Charles Silverstein was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1935, and grew up in what he describes as a very typical Jewish family of that era: depressed, submissive father and fiery, domineering mother. He remembers in vivid detail a family road trip to Florida in the summer of 1945 which opened his eyes to the realities of life for black people in the South. Even more memorable, for all the wrong reasons, was a failed attempt to move to Los Angeles in 1946, when his family was effectively driven out of town because they were Jewish.
After college, Charles spent several years teaching 5th grade. During these years, Charles struggled mightily against his homosexuality. In 1970, he was accepted in the social psychology program at Rutgers University. Around this time, he had sex with a man for the first time. By 1971, he was passionately involved with the Gay Activist Alliance, participating in many of their “zaps” to bring attention to the nascent gay rights revolution.
In this era, the American Psychiatric Association defined homosexuality as a mental illness. In 1973, Charles played a pivotal role in orchestrating the very public confrontation that would begin to tear that policy down. By this point, he was living with his first boyfriend, the poet William Bory. In 1974, he completed his Ph.D. in psychology at Rutgers, whereupon he began his private psychotherapy practice that continues to this day.
In 1977, along with the renowned queer novelist Edmund White, Charles wrote The Joy of Gay Sex – a book which undoubtedly changed the lives of thousands of gay adults and curious adolescents. Charles’ other published works include Man to Man: Gay Couples in America; Gays, Lesbians, and their Therapists; two additional editions of The Joy of Gay Sex (with Felice Picano); and For the Ferryman: A Personal Memoir, published in 2011.
Charles’ longtime lover William died of AIDS in 1992. In 2017, he married Bill Bartelt, but still lives alone in his rambling, book-lined 7th-floor apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He also grabs every change he gets to travel somewhere exotic.
In 2011, Charles received the Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the American Psychological Association; and in 2017, he received the Achievement Award from the GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality. Charles deserves every award he gets, and more; for there was perhaps no more important day for the LGBTQ community than when, from the cocooned safety of their high towers, the American Psychiatric Association quit calling us sick.