this big recital, so I wanted to look really cool.
I had shaved my bangs off. My mom didn’t ... Then my mom sees me and she, needless to say, totally freaked out. The mother superior, when I came, and she saw me, she goes, “Oh my God! What did you do?” It’s like I didn’t understand. Here I am in this little Irish pinafore, and I’m standing up on stage, and I’m supposed to do this recital and they say, “Look at the light.” They meant the light back there, but I thought they meant the light up there. My whole recital, I’m looking at the light right above me, and all they see is the whites in my eyes and this flat top; the bangs. That was one story. That’s Treat’s voice there.
Mason Funk: [00:06:00] Did it bother you at all that you were kind of not “behaving normally” and you were getting these messages? Was that upsetting to you?
Charlotte Wilson: [00:07:00] No, I didn’t know anything. Back in Oklahoma, nothing was talked about, about gay, lesbian, none of that lifestyle. As I was going through, it’s like I’ve always, I had always been very strong in sports. I had a boyfriend, engaged, and the whole gamut, and did the thing.
Then, as I got older, I was always just sort of ... I noticed that I was getting more and more attracted, or my eye would linger more on a woman than normal, but I just discounted, “Oh, she has good energy. We have the same types and stuff like this that’s very sports-minded,” but again, nothing.
It wasn’t until moving forward. Here I’m like 18, 19 or so, Bud goes off,that was my boyfriend, fiancé, and he goes off to college. He was a year ahead of me. In the meantime, my parents had divorced, and I was living with my mother. She was doing a ... She was a supervisor; apartment manager.
One of the men that lived there had befriended her and she introduced me to him. I cannot remember his name to save myself, but that was the first time I had ever heard about homosexuality. He says, “I am a recovering homosexual.” I went, “Recovering homosexual. Hmm, what is that?” He explained. He says, “I used to like men, but now I don’t.” I go, “Okay.” He started telling me all about the bars and stuff like this. I go, “Oh really?”
It was piquing my interest. I go, “Hmm. Oh, we have those here?” I said, “Can you take ...” I said, “Why don’t we go out to one?” He said, “Okay.” He’s just ... He was very nervous because he’s still recovering. This was all new. I couldn’t phantom how; what he was talking about.
My first gay bar that I had ever been to in my life, in Oklahoma City, it was called the Red Lion. It was a very small place in the classic 50s style; the red velvet on the walls; the oak; but they had this big ... I remember this so distinctly, this big old wagon wheel up in the ceiling. In Oklahoma, especially in the city, I don’t know where else, but Oklahoma City, all the bars, especially gay bars, they were double doors and had fake fronts. It would be a double door with a fake front and everything, and later, I realized why they had that.
We went to this place, to the Red Lion, and it was on May Avenue, right before the Northwest Expressway. As soon as I walked in, I knew I was home. It was like just an awesome feelingawashed me. It was like, “Wow. I feel so comfortable here.” I just had this shit-eatinggrin on my face, and it was like, “Yes, I’m home. This is who I am.” Needless to say, I got quite tipsy that night. We sat down and I was ... How you’d go in and I know my eyes must have been like saucers. I’m just looking around, taking everything, and I’d go, “Wow.”
We got up and danced and everything. Then, all of a sudden, the wagon wheel started lowering down. I’d go, “What the hell is going on? Why is this coming down on us?” He says, “Oh, you and I are okay.” Then, all of a sudden, I saw the men switched. The women switched. That was a signal that the cops were at the door, and everybody had to switch partners; make a mixed partner. I went, “Oh, okay.” Then, to see how the police came in and interacted with the people, that was scary.
Then, later, I got, first hand, of the scariness, but, needless to say, I feigned a headache. I wanted to go home and had him take me back to the house. As soon ... I waited an appropriate amount of time, and I went right back to the club, and I had a ball. I met people. That was the beginning, I could say, really coming out and really realizing, “Here I am.” It also was the beginning of, “God, how do I tell, especially Bud. How do I deal with this and all?” This is just before he went into the service.
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt there, just so the stories don’t run the other two, because I want to kind of like slow you down a little bit.
Charlotte Wilson: Oh okay.
Mason Funk: Because there’s a couple of things I wanted to ask you.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Explain the double-door system to me.
Charlotte Wilson: The double-door system ...
Mason Funk: Say, “At the Red Lion ...”
Charlotte Wilson: [00:13:00] At the Red Lion or any of the gay clubs and private clubs, they had double doors. They had gated areas, because what was happening ... Because gay, lesbians, we were not popular. Homosexuality; it was not popular in the Bible belt system. They would open the door and blast through with shotguns. They would attack us; come in.
If we didn’t have a double door or ... The guards ... The people would guard, thing, they would come in and beat us up and knife us. They would wait for us outside at The Jungle bar. Several of the patrons, they would wait outside and jump us as we left the club. That was the reason why; that they had the double doors to take the gun blasts coming in. This was the ‘50s; ‘50s or early ‘60s; that timeframe.
Mason Funk: I’m just curious. You mentioned the Red Lion. You said it was on May Avenue. I think you said up by a route or something like that.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah. Northwest Expressway.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Tell me because I’m curious. I’m guessing this was probably like, sort of like the shady side of town.
Charlotte Wilson: No. It wasn’t. No.
Mason Funk: No? Tell me a little bit about that.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:14:00] Yeah. No, the Red Lion, because ... I say Northwest Expressway because the towers at which my mother was the manager of, the apartment tires. The northwest city area is upper middle class. You had the bar, but the whole bar scene, I’ve come to find out, the whole bar scene of the gay community was on 39th Ave. across May Avenue; from May Avenue down, I can’t remember the other street. It wasn’t the shady side, at all. It was sort of a respectable area; smaller homes; more established and stuff like that; but it wasn’t bad.
When I went home, coming back from overseas, and the Red Lion is no longer there. It’s some business or whatever or it’s been removed, but fun memories, and plus, it was only 15 minutes from my house, so that was good to go. Then, The Jungle bar, that was almost, you’re going down towards the state fairgrounds. That could be a little sketchy down in that area. Again, it was the older communities.
Mason Funk: [00:15:00] Now, you’ve got this dilemma. You’ve kind of realized, “Okay. This is who I am.” You’ve got this fiancé and your family. You’re about to go into the service.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Kind of take me through the next couple of stages; how you coped.
Charlotte Wilson: Wow. Yeah. Here I was partying and hardy and all ...
Mason Funk: I’m sorry. Set me up with, “Now, I’m about 18 or 19 years old ...”
Charlotte Wilson: [00:16:00] Yeah, 19, 20 years old, because ... Yeah, 19, 20, I was still going, partying around, seeing Bud, and everything, and we’re doing things, but I was pushing myself away more from Bud and just be playing more, because he lived down in Norman, Oklahoma, and I was up in the city. He was going to OU and doing his thing. I was just up really doing my thing. I ended up finding other clubs.
I have to say is that my family was well known in Oklahoma, and so, I never used my last name. Actually, when I came out, I came out with a British accent. I came out with my mother, trying to do an Aussie accent, because I did not want anybody to connect me. I always talk with an accent.
One night, I’m in the Red Lion, and I’m partying, and I’m doing all this, and this guy is looking at me; this couple. He’s looking at me, and I go up to the bar, and I get a drink. He says, “Excuse me?” I said, “Yes?” He goes, “Are you Joe Mighty Tires’ daughter?” I just looked at him and I just sort of closed my eyes, and I’m thinking, “Oh shit.” I go, “Yes, I am.” He says, “I used to put diapers on you.” I went, “Oh ...” I just sort of gulped. He goes, “What are you doing here?” I just shot it back at him. I said, “What are you doing here with your wife?” indicating you’re looking for a threesome. It’s like don’t even go there.
We chatted for a bit, but he did not hassle me at all or anything like that. That was sort of nerve-racking. I could sort of realize, “Okay, I can drop this accent or this faux front because I’m going to run into people that know me.” I’m just a splitting image of my, at that time, a splitting image of my father. It’s going to happen. If it happens, it happens.
It did happen again, but this time, it was the guy dating my mom at one of the gay bars, big gay bars, with the mother of the bartender. He goes, “What are you doing here?” I said, “What you doing here, Doc?” the same thing. He never told mom, which was good. Sort of moving forward is that I went on a tri-state bench of drinking.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor and set this up. To make this make sense or to give it context, this sort of like as ...
Charlotte Wilson: [00:19:00] As I realized, dealing with, how do I come out? Should I come out? That was a big dilemma, Oklahoma is a Bible belt. The homosexuality, any of this, is just never discussed; very anti; anti-gay; and also, being a Catholic, raised Catholic; but I sort of separated from the church a long time; but still, you have that guilt. They really put that guilt into you.
I would just ... I didn’t know how, especially with mom and stuff like this, and coming out, and should I or whatever. In the gay scene, at that time, it was always ... We’re moving into the late ‘50s or early ‘60s; the little extra recreational items; so drinking a lot, smoking a lot, and smoking grass, and doing all that. I basically went on a tri-state bench of drinking and partying.
I came back and one of the girls at the little club at the complex that I live in, she’s ... “Your mother’s going crazy. She has called the cops looking for you. Blah, blah, blah.” “Oh shit. Give me tequila. Give me a double shot of tequila. I was already 40 sheets.” I said, “Give me tequila,” and knocked those back.
I think it probably was around 2:30 in the morning. I went over to mom’s and, of course, mom’s townhouse. She had all the lights blurring and I thought, “Okay. She must be up and everything.” I went up to the door. I’m pounding on the door. She goes, “Who is this?” I said, “This is the black sheep of the family.” She whips the door open, of course, and just giving me the hugs, and, “Where have you been?” I said, “Oh, blah, blah, blah, here and there and all around.”
She brings me in and we’re talking. I am totally, totally out of it. I’m so glad that I was. She wanted to know what had happened; what’s been going on that I haven’t been myself. I said, “A lot of things.” I said, “One, my car, my GTO got, loaned it,and a girl towed it. Guys that were living with me stole all my clothes from me. They were all drag queens. They took my clothes.”
Then I said, “I want to tell you that I’m gay.” She goes, “I know you’re happy.” I said, “No, mom. I’m gay. I’m queer. I’m a lesbian. I’m a dyke.” I said, “Whatever context you want to put it in, but that’s who I am.” I said, “I like other women. I’ve been also sort of dating somebody.”
She ... You could use a spatula to scrape her off the ceiling. She just went ballistic, and yelling, and screaming. I remember the froth coming out of her mouth. She was that livid about me being gay, “What did I do wrong? Where did I go wrong?” I tried to tell her, “You didn’t do anything. It’s me. It’s who I am.”
I remember she’s taking her ... She was in her nightgown. She took her breasts, and she was shaking them at me. She says, “Is this what turns you on?” All I can say is I am glad that I was so drunk. I said, “No, they’re a bit too flabby for me.” That was my response. That just sort of, what, to give you that startled look. After I’ve said that, she just sort of calmed down and just took stock. Of course, I just had to ... She says, “You need to sleep. You need to do this.” I go, “Yeah,” and so, I crashed there.
The next morning, I felt, needless to say, like crap. She took me over to the apartment where I was. What remaining items I had could fit in a pillow case. That’s how much ... They just ripped me off totally, I was starting off anew again. That was the beginning of really separating from the family and really coming out.
Of course, I was dating ... The woman I came out with, first time going to bed with a woman, and she was ahead of her time. She was actually a sort of, I don’t know if you ... Today, we call a soft butch. She was an interior designer. Her family-owned business was building homes, constructing multi-million-dollar homes, and she was the interior designer for them and everything.
I remember her ... She slept where her office was. She had this great big round bed with a faucet, with soaked sheets, and satin sheets, and the waterfall, and all like this lighting and everything. I had to really crack because, on a satin, you’re sliding off. That was my introduction of you had to be either butch or femme. You couldn't do both. You can’t give and receive. You can only either give or receive.
She was butch, but as soon as I try to flip her, she just went ballistic. She says, “You don’t touch me.” I’d go, “Oh, why not?” I didn’t understand that. She explained that, but in my mind, I said, “This isn’t going to fly for me. I think I’m going to be; I happened to be butch.” Because, back then, in the ‘50s, you had the bouffant hair. You had these cocktail dresses and the furs and everything. I went from bouffant to sort of short hair or short style; jeans; T-shirts; rolled up sleeves. You’ve got to roll those sleeves up, and to doing that, but she taught me a lot. It’s like okay.
Then I came out, started being more butch, a stone butch. It was okay. “Okay, this is what we’re supposed to do,” because the older butches, they would ... I had one ... I can’t ... I just have ... I’m drawing a blank on her name, but she was very instrumental; an old dyke. She goes, “Come here, little one.” Even though I towered over, she called me ...
Mason Funk: Let’s start the story afresh. Let’s kind of redo the part where you were trying to remember her name? Just say, “This old butch or whatever,” just without trying to start on her name, and then just tell the story.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:27:00] This old butch, she’d say, “Come here, little one.” I go, “Okay.” She’d tell me. She says, “Okay. If you’ve got to be butch, you’ve got to be like this. You’ve got to act this way. You have your woman. You treat your woman this way. You treat your woman, making sure that the femme always had the last word, no matter what. The butch always took care of her.” That’s the way she basically taught me how to be a butch. I crack up in telling my newbie, these little baby butches, “You’ve got to do it this way.” Yeah, and ...
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt for a second. What was the difference, say, between, if so ... Obviously, I don’t this terminol- ... I know the basic terminology, but I don’t know like the nuances. When you talk about like a soft butch versus a stone butch, define that for us.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:28:00] My concept, at that time, that I’d learned was the soft butch and everything, back then, is that she’s just sort like how the butches or the femme-type butches are today. She is a very mainstream woman. I mean nice hair; always ... She would eat or wear the suit; dress; pants; slacks; whatever. She’s with women’s style clothing. Back then, the butches, they were very masculine type.
Mason Funk: The stone butches.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:29:00] Yeah, if you’ve got to be stone ... Stone butch is indicating you don’t touch. They just give in sex. It’s the stone butch; that’s it. You don’t touch me; but they would dress more masculine style; the old cliché, the flannel shirts, or the T-shirts in Oklahoma. It would be the T-shirts; jeans; cowboy boots; stuff like that. That’s the way it was in Oklahoma; in the Mid and Southwest. It could be totally different here in New York, or California, Wyoming, or whatever. Each one was geographically different. This is how I came out in Oklahoma.
Mason Funk: Let’s maybe start moving forward with like your ... I mean your life, so to speak, in terms of like, once you had, you’ve gone through this initial harrowing experience of coming out and your mom. Where did you go to begin to kind of like find where, like not necessarily physically, but where did you go internally and outwardly to find your new life, your new family, I guess, you could say, or it was not so easy at all?
Charlotte Wilson: It really wasn’t because the only way was actually at the clubs.
Mason Funk: [00:30:00] Say, talking to your parents, the only way to ...
Charlotte Wilson: [00:31:00] The only way to really find other lesbian, gays and stuff were at the clubs, and then, you hang out. That was the clubs. I would go down to Texas, Dallas, because, back then, it was the big drag shows. They were very popular; drag shows. I had a friend, when I was going through all this coming out, getting ... My car ripped off, all that stuff, she physically came up,she was living down in Dallas,she came up and grabbed my ass and took me down. I lived with her for several months. She lined me up.
I worked at Texas Instruments down there. She had me working 3 jobs to get me off the booze and the drugs. I worked at Texas Instruments. I did another job, and then, I waited at the bars. She gave strict orders no drinks to me whatsoever, but the boys thought I was such a cute guy from the back. I had a sweet ass. I had that thing up there. They always get to tip me, until I turned around and they saw the tits, and they’d say, “We’ll forget the tits, but you have a great ass.” I said, “Okay. That’s good.” I’m in some of the drag shows there. They were just phenomenal.
Then, I came back up to Oklahoma. Again, it was just the club scene. It was the only way that you get to really meet people and do. Another big thing was just sort of, here I am, 68, and this happened when I was 20. Forty-eight years later, I still, to this day, remember, I was stricken, tricked with this woman in the middle of the day and on. It was like, yet ...
Sometimes, you’re just overwhelmed, and you just want to be held. We had great sex and all like this. I was holding her. I said, “Would you mind?” I said, “I just need to be really held from all it. Can you just do that for me?” Because I was feeling an emotion or something. I remember her, she pushed me away, and she says, “Butches are the holder, not the holdee.” That was so powerful to me and it was like, “Whoa, okay, I can never ask somebody to hold me.” To this day, I don’t. I have an aversion to that.
Mason Funk: That’s how, like that gets you emotional.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:33:00] Yeah, because, I just thought that was so wrong. I’m a hugger. Any of my friends would tell you, I come up, I hug. Sometimes, they don’t want to be hugged. I said, “You’ve got to deal with it because I’m a hugger.” I hug. Because I never got that in my family either. I think I overdo it now. Then also, people can tell that if I’m off with somebody, I don’t, or I just ... I guess that’s a gauge for people to read in me, but yeah. Going back, yeah, that was very, 48 years later, I’m still ... It’s a very pivoting point in my life and everything. Then I was ... Go ahead.
Mason Funk: I’m sorry interrupt but [crosstalk 00:33:50]. It’s like the community has these pretty ... This woman tells you this. It’s like ... This is like carved in stone almost.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:34:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: Yet, you are ... You’re new to the community, but there’s a part of you that says, “I don’t want to have to, only do one thing or play only one role.”
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you this. Yeah, I guess I just wanted to know more about that. Why do you think it was so necessary or it seems so necessary to that person to have these roles to be so defined?
Charlotte Wilson: That was the culture in Oklahoma. Yeah, it was ...
Mason Funk: Tell me what you’re talking about.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:35:00] The culture ... The gay culture, it was, that’s the way it was, especially with the women. You are one or the other. You cannot intertwine the two in one person. You were either butch or you were femme. That’s it. There is no in-between where like there is today, which is great, but ... Which is great. I love that; that the women can be who they want to be and how they want to be without any reservations. Go ahead.
Mason Funk: Do you think that was a reflection just of the fact that everything was so precarious? Was this like a way in such a scary world where being out was so dangerous? Was this a way of trying to make some things really clear?
Charlotte Wilson: [00:36:00] Yeah, I think so. I think that is a possible way that it was used to be so definitive, because there were no role models. I think the women that are coming out ... The men and women coming out today, there are role models that they can see; they can observe; they can emulate or not; whereas I had none.
You know who my role model was? My two role models? John Wayne and, oh God, I just had a brain freeze, Clark Gable. That was ... John Wayne, the tough, the gruff, and everything, and Clark Gable, the suave debonair. Those two are my role models, cultivating me to be, how to be butch and doing all this, and to summon my southern charm.
Mason Funk: At that age, but still, you’re young enough and vulnerable enough. There was a part of you that just ... You’ve been through hell. You want someone to just hold you.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:37:00] Yeah. I think ... I don’t even know why, whatever, but it was like yeah. I just wanted to be held. It was like, “No. You’re the holder; not the holdee.” I go, “Okay, already,” in that little trick, real quick, and basically moved on.
Then I dated ... When I ... The next person that I was with and who ... I met Red. She was a handful woman; feisty. She was also ex ... She had been in prison. She is also ... It got me sort of back into drugs because I wanted to get her off the drugs. I would meet her guy to pick up the drugs. I ended up taking the drugs and got her clean but I got back on. At that time, that’s when I joined the Army.
She would send me ... I don’t know. Somewhere in my things is that I found a picture of myself and Red and my mother being recruited, and I’m in my little dress, and I am so stone out. I just once holding up my arm and my hand like this, as I’m being sworn in, and I had seen that. I went, “Oh my God. Did I really do this?”
I was in the military. I was in boot camp down at Fort McClellan, Alabama. The only thing I remember when I started, I had a DI, the drill sergeant. I was curled up on the foot locker. She is literally screaming in my ear. “Private Wilson! What are you doing sleeping on this ...” I’d go ... I’d think, “Where am I?” I’m looking at this row of bunk beds. I’m like, “Oh my God. What did I do?” I was in the Army now, as they say.
I’ve come to find out, two of the women figured out, two lesbians figured out what was going on. They intercepted my mail. My girlfriend had been sending me drugs and, of course, these lewd pictures of herself. They were taking the mail; taking the pills away; also taking, getting all the pictures, everything out, because we would have spot checks. They would sandwich me in between them and march me to mills, and training, and all like this. They had my back 24/7. I was ... I’m very blessed that they did. I’m very blessed that I went into the Army because the Army saved me.
Then, the whole new chapter of my life is being gay in the military. Once I was really off the drugs, off everything, and clean. Ironing, I couldn’t do with shit, but spit-shine boots, honey, I’m there, so tit for tat. They’d starch my uniforms and set them up on the beds for the inspections. They had the best boots. That was my life, and then, we were going, and I got scared.
I got scared because I was pulled in, and my young life of travels, going back, I totally forgot about it too. I used to sell magazines door-to-door, when I got out of high school, and that was my way to get out of Oklahoma for a bit. I got arrested several times by what they called the Green River law, and that was to prevent you ... We said it was a discrimination that’s saying that I couldn’t earn a living by selling door-to-door, but I never knew it was a record.
When the Army checked, I had this record of being arrested down in Cocoa Beach or other areas, and I’d go, “Huh?” I said, “I never knew I was really in arrested.” They let me slide. They didn’t hold it back because they realized that it was a bad thing, so I moved on. In my initial years, I was called in on witch hunts, and that witch hunts are ...
Mason Funk: [00:42:00] Explain that in having to start afresh, so, “In my, during my early years in the Army ...”?
Charlotte Wilson: During my early years in the Army, we had witch hunts. This is where the Army would hunt for lesbians in the military. Lesbian, gays or even the men on the men side, but predominantly, women, we’d go through Fort Sam. We would ... At Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas. I was in Class W13, and we even graduated on Friday the 13th. We had such a mix. We had ex-con, prostitutes, druggies, ex-druggies, everybody in this. You’re talking about mishmash.
They had to even put an undercover person in there to identify lesbians and to boot them out. There was a couple of us that got called. The two drill sergeants from different classes, like we were W13, and the drill sergeant from W11 or one of the other classes, they must have had a tit for tat because they were pulling shit for their classes. The other one would have us out in the middle of the night in the pouring rain with just our pajamas on, and if we were lucky, we could put a rain jacket on before we go out there standing.
We marched to the attorney general, IG, inspector general’s office there, en masse. That was quite the same shut-down-the-highways for these colonels and generals, but we would get called. We found ... Frenchie, the woman who was the undercover agent, felt so bad that she did what she did; identify some of the women as lesbians to the CID or what we call the CID in there, and were pulled in and kicked out. That was my advanced training. Then ...
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt you here. It feels like you started with a witch hunt, but then you kind of like ... You kind of went off in a different direction. What would happen when they physically ... Was that when they would march you outside and make you stand in the rain?
Charlotte Wilson: No, that was just ...
Mason Funk: Just get me through the ... Take me through a little bit of a story of one time for tat when you got called out?
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah, I got called out ...
Mason Funk: In the Army, like ...
Charlotte Wilson: [00:45:00] In the Army, when I was stationed at Fitzsimmons Hospital Medical Center, at Fitzsimmons, and this was ... ‘69? This was at ‘70; in ‘71 timeframe. Fitzsimmons Hospital, they just had finished having a big witch hunt, and 25 women were discharged.
Here, where I come in, and this is the start of the feminist movement. I have my little serape. I’m smoking my pipe, my little pipe and all like this. I have my bell bottoms. The sergeant in charge at where we are living, at the barracks, she said, “You can’t wear that. We’ve just gone through this major hunt. Your style of dressing is not appropriate. You need to change the way you dress.” I’m like, “Okay.”
I’m in there for my OR training; operating room training. That’s when ... I changed my dress as much as possible, but I still wore jeans and T-shirt, or more dressing. I’d only smoke my pipe in my room and go. The next thing I knew, everybody is on tension, because 25 women kicked out of the Army because of being a lesbian at that time; this big witch hunt and everything. All the remaining women that made it through were very nervous.
Unbeknownst to me, this is the height of Vietnam era and everything. We have choppers coming in. I have ... We’re in the operating room, triage, surgery, anywhere from 24 to 48 hours straight. Your hype, your adrenaline, in one way, that we would come down off of that and try to catch some sleep; get tired enough that we could go to sleep was bowling. Unbeknownst to me, the people that I was hanging out at the bowling alleys were some of these 25 women that got kicked out. They were still being watched which I didn’t know. I’m just there bowling. That’s all I wanted.
The next thing I know is that ... I’m doing surgery and I get called. I get pulled out of the operating room. I’m taken into this office. I go ... It’s the CID for invest- ... I’m being investigated. I went, and it was this woman. She was trying to get out of the Army, who I was with in San Antonio, Texas, in training in San Antonio. She used me as a reference saying that she was a lesbian because she was dating me and having sex with me, and da, da, da, da, da, the whole gamut. Everything was written up and all like this, but there were no signatures.
I’d go, “This is interesting.” I just really paid ... I let them do the schpiel. I said, “Have you ever been in San Antonio?” They’d go, “Yeah, yeah.” I said, “You know how everybody parties?” I said, “Yeah, we roomed together at this hotel room but,” I said, “I didn’t make it back.” I said, “I was partying in other rooms. I don’t know who ...” I gave them a big BS.
They called their photographer in. Now the photographer I was dating at Fitzsimmons. She walked in,she saw me, andshe got scared as hell. I could see it in her eyes. She had to take the pictures because their photographer was out sick. They had to use the hospital photographer; her. She took my ... She had to take the pictures and stuff but didn’t know what was transpiring. They just know ... She just knew I was called in.
We get all done, and I’m walking back to the barracks. All of a sudden, I’m hearing this car roaring up behind me. The sergeant major from the hospital, a female, lesbian, gets out of her car, and she ... I go, “Hey Top, how are you doing?” She physically grabs my collar. She pulls me up off the ground by my shirt. I’m like ... She’s in my face. She says, “Did you say any names?” I said, “No, Sergeant. No, Top. It was from Texas.” She says, “You’re black bulb. You’re blacklisted. Nobody is going to talk to you. You’re at ... If we hear anything and it comes back, you’re dead.” That was scary. That was damn scary. It was like, seriously. Seriously. No. No.
Mason Funk: Wow. Let me know ... If you just pull your shirt back, now that you’re ...
Charlotte Wilson: Oh, okay.
Mason Funk: That would be great illustration, but I don’t want your shirt to stand down because it’s ...
Charlotte Wilson: Okay.
Mason Funk: Kate, how are we doing for time? Do you want to swap a card?
Kate Kunath: Sure.
Mason Funk: Okay. We are going to just swap out one of our hard drives. Wow. These are stories are crazy.
Kate Kunath: Yeah, very crazy.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah. Look at Treat.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I know.
Charlotte Wilson: He’s a ... “Hey, I’m cute. Come on.”
Christine: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] ... every once in a while, but there’s probably nothing really to do about that. It’s just [crosstalk 00:50:57]. Okay. Was there anything else memorable about your years in the military, kind of from the point of view that can help us understand what the climate was for LGBT people at that time? Any other incidents that you remember that were especially notable?
Charlotte Wilson: [00:52:00] Again, it was being in the military. It’s just being so closeted; very closeted and very protective. When I had left Fitzsimmons in Denver and realized the seriousness, and then, also having to go through a couple more drag-ins by the CID, a different postyou think, you become very cautious of who you befriend, because you just don’t know how it’s going to play down the road for you.
Also, having a relationship in the military is very hard. When I was stationed down in Alabama, I fell in love with this woman. I thought, “Oh my God. This is the one. This is it.” That was probably around in the ‘60s; 1969 ... I’m saying this to myself, ‘69 to ‘80, I was in the military. It was ‘69; the training and all. I went to Alabama probably around in ‘70, ‘71, in a ‘70 timeframe, and I fell in love with Linda at that time and ...
Mason Funk: Here, we start clean. The time when you’re pretty sorting out the dates, let’s just start over and say, “Maybe in early ... I’m in the military in the early 1970s,” just [crosstalk 00:53:08].
Charlotte Wilson: [00:54:00] Yeah, in the military, early ‘70s, down in Alabama, and met the woman that I thought, “Oh, this is going to be great,” and having a relationship. We were living in the barracks with the bunk beds and stuff like this, but we’d usually have to go to a hotel.
It was very ... Rumor talks. People rumor, “Oh, they’ve got to be ... She’s got to be a lesbian.” Because I was ... No matter how I tried to disguise my size, I’m big-boned, I’m a tall woman; 5’9-1/2. I’m a tomboy-type and everything. They automatically say you’re a lesbian. Especially, if you don’t put out to the guys, you’re a lesbian. They always have this thing,it was the same with Linda. We would get ... I got called in again and missed it and everything. I was dating and to have a friend ...
Mason Funk: What do you mean when you say, “You missed it”?
Charlotte Wilson: I didn’t get charged. They ...
Mason Funk: Let’s try it again. “I got called in again.” Then, when you say, “You missed it,” I want to know what that meant. Why don’t you explain it to me?
Charlotte Wilson: [00:55:00] I got called in again for being gay, but they had no real facts. I was able to not get charged and remained in the service. Linda and I both had quasi-boyfriends, even though they didn’t know that we were gay, but we sort of played the scene, just to have that front for everything.
My guy, he was 6’8”. He was a big dude. I remember saying, making the crack. I thought I said it under my voice, undertone, but my undertone is still loud. I said, “I would hate to iron those pants,” because he was so long-legged. It was ridiculous. He heard me and we started our friendship that way.
I told him. He says, “I heard that you possibly might ...” I said, “What? Would it make a difference to you?” He says, “No, not really.” He says, “I just like you as a person.” I said, “Okay.” I told him anything. He really protected me and Linda and carried the front for us. I’m very grateful to him for that. That’s it, but we had to be very, very careful, when we were over there.
Then, I got orders to go to Germany. I left for Germany in 1971. I was in Germany at Landstuhl. I met Maxine. Max, oh my God, a fire went off, and we were roommates. We were in ... We had our room and we had our separate beds, but come nighttime, boom!The beds were together, and it was great. I loved her tremendously, but as all things go, when the military would break up relationships. We were vowing for that not to happen.
Mason Funk: When you say the military break up relationships, what would they do?
Charlotte Wilson: [00:58:00] You get orders. If I got ... You’re breaking up a relationship. You get orders to move on. The other per- ... You’re leaving the person behind. A lot of times, you won’t get ... The other person won’t get the same orders that you do. You always have that in the back of your mind. How can you do a long distance relationship? It’s very hard to do a long distance relationship, and especially, in the military. It was hard and everything.
Over in Germany, there was a lot of couples; a lot of lesbians and gays and stuff like this. We did a lot of traveling over there. Europe is just so more accepting for a public display of affection; holding hands; walking arm-in-arm. It’s actually a part of their culture. You see that and everything. Max and I, we just loved it and everything. Of course, the GIs were just assholes over there; hitting at all the women and everything.
We had said that when we were out in public, and if we identified the guys, soldiers, of course, with the buzz cut and all like this, and you could really stand out that we would basically play dumb like or European that ... No English. We would play that card and be walking arm-and-arm and everything.
They would try to pull us,and especially, Max was gorgeous. She looked like a model; the long hair; the natural blonde streak coming down. Yeah, she was wonderful. Of course, she was hit on, right and left, but she’d always play the dumb card. She was very introverted too. Moving forward, we come home. She gets out of the service because I got orders to go ...
Mason Funk: Let’s start again. Whether that truck, was it that ...
Charlotte Wilson: The train. [crosstalk 00:59:22] Yeah, the train. The commute rail.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kate Kunath: It’s good we’re on a Sunday.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:00:00] Yeah. Moving forward, we got ... I got orders to leave. I was being stationed in El Paso, Texas. Fortunately, Maxine’s orders, she was coming to the end of her recruitment period. She was getting out of the military. She came to El Paso, but there was like a 6-month stent; a 6 or 7-month stent delay between. Girls will be girls to play. It’s all I can say.
One of the captains was hitting on me really big time. I had an affair with the captain; one of the captains there. When Max came, and then, when she saw Max, she did everything in her power to break us up because she wanted to be with Max.
Mason Funk: She wanted to be with Max.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:01:00] Oh yeah, because ... Maxine, she was working at the hospital too,she was a lab person. She was there,we always saw one another and stuff like this, but it was very rough for us. We did sort of break up and all this.
I had befriended somebody and this woman who I really liked but I liked as a person, but I was drawn to her mother. Her mother was very ill, oxygen tank and stuff like this, but I really befriended her mom. I would go over there. Max was very jealous and very possessive. She couldn’t understand why.
She thought I was going over to see the other woman. I said, “No, I’m seeing the mother, because she’s on her last leg.” I said, “She’s got so much information and such wealth of knowledge and experience of life. She was just an amazing, amazing woman. We would just sit and talk for hours.” She just couldn’t understand that and was very possessive.
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt for a second.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] Because I just want to kind of keep us moving forward.
Charlotte Wilson: Okay. Yeah. I’m sorry. [crosstalk 01:02:01] Yeah, I go off ontangent [crosstalk 01:02:02]. I’m sorry. The mulberry bush.
Mason Funk: [01:03:00] I’m trying to think ... I think I want to, in some ways ... I know it’s a huge fast forward, but I want to sort of fast forward us to where you feel like, having witnessed these really incredible periods of history, where ... There’s the train again. Where do you feel like we are today as a community? From your point of view, how do you think the community, such as you experience it, under duress, like in Oklahoma, that was such a time when there was so much pressure. There was so much fear. Now we’re living sort of in a different era; sort of.
While some things have changed, others haven’t. What would you say are some of the most notable changes that you’ve noticed? Kind of fast-forwarding up to our present time, but maybe some of the things also that you think have not changed as much as you would hope, if that makes any sense. Or just ... Do you feel like ... Are you so relieved? How do you feel of the fact that we’re living in such a kind of a different time now?
Charlotte Wilson: [01:04:00] Oh yeah. That in itself is just ... Today, I am so amazed. Again, here, in New England, okay, Massachusetts, and we’re very progressive, and I’m very, very thankful that I live up here in such a progressive and accepting, pretty accepting area, depending on where you are, because it’s always a geographical nature of the level of acceptance.
What we have here in Boston and on the marriage, the marriage is the biggest thing for me. I thought I would never see this in my lifetime at all, and to see how lesbians, gays can be married, and legally, and accepting. Now, we’re just going to get the federal taxes on board. That would be phenomenal. I am amazed at that.
The transgender, being transgendered and all, and the level of acceptance today, and the openness of these men and women being transgendered is just phenomenal. They would never have been alive; made it through; back in my early days. Nothing. They would be beaten or killed, which still happens today, but more rampant. It could go really unnoticed back then; as it is. That’s amazing and everything.
Also, the age, the acceptance and everything. I worked for GLAD, I would volunteer at GLAD for a bit. Just the awareness of these young children already identifying, young boys already identifying, “I’m a woman. I’m a girl.” At 7, 8 years old, it’s just phenomenal to me; amazing to me in acceptance; but more importantly, the parents receiving, hearing from the parents, “My child is a transgender. She’s only 8, but she knows that she’s a boy. I want to make sure that the schools are supporting my child transgender. What can I do? What do I need to know? How do I do it?” This is phenomenal.
Back then, no way. No way we had that type of support or that type of resource. I had no resources in the ‘50s or ‘60s. I had no resources; no role models; no nothing. Today, in the 21st, going in 22nd, we have that. We have that resources, that roles and support system, which we didn’t have. This is how we have grown. New England has been the forefront for it in the West Coast, but it’s pocketed. It’s very pocketed.
We need to have it for the Midwest; for the farm countries because that’s hard. That’s hard living when you’re on a 100-acre farm, and you just got the brothers. You’re rough and tomboy, and God forbid, if you come out as gay, or being gay or lesbian, you have no support system there. You’re looked down as disdained. We need to really reach out and support these young people or these older; the seniors too.
I’m a senior. I don’t ... I know there’s a support system and everything, but I’m not familiar with it. I’m not accustomed to having a support system. I think that’s one of the reasons why I don’t research it because it’s not in my framework of growing up.
Mason Funk: Do you ever worry ... We hear a lot about how seniors, as they get older and maybe need to go into some kind of an assisted living facility, how they sometimes have to re-closet because they are fearful of not getting good care if the caregiver is not on board with them being gay or lesbian? Do you worry about that as a senior?
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah, I do, at times.
Mason Funk: “As a senior, I worry ...” Start off that way.
Charlotte Wilson: As a senior, I do worry about not having or having to go back in the closet. I made ... I will never go back in the closet. I am who I am. One of my friends says, “How do you identify? Do you identify as a dyke or a lesbian?” I said, “What’s the difference?”
Mason Funk: Just one second. I can actually hear that crackling plastic.
Kate Kunath: I’m sorry.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, “One of my friends asked me ...”
Charlotte Wilson: [01:09:00] One of my friends asked me, “How do you identify? As a dyke or as a lesbian?” I said, “What is the difference?” She says, “Lesbians are more ...” How did she put it? Feminist movement or whatever. I said, “I didn’t even know about feminism or I didn’t know anything about coming out, Stonewall, nothing at all.” I said, “I am a woman who happens to be a lesbian. I’m a dyke, a queer, whatever the label.” It’s just words. It’s my lifestyle,why should I put a particular label to my lifestyle?
I can be real tomboyish, real butchy now if I want to be. I can be whoever I want to be. Screw the labels. “I’m gay. I’m a lesbian. I’m a dyke. I’m queer. More importantly, I’m a woman.” Those ... I know certain people like certain label. That’s them, not me.
Mason Funk: Let’s talk a bit more also, because we were talking about this when we took a break. How do you feel ... Do you sense that the rigidity of the role model, of the roles, butch, stone, femme, whatever these roles are, and you have to behave this way if you’re a butch, and you have to do this? Do you feel like those roles have eased up at all from what you’re able to witness? Incorporate my question into your answer if you won’t mind.
Charlotte Wilson: Okay. I’ll try.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Do something like, “As far as the roles go, as far as the roles in the lesbian community, what I observe is ...”
Charlotte Wilson: [01:11:00] As far as the roles in the lesbian community, from what I have observed, especially, I think the younger ones, they come off as butch but they’re not. They come up ... I don’t know how to explain it. Talking to them, it’s like, “Oh, you’re butch.” “Yeah,” but they’re actually bottom. They may be butch on the outside, but they’re a bottom. It’s like, “Oh, okay, this is interesting.”
Because I had this, like a conversation with one of my friends and everything, she would identify as butch, but yet, she says, “No, I’m really submissive.” I’d go, “Oh, okay.” It’s anymore now, to tell you the truth, I cannot tell who’s what, because it’s just so ... Just ... I’m lost for words.
Mason Funk: Somewhat call it fluid?
Charlotte Wilson: [01:12:00] Yes. It’s all so fluid. Yeah, it’s very fluid to what they are, but you get the older ones now. You’ve got the older butches and saying they’re that way. They’re just that way. I can walk up ... I can see an old butch, and she’s backed ... She’s got the grease-backed hair. I never had a grease-backed hair. I did have a short hair; a buzz. I was probably punky, I had spikes going. I always had my rolled up T-shirt. I had the rolled back and, of course, the duck tail.
Again, as the fluid is ... As being butch versus femme, being stone butch and femme, again, it’s geographical. In some areas, it’s how the culture in that area. My culture in Oklahoma, it was that way. Is it that way today when I’ve gone back to visit? In ways, it still is that way? Is it that way in New York? It can be, depending on which areas in New York you’re going to. In New York City, they have these little pockets. Every place has a pocket for that type of culture to happen. What time is that?
Mason Funk: That’s great. I think that’s a great explanation. That really is enlightening. Kate, do you have questions?
Kate Kunath: Yeah, just a couple. During the witch hunts ... Oh sorry, I need to stretch. During the witch hunts, the women that you knew who were discharged ...
Charlotte Wilson: Kicked out? Yeah.
Kate Kunath: Did you stay in touch with any of them? Did you know what would happen to them under those conditions where they’re dishonorably discharged?
Mason Funk: You’re going to answer me because we want to keep the eyeline consistent.
Charlotte Wilson: The women that were discharged ... Excuse me.
Mason Funk: Say, “In the military.”
Charlotte Wilson: [01:14:00] In the military ...
Mason Funk: Start afresh?
Charlotte Wilson: The women that were discharged from the military were dishonorably discharged. There was no with conditions or honorable with conditions,it was automatically dishonorable discharge. Some of them were right at the time of almost retirement. Boom; got dishonorably discharged with no benefits; no pay; no nothing. Actually, one of our members ... I belong to a motorcycle club. Actually, one of the women that was joining the club, she was a helicopter pilot and was forced out. She was with the National Guard. She was at ...
Mason Funk: She was a helicopter pilot?
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah, and she was a ...
Mason Funk: [01:15:00] Start with that She.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:16:00] She was a helicopter pilot. She was at West Point; teaching at West Point. She was dishonorably discharged,she was forced out. Then, she lost her job at West Point. She fought it, and she got back, reinstated, because that was the whole thing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, blah, blah, blah, and that whole campaign. She won. She’s back at West Point. That’s how ...
I was getting out right around when they were trying to ease up; ease up a bit. If anybody reported, you’ve got pulled in, and it’s very sad. It’s very sad that men and women are still going through that. They want us for the frontline. They don’t care, but now that the frontline is gone, they care. Men and women in the service are still having problems; no matter what you hear.
Mason Funk: Really?
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. I didn’t realize that. Do you hear stories of ... What kinds of problems?
Kate Kunath: Will you just move your hands?
Charlotte Wilson: Oh ...
Kate Kunath: Because it’s [crosstalk 01:16:21] a little bit ...
Charlotte Wilson: Okay. They get pulled in. They get the harassment. It’s just remarks; just the bullying; the harassment; trying to push them offthrough the shove stuff. Sometimes they may get a beating; but it’s still going on. It’s still going on.
Mason Funk: [01:17:00] Okay. Kate, other questions?
Kate Kunath: Yeah. You mentioned briefly that Stonewall wasn’t ... The actual event of Stonewall wasn’t really on your radar. I wonder when you became aware of like the Sexual Revolution or ...
Mason Funk: [crosstalk 01:17:18].
Kate Kunath: When you felt a little more aware of the general consciousness raising about gays, lesbians, pride stuff?
Charlotte Wilson: [01:18:00] Oh yeah. Okay. That’s a good one, Kate, because I like said ... When did I become consciously aware of being gay and really being out? I have to say here in New England, Boston, in Massachusetts. My partner at the time, Maggie, she got orders to come here to Fort Devens. I had gotten out of the Army to be, coming with her. I made the decision I’m not going to lose another relationship to the Army. We lived out in a little town, Phillipston, Mass., out in the country. I never had really been ... I had been to other gay bars.
Mason Funk: I’d say talk to me.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:19:00] Oh, okay. I was at gay bars, but we would ... Here, we were out in the country, and we made the trip to Boston. We were so excited. Of course, we missed it. We kept going back and forth on the Interstate; missing the turn. The guy was recognizing our car and said, “You’ve got to go back.” Long and short of it, we did that.
Maggie and I broke up; befriended another person. I heard this Gay Pride. We went to Gay Pride. That was my first Gay Pride I had ever been to in my life. I didn’t even know what it was. I almost fainted. Of course, it was one of the hottest days, and that ...It was like, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” All these people, thousands of people, all this ... “Oh man, she’s cute.” It was like all over the place. It was just phenomenal.
Still, I was working. I was working at a government agency. I’m still semi-closeted and stuff. Then, when Fort Devens closed down, I was going, starting back to school full-time. I moved into the Boston area. It was like, “Wow, I want to know what’s happening here.”
I was a columnist for one of the gay papers here. My little name was Ms. Hugs. Then, I was also the volunteer coordinator for the Lesbian Gay Community Center when I was on Newbury Street, because I wanted to know what was going on. It was like it was just exploding for me.
I joined a human rights campaign. One of the women, this was getting around the time with Bill Clinton, and doing that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and all like this, and HRC was doing a big event across the nation of getting ex-military, or maybe certain military people, service people, retired, active-duty, blah, blah, blah, the whole thing, and staging. We were doing it at Faneuil Hall here. HRC asked me, and Frank who owns the Club Café, he’s ex-military as well, to be the point people and leader of it.
We had quite a contingency we were able to do. We did march in. I was scared shitless. I must’ve drank 3 bottles of Pepto-Bismol pink bottles. Deb was just laughing at me, and she said, “Are you okay?” I said, “I am so afraid I’m going to forget the words to the Pledge of Allegiance,” all like this. The place was packed.
I had friends that were still in the Coast Guard and all like this. They couldn’t be on TV or any of that, and they were up in the rafters, up to that, and they would hide behind things, but they would peek out and look, and I could see them. It was a standing room only in there. Frank and I, we had like 30 people. We were leading down the aisle and going up on stage. To look out to the audience and to the pairs ...
Mason Funk: Just one second. Just one second.
Charlotte Wilson: What? Treat, come here! He wants attention. Treat.
Mason Funk: I know.
Charlotte Wilson: Treat.
Mason Funk: We’re almost done, but we just need to kind of keep him quiet somehow.
Charlotte Wilson: Treat? Come here, hon.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let’s just try again, maybe kind of give[inaudible 1:22:20]
Charlotte Wilson: Okay.
Mason Funk: Let’s say, you’re walking down ...
Charlotte Wilson: [01:23:00] Yeah, walking down, I was very nervous and realizing, “Wow. I’m not in Kansas anymore. I’m really coming out.” I thought I was out, but this is out-out, and on national TV, even. We got up and everything, and Frank and I, we just ... We sort of held hands behind the podium because he was giving me support. He was giving me support. I’d go, “Okay,” and so, we led and everything. It was just standing ovations. It was just very moving and very powerful. I even ... I got goosebumps now and tears to my eyes.
Being accepted, being embraced with the love and the support of our community, I never had from childhood up, and to feel it, and to be a part of their movement, and the acceptance, that’s when I really came out, came out to the world that I am gay. I am a lesbian, I am a dyke, I’m damn proud.
Mason Funk: It’s very hard.
Charlotte Wilson: Where is my napkin?
Mason Funk: You’re going to ... Can you reach your Kleenex or something like that?
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Oh, you got it?
Kate Kunath: That was sweet.
Christine: Jason, can I have a question?
Mason Funk: Let me check with Kate, but just one sec. Kate, how are you?
Kate Kunath: I’m good.
Mason Funk: Go ahead.
Christine: Maybe ask about how the motorcycle culture has been a part of the dyke life and how that established the community.
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] Great. Yeah, let’s talk about that. Let’s try to keep it relatively simple because I’m trying to keep us on schedule, but [crosstalk 01:24:53] that’s a really great question. Can you just tell me about your involvement with bike culture and how that is, just like Christine said, how is freedom important for the dyke community? It’s a big topic.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:26:00] I belong to a fantastic motorcycle club here in Moving Violations. We’ve been ... The club itself is ... We’re going ... We’re in our 31st year. I’ve been a member for 10 years; a little bit over 10 years. I used to ride a motorcycle, actually, over in Germany,one of the guys taught me over there. I had a great time over in Germany. I was never part of any type of club and such when I was stationed in Colorado; rolled out with a group of women there; nothing.
Coming here and joining the club, late in life, I think I was in my 50s or so. Honest to God, once I swung that leg over and started going, it took 10 years off of me, and I never looked back. We are such a tight-knit club that we really helped one another. We’re really there for each other. We do a lot of community involvement. If I’m in trouble ...
Let me give you an example of how close our club is, is that I had a really bad accident, and stupid accident, in 2011. I broke my tibia, fibia and patella-plateau, on a 4-mile U-turn. I was in hospital and rehab for 7 months, 8 months, because I live by myself.
My club came over and into my dining room; took all of the dining room stuff out; put it all down the basement; took all my rugs and everything out; out of here. At that time, I used to smoke, and they did not want me to smoke. They got rid of all my cigarettes, all the ashtrays, everything; cleaned this house to get the smoke out; and came over; and helped to get me over here.
They would ... I had a ramp built. I couldn’t walk for 3 years. The club would come over and help me integrate, and so, that’s it. We’re all from all walks of life, but they ... The diversity. We’d pull together and we help each other.
We are a motor crew for the AIDS Walk. We have been involved with the AIDS Action; AIDS Walk; when it was from New York to here. Now, we do Harbor to the Bay. It’s 126 miles; we do that. We do the AIDS Walk here. We get dressed up in outfits and do the support and stuff.
We do long trips. We have community rides. It’s just so well. We have our sister club; the sirens up in New York,we do things together. When I went out to the Women’s International Motorcycle Conference in Colorado, we are so well known. Other women’s bike clubs, “We know who you are and you wear your colors,” and they come up, and they say, “Hey sis? How are you doing? How’s your ride? How did you ride out there?” Because we all ...
Trailering is for sissies,we ride our bikes. That’s the way it is,that’s the way we roll. I’m very proud to be a member of this, for this, with this club. We love us. We love us. That’s our saying. We love us.
Mason Funk: That’s terrific. That’s great. That sounds fun.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. Four last short questions that we use to wrap up every interviewer. To someone who, at any age, young, middle age or older, is about to come out; whatever that might mean, whatever form that might take, whatever that person’s particular coming out might be. What kind of a single piece of guidance, or wisdom, or inspiration would you offer to that person? Start by saying, “To someone who is about to come out,” start that way.
Charlotte Wilson: I would say, “Bless you.”
Mason Funk: Sorry. I’d say ... Start by saying, “To someone who is about to come out ...”
Charlotte Wilson: [01:30:00] Oh, okay. To someone who is about to come out, I would say, “Good. Let yourself be yourself. Do not keep it in. Be yourself at all times and be gentle to yourself because others may not be gentle to you.” That’s what I would say.
Mason Funk: Great. Wonderful. Secondly, what is your hope for the future?
Charlotte Wilson: [01:31:00] Excuse me. My hope for the future is that worldwide acceptance for whoever we are and however we identify as; gay, lesbian, transgender, bi. It doesn’t make a difference. It’s just world acceptance for all of us,no discrimination. The support; that’s what I hope for.
We’re on a good track. We’re doing great. We’re doing leaps and bounds, but again, we need to do it on a global basis. We just have pockets. We really need to identify the other pockets and really work there.
Mason Funk: Yeah, for sure.
Charlotte Wilson: Yeah. That’s what I would do.
Mason Funk: Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Charlotte Wilson: [01:32:00] I ask that. Why is it important for me to tell my story? I am just one fraction of the pie. I came out in the Midwest, Southwest area. I had no clue about Stonewall and the whole revolution until I came here to Boston, New England. That’s when I started getting educated to the background; to our history and all.
For the anniversary, my friend and I, on the spur of the moment, went to the Gay Pride. I have a picture of me in front of me, my buddy and I, in front of the Stonewall bar, and overwhelming, overwhelming.The history that was created that day by strong, beautiful queens, taking it to the streets and really saying no more, because they were the ones that really started the movement, because the drag queens, the transsexuals, they got beat up a hell of a lot more than some of us. They had the balls, the ovaries or tit-, whatever you want to say, but they really and truly started it. I am thankful to them for it.
Mason Funk: Great. Last but not least, regarding OUTWORDS, what do you see is the value of a project like OUTWORDS?
Charlotte Wilson: I see the value of this project. OUTWORDS project is fantastic. I wish there was something like this when I was coming out. It gives me a reference. It gives me support of some place to go and get educated or get input. Am I the only one? Because ...
Mason Funk: Start back. “It gives me some place to go to get educated and ...”
Charlotte Wilson: [01:34:00] Yeah. It gives me a place to go to get educated and to have a reference to learn because, like I said, you’re having a wide spectrum of coming out, stories or people from different spectrums of the nation, which is good, because every place is different. Every state is different within the state.
Southern part state is totally different than the northern state; part of the state. You’re getting that wide spectrum of input and culture; just sort of a wide breadth of diversity, which is great, and thank you.
Mason Funk: It’s my pleasure.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:01:00] I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1947. My mother was a war bride,she’s from Australia; when my father was stationed over there and they met. He’s part Native American,he had this tendency of turning almost black when getting sun and stuff. It got really dark and everything. Australia had a ban against blacks in the middle, during World War II. No blacks were allowed to take their R&R in Australia.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:02:00] Yeah.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:03:00] Oh wow. I was a tomboy; always a tomboy. My sister was the girly girl and I was the tomboy. I did all the boy chores with my dad; mown the yard and stuff like this. I would always say, “Why doesn’t Kate do this? Why can’t ...” “No. She’s into Barbies. You’re into trucks and stuff.” I said, “Okay”, and do all that. That’s how it was.
Mason Funk: [00:06:00] Did it bother you at all that you were kind of not “behaving normally” and you were getting these messages? Was that upsetting to you?
Charlotte Wilson: [00:07:00] No, I didn’t know anything. Back in Oklahoma, nothing was talked about, about gay, lesbian, none of that lifestyle. As I was going through, it’s like I’ve always, I had always been very strong in sports. I had a boyfriend, engaged, and the whole gamut, and did the thing.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:13:00] At the Red Lion or any of the gay clubs and private clubs, they had double doors. They had gated areas, because what was happening ... Because gay, lesbians, we were not popular. Homosexuality; it was not popular in the Bible belt system. They would open the door and blast through with shotguns. They would attack us; come in.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:14:00] Yeah. No, the Red Lion, because ... I say Northwest Expressway because the towers at which my mother was the manager of, the apartment tires. The northwest city area is upper middle class. You had the bar, but the whole bar scene, I’ve come to find out, the whole bar scene of the gay community was on 39th Ave. across May Avenue; from May Avenue down, I can’t remember the other street. It wasn’t the shady side, at all. It was sort of a respectable area; smaller homes; more established and stuff like that; but it wasn’t bad.
Mason Funk: [00:15:00] Now, you’ve got this dilemma. You’ve kind of realized, “Okay. This is who I am.” You’ve got this fiancé and your family. You’re about to go into the service.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:16:00] Yeah, 19, 20 years old, because ... Yeah, 19, 20, I was still going, partying around, seeing Bud, and everything, and we’re doing things, but I was pushing myself away more from Bud and just be playing more, because he lived down in Norman, Oklahoma, and I was up in the city. He was going to OU and doing his thing. I was just up really doing my thing. I ended up finding other clubs.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:19:00] As I realized, dealing with, how do I come out? Should I come out? That was a big dilemma, Oklahoma is a Bible belt. The homosexuality, any of this, is just never discussed; very anti; anti-gay; and also, being a Catholic, raised Catholic; but I sort of separated from the church a long time; but still, you have that guilt. They really put that guilt into you.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:27:00] This old butch, she’d say, “Come here, little one.” I go, “Okay.” She’d tell me. She says, “Okay. If you’ve got to be butch, you’ve got to be like this. You’ve got to act this way. You have your woman. You treat your woman this way. You treat your woman, making sure that the femme always had the last word, no matter what. The butch always took care of her.” That’s the way she basically taught me how to be a butch. I crack up in telling my newbie, these little baby butches, “You’ve got to do it this way.” Yeah, and ...
Charlotte Wilson: [00:28:00] My concept, at that time, that I’d learned was the soft butch and everything, back then, is that she’s just sort like how the butches or the femme-type butches are today. She is a very mainstream woman. I mean nice hair; always ... She would eat or wear the suit; dress; pants; slacks; whatever. She’s with women’s style clothing. Back then, the butches, they were very masculine type.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:29:00] Yeah, if you’ve got to be stone ... Stone butch is indicating you don’t touch. They just give in sex. It’s the stone butch; that’s it. You don’t touch me; but they would dress more masculine style; the old cliché, the flannel shirts, or the T-shirts in Oklahoma. It would be the T-shirts; jeans; cowboy boots; stuff like that. That’s the way it was in Oklahoma; in the Mid and Southwest. It could be totally different here in New York, or California, Wyoming, or whatever. Each one was geographically different. This is how I came out in Oklahoma.
Mason Funk: [00:30:00] Say, talking to your parents, the only way to ...
Charlotte Wilson: [00:31:00] The only way to really find other lesbian, gays and stuff were at the clubs, and then, you hang out. That was the clubs. I would go down to Texas, Dallas, because, back then, it was the big drag shows. They were very popular; drag shows. I had a friend, when I was going through all this coming out, getting ... My car ripped off, all that stuff, she physically came up,she was living down in Dallas,she came up and grabbed my ass and took me down. I lived with her for several months. She lined me up.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:33:00] Yeah, because, I just thought that was so wrong. I’m a hugger. Any of my friends would tell you, I come up, I hug. Sometimes, they don’t want to be hugged. I said, “You’ve got to deal with it because I’m a hugger.” I hug. Because I never got that in my family either. I think I overdo it now. Then also, people can tell that if I’m off with somebody, I don’t, or I just ... I guess that’s a gauge for people to read in me, but yeah. Going back, yeah, that was very, 48 years later, I’m still ... It’s a very pivoting point in my life and everything. Then I was ... Go ahead.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:34:00] Yeah.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:35:00] The culture ... The gay culture, it was, that’s the way it was, especially with the women. You are one or the other. You cannot intertwine the two in one person. You were either butch or you were femme. That’s it. There is no in-between where like there is today, which is great, but ... Which is great. I love that; that the women can be who they want to be and how they want to be without any reservations. Go ahead.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:36:00] Yeah, I think so. I think that is a possible way that it was used to be so definitive, because there were no role models. I think the women that are coming out ... The men and women coming out today, there are role models that they can see; they can observe; they can emulate or not; whereas I had none.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:37:00] Yeah. I think ... I don’t even know why, whatever, but it was like yeah. I just wanted to be held. It was like, “No. You’re the holder; not the holdee.” I go, “Okay, already,” in that little trick, real quick, and basically moved on.
Mason Funk: [00:42:00] Explain that in having to start afresh, so, “In my, during my early years in the Army ...”?
Charlotte Wilson: [00:45:00] In the Army, when I was stationed at Fitzsimmons Hospital Medical Center, at Fitzsimmons, and this was ... ‘69? This was at ‘70; in ‘71 timeframe. Fitzsimmons Hospital, they just had finished having a big witch hunt, and 25 women were discharged.
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] ... every once in a while, but there’s probably nothing really to do about that. It’s just [crosstalk 00:50:57]. Okay. Was there anything else memorable about your years in the military, kind of from the point of view that can help us understand what the climate was for LGBT people at that time? Any other incidents that you remember that were especially notable?
Charlotte Wilson: [00:52:00] Again, it was being in the military. It’s just being so closeted; very closeted and very protective. When I had left Fitzsimmons in Denver and realized the seriousness, and then, also having to go through a couple more drag-ins by the CID, a different postyou think, you become very cautious of who you befriend, because you just don’t know how it’s going to play down the road for you.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:54:00] Yeah, in the military, early ‘70s, down in Alabama, and met the woman that I thought, “Oh, this is going to be great,” and having a relationship. We were living in the barracks with the bunk beds and stuff like this, but we’d usually have to go to a hotel.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:55:00] I got called in again for being gay, but they had no real facts. I was able to not get charged and remained in the service. Linda and I both had quasi-boyfriends, even though they didn’t know that we were gay, but we sort of played the scene, just to have that front for everything.
Charlotte Wilson: [00:58:00] You get orders. If I got ... You’re breaking up a relationship. You get orders to move on. The other per- ... You’re leaving the person behind. A lot of times, you won’t get ... The other person won’t get the same orders that you do. You always have that in the back of your mind. How can you do a long distance relationship? It’s very hard to do a long distance relationship, and especially, in the military. It was hard and everything.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:00:00] Yeah. Moving forward, we got ... I got orders to leave. I was being stationed in El Paso, Texas. Fortunately, Maxine’s orders, she was coming to the end of her recruitment period. She was getting out of the military. She came to El Paso, but there was like a 6-month stent; a 6 or 7-month stent delay between. Girls will be girls to play. It’s all I can say.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:01:00] Oh yeah, because ... Maxine, she was working at the hospital too,she was a lab person. She was there,we always saw one another and stuff like this, but it was very rough for us. We did sort of break up and all this.
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] Because I just want to kind of keep us moving forward.
Mason Funk: [01:03:00] I’m trying to think ... I think I want to, in some ways ... I know it’s a huge fast forward, but I want to sort of fast forward us to where you feel like, having witnessed these really incredible periods of history, where ... There’s the train again. Where do you feel like we are today as a community? From your point of view, how do you think the community, such as you experience it, under duress, like in Oklahoma, that was such a time when there was so much pressure. There was so much fear. Now we’re living sort of in a different era; sort of.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:04:00] Oh yeah. That in itself is just ... Today, I am so amazed. Again, here, in New England, okay, Massachusetts, and we’re very progressive, and I’m very, very thankful that I live up here in such a progressive and accepting, pretty accepting area, depending on where you are, because it’s always a geographical nature of the level of acceptance.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:09:00] One of my friends asked me, “How do you identify? As a dyke or as a lesbian?” I said, “What is the difference?” She says, “Lesbians are more ...” How did she put it? Feminist movement or whatever. I said, “I didn’t even know about feminism or I didn’t know anything about coming out, Stonewall, nothing at all.” I said, “I am a woman who happens to be a lesbian. I’m a dyke, a queer, whatever the label.” It’s just words. It’s my lifestyle,why should I put a particular label to my lifestyle?
Charlotte Wilson: [01:11:00] As far as the roles in the lesbian community, from what I have observed, especially, I think the younger ones, they come off as butch but they’re not. They come up ... I don’t know how to explain it. Talking to them, it’s like, “Oh, you’re butch.” “Yeah,” but they’re actually bottom. They may be butch on the outside, but they’re a bottom. It’s like, “Oh, okay, this is interesting.”
Charlotte Wilson: [01:12:00] Yes. It’s all so fluid. Yeah, it’s very fluid to what they are, but you get the older ones now. You’ve got the older butches and saying they’re that way. They’re just that way. I can walk up ... I can see an old butch, and she’s backed ... She’s got the grease-backed hair. I never had a grease-backed hair. I did have a short hair; a buzz. I was probably punky, I had spikes going. I always had my rolled up T-shirt. I had the rolled back and, of course, the duck tail.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:14:00] In the military ...
Mason Funk: [01:15:00] Start with that She.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:16:00] She was a helicopter pilot. She was at West Point; teaching at West Point. She was dishonorably discharged,she was forced out. Then, she lost her job at West Point. She fought it, and she got back, reinstated, because that was the whole thing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, blah, blah, blah, and that whole campaign. She won. She’s back at West Point. That’s how ...
Mason Funk: [01:17:00] Okay. Kate, other questions?
Charlotte Wilson: [01:18:00] Oh yeah. Okay. That’s a good one, Kate, because I like said ... When did I become consciously aware of being gay and really being out? I have to say here in New England, Boston, in Massachusetts. My partner at the time, Maggie, she got orders to come here to Fort Devens. I had gotten out of the Army to be, coming with her. I made the decision I’m not going to lose another relationship to the Army. We lived out in a little town, Phillipston, Mass., out in the country. I never had really been ... I had been to other gay bars.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:19:00] Oh, okay. I was at gay bars, but we would ... Here, we were out in the country, and we made the trip to Boston. We were so excited. Of course, we missed it. We kept going back and forth on the Interstate; missing the turn. The guy was recognizing our car and said, “You’ve got to go back.” Long and short of it, we did that.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:23:00] Yeah, walking down, I was very nervous and realizing, “Wow. I’m not in Kansas anymore. I’m really coming out.” I thought I was out, but this is out-out, and on national TV, even. We got up and everything, and Frank and I, we just ... We sort of held hands behind the podium because he was giving me support. He was giving me support. I’d go, “Okay,” and so, we led and everything. It was just standing ovations. It was just very moving and very powerful. I even ... I got goosebumps now and tears to my eyes.
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] Great. Yeah, let’s talk about that. Let’s try to keep it relatively simple because I’m trying to keep us on schedule, but [crosstalk 01:24:53] that’s a really great question. Can you just tell me about your involvement with bike culture and how that is, just like Christine said, how is freedom important for the dyke community? It’s a big topic.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:26:00] I belong to a fantastic motorcycle club here in Moving Violations. We’ve been ... The club itself is ... We’re going ... We’re in our 31st year. I’ve been a member for 10 years; a little bit over 10 years. I used to ride a motorcycle, actually, over in Germany,one of the guys taught me over there. I had a great time over in Germany. I was never part of any type of club and such when I was stationed in Colorado; rolled out with a group of women there; nothing.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:30:00] Oh, okay. To someone who is about to come out, I would say, “Good. Let yourself be yourself. Do not keep it in. Be yourself at all times and be gentle to yourself because others may not be gentle to you.” That’s what I would say.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:31:00] Excuse me. My hope for the future is that worldwide acceptance for whoever we are and however we identify as; gay, lesbian, transgender, bi. It doesn’t make a difference. It’s just world acceptance for all of us,no discrimination. The support; that’s what I hope for.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:32:00] I ask that. Why is it important for me to tell my story? I am just one fraction of the pie. I came out in the Midwest, Southwest area. I had no clue about Stonewall and the whole revolution until I came here to Boston, New England. That’s when I started getting educated to the background; to our history and all.
Charlotte Wilson: [01:34:00] Yeah. It gives me a place to go to get educated and to have a reference to learn because, like I said, you’re having a wide spectrum of coming out, stories or people from different spectrums of the nation, which is good, because every place is different. Every state is different within the state.