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.
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] We're speeding, we're good.
Isabel Bethencourt: We're speeding.
Mason Funk: So start off, if you wouldn't mind tell me your first and last names and spell them out?
Charles Silverstein: Spell them out?
Mason Funk: Yes please.
Charles Silverstein: I'm Charles Silverstein, C-H-A-R-L-E-S.
Mason Funk: Sorry, one second, we're hearing that fan. I would assume so.
Charles Silverstein: Okay, I'll get turn it off.
Mason Funk: If we need to take breaks at any point?
Charles Silverstein: I'll let you know.
Charles Silverstein: [00:00:30] Charles Silverstein. C-H-A-R-L-E-S S-I-L-V-E-R-S-T-E-I-N.
Mason Funk: Okay, and I think it probably would be good for you to take your glasses off. I'll be over here.
Charles Silverstein: I know.
Mason Funk: And please tell me the date and place of your birth.
Charles Silverstein: April 23rd, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Okay.
Charles Silverstein: Bethel Hospital.
Mason Funk: Alrighty, great. So tell me a little bit about your family.
Charles Silverstein: My family? My family consisted of my mother, my father, and a six and a half year older brother who's currently in Florida, and myself. Just the four of us. In Brooklyn.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Describe your family. What were some of the dynamics?
Charles Silverstein: Well I would say that the most important person was my mother, mainly because she was the, I would say, the standard Jewish mother of her generation. She's kind of the person who would've denied that there was any skin between her and her children. So that if any one of us offended her
Charles Silverstein: [00:02:00] it was like tearing flesh from her body. My father was like the Jewish father of his generation, essentially his role was to provide money for the family, and let my mother deal with domestic issues, like raising the children. And he was the quiet, passive Jewish, schmuck of his generation.
Charles Silverstein: [00:02:30] My brother and I were friends when we were children, but then our lives went in different directions. And of course he's straight, and I'm gay. And we have very little in common, even today. As a matter of fact today we have nothing in common and virtually never speak. Not because
Charles Silverstein: [00:03:00] there was some kind of fight or anything like that, it's just that we're completely different people. We would never be friends, and we're not. So that's my family.
Mason Funk: Did you refer to your father as a typical Jewish schmuck?
Charles Silverstein: Yes.
Mason Funk: Oh so explain-
Charles Silverstein: No, I said, typical Jewish passive father schmuck.
Mason Funk: Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Charles Silverstein: [00:03:30] Well, they were modeled after the Jewish family-
Mason Funk: Start by saying "My parents."
Charles Silverstein: My parents were modeled after the Jewish family of their generation. And the women were unbelievably powerful, controlling people, and the only role of the husband in that situation,
Charles Silverstein: [00:04:00] was either to kill her or to be subjugated to her. And most of them were subjugated. My father was one of those people. At home, he was very depressed. When he would go to work with the other men in his shop he was quite happy. He was always happy away from her. And I was disappointed by that as a child, but as an adult I sort of understood
Charles Silverstein: [00:04:30] what the family dynamics were. My brother was my father's son and I was my mother's son. There was that kind of alliance in the family, and it was a typical dysfunctional family of that day, and today too.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] Great. Now among the things you mentioned in your questionnaire was the effect of the Holocaust on you personally, and maybe on your family as a whole? As a formative experience or as a formative incident.
Charles Silverstein: Well it's not so much the Holocaust as the Anti-Semitism of the day. As a child of course, I knew about the Holocaust. All Jewish families taught their kids about the Holocaust. But it was about the Anti-Semitism.
Charles Silverstein: [00:05:30] As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, on the street where I lived, there was a Catholic Church on the corner, St. Catherine of Genoa. We kids, when we went to school, elementary school, we would have to pass St. Catherine's, and that was dangerous. Because they were taught that the Jews killed Christ.
Charles Silverstein: [00:06:00] And so, some of the boys at St. Catherine's wanted to get even with us for it. And so we couldn't pass unless the nuns were out. Because the nuns were like the SS Troops of the Catholic church. And they kept the boys in line, but still we would pass on the other side of the street. The other thing that happened was my father wanted the family to move to L.A.,
Charles Silverstein: [00:06:30] and he had a coworker who had moved to L.A. and became foreman of a shop there. And he told my father, Come out, I'll give you a job. So we drove, I think it was nine days, in those days, out to L.A. My father started working in that shop, and we looked around for a house, and we finally found the house that my parents could afford.
Charles Silverstein: [00:07:00] We put a deposit on it. I loved it because I had never lived in a house before. So we put the deposit on it, and then the other men in the shop came to the foreman and said: "Either you get rid of that Jew, or we go on strike." And so he came to my father, and said, "I'm very sorry, but I have to let you go." And with that, fortunately we got our deposit back on the house,
Charles Silverstein: [00:07:30] and that was very nice. And we drove the nine days back to Brooklyn. So those are my experiences. There are little, other experiences. The usual things, being called a kike. They were saying little riddles like, "Matzo, matzo, two for five. That's what keeps the Jews alive." I mean, it's the sort of religious shit that you find in many places. Probably still find it in some parts of the United States.
Mason Funk: [00:08:00] How old were you when the move to California and back again happened?
Charles Silverstein: I was eleven. Which would've put me in the sixth grade.
Mason Funk: I'm curious what you remember of how you got the information. What you witnessed, what you heard from your parents about this situation at the shop? Did they tell you openly?
Charles Silverstein: [00:08:30] Yeah, they told us openly. They had to explain why we were going to leave L.A. and back to Brooklyn. So, I don't remember the exact conversation, but they certainly ... A talk about discrimination was common in my family, and it was also true in my extended family.
Charles Silverstein: [00:09:00] It was not just Anti-Semitism, but it was also racial. There was a strong attitude that racial discrimination is very bad. The year before we drove down to Florida, we were going to spend the summer, believe it or not, in Miami Beach. And we didn't have the big super highways then. I was ten.
Charles Silverstein: [00:09:30] So that would've been 1945. And when you drove down, you drove down Route 1, and Route 1 went through the center of all the towns on the way down. But the section of town was always the black section of town. But in between, we would see these road gangs of prisoners. And we had never seen things like that.
Charles Silverstein: [00:10:00] And so we would try to slow down to look, but the wardens would want us to speed up. We saw all these road gangs, and interestingly in terms of my memory, I don't remember the prisoners very well, but I do remember the police. I can still see an image of them with their shotguns, and how mean they looked.
Charles Silverstein: [00:10:30] But after seeing the road gangs, we would pass the black sections in town, and we saw how similar the people in those black sections looked to the people in the road gangs. We saw many of these on this ... it took us three days to get down to Florida. Of course, this stimulated an enormous amount of conversation between the four ... who were these people, what did they do,
Charles Silverstein: [00:11:00] why are they treated this way? And of course we saw slums that we hadn't seen before. We were a working class family, and there wasn't much money, but it wasn't the slum. So we saw the slums on the way there. These kinds of conversations sensitized all of us to the kind of discrimination there is in the world, and in this country.
Charles Silverstein: [00:11:30] I think thats one of the things that influenced me, in terms of working in gay rights. That it wasn't just a cause, it was right.
Mason Funk: Can you say, just one second, I don't want this sound to be heard. Yes perfect. Can you say a bit more about that in terms of connecting other,
Mason Funk: [00:12:00] whether it was your own Jewish experience or the experiences of people, African American people and gay people, connecting those causes. You say it's because it was right? Can you elaborate on that?
Charles Silverstein: I'm not sure I can. I've always had this great sense of fairness. What is fair? What is a fair way of treating people?
Charles Silverstein: [00:12:30] This is very current, as you're aware, as we have caged over 2,000 children around this country. Because Mr. Trump wants to use them as pawns to get his wall, you see. How dastardly that is, how unfair it is to these children, and to their parents, who've been separated. They're going to be scarred for the rest of their lives.
Charles Silverstein: [00:13:00] Jews were scarred for the rest of their lives too. Blacks were scarred for the rest of their lives, and still goes on today. And so, I'm sort of always willing to tilt at the next windmill, and don't tell me that it's dangerous. Don't tell me
Charles Silverstein: [00:13:30] I have a long hill to climb. I don't give a care about that. I care only whether it's right. Anyone that comes from my background certainly wants to eliminate discrimination as much as possible. Against any group.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. Let me check my questions here.
Mason Funk: [00:14:00] When did you start becoming aware that you were gay? And how did that happen?
Charles Silverstein: Oh, God. Probably-
Mason Funk: And if you could fold my question into your answer.
Charles Silverstein: I'm sure I started to feel that I was different in what was then called junior high, and now called middle school. Which is sort of very common
Charles Silverstein: [00:14:30] for gay/lesbian people to start to feel those urges, because puberty is coming on, you see. But typically, the story is sort of banal. I mean, I knew what I was feeling. At 16, I fell in love with someone, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Charles Silverstein: [00:15:00] It's such a common story. Someone who I met in scout camp, and we were friends, and 'course he didn't have a clue as to what was going on in me. And why should he? I never laid a hand on him.
Charles Silverstein: [00:15:30] One night we slept together, I don't remember if it was over at his house or mine, and not an unusual thing. But of course I didnt sleep all night. And anyone who's gay understands that, because they probably did the same thing. It was horrible. It was no way to live. Like a lot of people of my generation,
Charles Silverstein: [00:16:00] I went into psychoanalysis to be cured. I wanted to be cured because I was terribly miserable. I was in psychoanalysis for seven years, and analyzed all this stuff to death. Of course, by that time, I had ... well no, I hadn't had sex yet. I had sex with some women,
Charles Silverstein: [00:16:30] which was terribly unfair to them, because they thought I was serious when I was just trying to cure myself. Fortunately, they were all rather nice women, but one day, this was ... I had already been to graduate school. And did my internship.
Charles Silverstein: [00:17:00] I was over a colleagues house, who was ... his wife was on the staff, the hospital I worked. He was a journalist, and he was writing about some of the sex newspapers in New York City at the time. I picked them up, and I started to read the ads, and read all the delicious things that some men wanted to do to other men,
Charles Silverstein: [00:17:30] and I became overwhelmed with lust. I just could not contain it anymore. I excused myself and I ran home, and took a shower., and went down to the village. I should ... how I should tell you. I had a broken leg at the time. I broke my leg skiing, and I had a cast on from my ankle, all the way up to my hip on my left leg. And I was walking around with crutches.
Charles Silverstein: [00:18:00] I went down to the village, but I didn't know where in the village to go. Where the fuck do you go? I mean, homos don't have signs on, you see. So I didn't know where to go, and I remember hobbling along and there was this luncheonette. I saw a waiter in there, and even I could tell he was gay. So I hobbled in, ordered whatever I ordered, and then told them where's the nearest gay bar.
Charles Silverstein: [00:18:30] And then he said ... I made this an excuse, I'm from out of town, I don't know. As if I needed an excuse. And he said Where are you from?, so I said New Jersey. I don't know why I chose New Jersey. He said, that's not far away. And he said, "Why don't you go to Julius's around the corner?" So I hobbled out, and I went to Julius's. When I walked in,
Charles Silverstein: [00:19:00] all eyes turned toward me because I had these crutches and this plaster cast that must've weighed 30 pounds. I went to the bar and I struck up a conversation with this fellow whose name was Don. I said to him, I've got really good pot at home.
Charles Silverstein: [00:19:30] Why don't you come home? I was very ballsy. And he said yes. And so we drove in two cars. You see, he had his car, and I had mine. We drove up, I lived in Inwood at the time. We get into my apartment and the first thing he did was say, oh, what a beautiful place you have. It was the first lie he told because it was a typical student apartment.
Charles Silverstein: [00:20:00] I threw down my crutches and I pushed him onto the couch. I jumped down and then put my leg with the plaster over his lap. So he couldn't escape. He slowed me down, reminded me of the pot. I got out the pot, and we went from there.
Charles Silverstein: [00:20:30] The next morning ... he asked whether he could stay over or not, which delighted me. The next morning we had breakfast together and then he left. I never contacted him again, but I was always very appreciative, and still am that that first experience was a good one. And that's how I came out.
Charles Silverstein: [00:21:00] I dropped my analyst, and I joined the Gay Activists Alliance. That's an organization that many people will tell you it saved their lives, and I think it did for me.
Mason Funk: Let me pause there for a second, because I want to get to the Gay Activists Alliance, but I just want to get a little bit of a time reference. So roughly what year was this? Just roughly, when you had this experience with Don.
Charles Silverstein: Around '68, 1968.
Mason Funk: So just give me a sentence that I could use if I wanted to kind of piece this together?
Charles Silverstein: [00:21:30] It was around 1968 that I went down to Julius's and met this fellow Don. And came home and we had a night together. I felt wonderful in the morning.
Mason Funk: So by my math, you were thirty-three years old, approximately.
Charles Silverstein: Something like that, yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:22:00] Because you mention, again, this is the way my mind works, you mention that at the age... Roughly what years were you in psychoanalysis trying to get cured? Just roughly, during your twenties, say, or?
Charles Silverstein: It started when I was in college.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, "I started psychoanalysis when ..."
Charles Silverstein: I started psychoanalysis ... well, I don't know if it's called psychoanalysis. It was something. I started in college, and I ... when was I in college? 1955 to 1959. Then after I came out
Charles Silverstein: [00:22:30] and started teaching, that's when I went into formal psychoanalysis. I was there for seven years. From I guess, let's say '60 to '67, all together.
Mason Funk: It's funny you should mention Julius's, because that was the scene of the famous "Sip In." You've heard this story?
Charles Silverstein: Not sure.
Mason Funk: Dick Leitsch, this early activist-
Charles Silverstein: [00:23:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: The New York Times has kind of glommed onto him and there was this moment in the mid '60s when he and some friends staged what we call the "Sip In" -
Charles Silverstein: Yes, the "Sip In" yeah, right.
Mason Funk: I never heard it referred to in any other context except for that story, but here it is-
Charles Silverstein: Yeah, the "Sip In" was important because it was against the law to serve a drink to a homosexual, you see. So they tried to make the points.
Charles Silverstein: [00:23:30] There were a number of other demonstrations like that where people went to straight bars. Because there were no ... well, there were gay bars, but they were mafia bars. They went to normally straight bars and would go in, and announce that they were a gay man or a lesbian. So that they would be refused. So they can make an issue out of it. I didn't go on any of those.
Mason Funk: [00:24:00] Okay, now I want to ask you, going back to when you were 16 and you fell hopelessly in love with this friend of yours, the way you were describing it at the time, I thought you were going to say something positive. I didn't think you were going to say something as strongly negative as it was horrible. So I just wonder-
Charles Silverstein: It's the feelings that are horrible, because this is a standard story.
Charles Silverstein: [00:24:30] I would be with him, his name was Sy, and I couldn't touch him. Not because he prohibited it, but because he would sense something more than just a touch. When I was in bed with him that night, I didn't just want to just touch him. I wanted to hold him, I wanted to kiss him,
Charles Silverstein: [00:25:00] that's what was horrible. But the feeling of being in love with someone, that was not horrible. There were two others where I had pretty much the same feeling.
Mason Funk: Let me just check out with Isabel. How bad is that? I'm just hearing the trash truck outside. And I'm not sure if I need to pause you occasionally. Pause you every time a truck goes by.
Charles Silverstein: [00:25:30] No, not a problem.
Isabel Bethencourt: It's not so bad.
Mason Funk: I didn't think it would be to, to bad.
Isabel Bethencourt: It's probably like a low growl-
Mason Funk: Low rumble? Sirens are much worse 'cause they-
Charles Silverstein: Oh.
Isabel Bethencourt: I haven't even, I'm sure it's there but I can barely hear it.
Mason Funk: Okay, good. Okay. Just do me a favor then, just start again with there were two others. I don't know where you were going.
Charles Silverstein: Another boy. There were two others, like that, boys that I had very close relationships with. But neither one of them were gay. I wasn't sophisticated enough to know how to find gay men. And of course, in those days we didn't have cell phones with apps. One, I came out to, and he had been over to my house. He was going to sleep over, not in the same bed, but I came out to him, and he got upset. And he left. That was the last I ever saw him.
Charles Silverstein: [00:26:00] I wasn't sophisticated enough to know how to find gay men. And of course, in those days we didn't have cell phones with apps. One, I came out to, and he had been over to my house. He was going to sleep over, not in the same bed, but I came out to him,
Charles Silverstein: [00:26:30] and he got upset. And he left. That was the last I ever saw him. So these things were really depressing. I was really depressed after that night, and I'm not a person who's generally subject to depression. But I felt abandoned. I understood it, and every gay man
Charles Silverstein: [00:27:00] who grew up in that period, understands it. Because they had similar experiences of: How do you find someone who's potentially gay? Early in the parades - actually, then it was a march - a friend turned to me and said, "The wonderful thing about this march, is that you could look around and you don't have to guess who's gay!"
Charles Silverstein: [00:27:30] And there's a lot of truth to that, you see. In the days that I grew up, there's no way of knowing. And today, high schools have gay/straight alliances. Any kid who came out in high school, in my generation, would get the shit kicked out of them.
Mason Funk: [00:28:00] Great, this is all great. Even though you say it's such a typical narrative, for me personally, and I hope for our audience, it's never redundant. I think it's just to me ... yeah.
Charles Silverstein: Good.
Mason Funk: And of course I can relate personally, even though I was somewhat younger, but same feelings. We mentioned the Vietnam War. So by the time this was going on, the Vietnam War was in full. You highlighted that as some issues that were very important and not well understood in it's relationship to the Gay Rights Movement.
Charles Silverstein: [00:28:30] Well-
Mason Funk: Back up as far as you can in terms of your awareness of the war.
Charles Silverstein: Yeah, well. I was an activist during the Vietnam War, I led the Student Strike in New Jersey.
Mason Funk: What was that?
Charles Silverstein: The Student Strike was against the war. We demonstrated against the war. We challenged our own universities, we challenged the nation.
Charles Silverstein: [00:29:00] It was a very activist kind of movement. It was sometimes violent, and it demanded that the United States get out of Vietnam because we had no business being in a civil war, and all these American soldiers dying. Something like 58,000 American men died,
Charles Silverstein: [00:29:30] that doesn't tell you how many arms and legs were removed, how many paraplegics were made. And I was very active in that. Later, I was in graduate school at Rutgers in New Brunswick. When I came out, that's when I started to become active with the gay rights movement.
Charles Silverstein: [00:30:00] One of the things that I learned in these social movements is that the leaders of the different social movements were first activists against the war in Vietnam. That's where they learned the tactics of fighting for rights. The black movement was first, then came the women's movement,
Charles Silverstein: [00:30:30] and it was only after the women's movement that the gay rights movement then occurred. And all of us, what we had in common is that we were adamantly opposed to the Vietnam War, that we actively fought against the Vietnam War. And so, one of the things that happened because of the Vietnam War is that Johnson decided not to rerun as President, and we believed we were responsible for that.
Charles Silverstein: [00:31:00] Now, maybe we weren't, but we believed it. That gave us a great sense of entitlement and power and we decided to come back into society and fight for civil rights for a number of different groups. Now, the black movement started, and they had a problem within the movement of the differences between moderate and extreme black groups.
Charles Silverstein: [00:31:30] The women's movement started off, they also had a battle between moderate and radical women's groups. That was also the case with the gay movement. Of course, it started with radicals. First the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), but then GLF sort of collapsed
Charles Silverstein: [00:32:00] by eating themselves alive. And, the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) picked it up afterwards and it was with GAA that I worked and we were the radicals. The leaders of GAA were all active in the anti Vietnam movement. And I attribute Vietnam as the training ground for all these movements learning how to fight. We learned that
Charles Silverstein: [00:32:30] it didn't make any difference how many people were against us. We were going to form coalitions and fight them. At GAA we had an interesting slogan. We said, "You can't fight city hall, but you can piss on the steps." And that's what we intended to do and that's what we did. We broke up meetings, we were non-violent,
Charles Silverstein: [00:33:00] but we would break up meetings of civil groups. We did a lot of work breaking up meetings of psychiatrists who were having panels about curing homosexuality. And that's how we marched toward eliminating homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Mason Funk: Great, let's pause there because there's a lot, we got to go and fill in some gaps. And then we'll move forward again.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] So, a few things are on my mind. One is for the record, the difference between, wait let me just check my question to make sure we haven't skipped anything and then I'll move forward. Okay. GLF. We interviewed previously Mark Segal, who was kind of there at the beginning...
Charles Silverstein: In Philadelphia.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Karla Jay here in New York, Martha Shelley [crosstalk]
Charles Silverstein: Martha Shelley, yes.
Mason Funk: [00:34:00] Fantastic people, all of them, great interviews, great storytellers.
Charles Silverstein: And very verbal.
Mason Funk: Very verbal. Exactly, which is what we love. And then we recently interviewed Kay Lahusen down in Philadelphia who was more in line with GAA, in fact, she ...
Charles Silverstein: Kayla who?
Mason Funk: Kay Lahusen ... She was formally [crosstalk]
Charles Silverstein: Oh, Barbara's ...
Mason Funk: Barbara Gitting's partner.
Charles Silverstein: Barbara's ... yes.
Mason Funk: Barbara Gittings, of course, has passed away.
Charles Silverstein: Well, Barbara was fabulous.
Mason Funk: I've heard incredible things about her.
Charles Silverstein: [00:34:30] She was fabulous, she was the only person ...
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, start by saying her name.
Charles Silverstein: Barbara Gittings was fabulous. She was the only person I knew who could get along with Frank Kameny. Except for her, no one could get along with Frank Kameny. And, somehow she figured out how to do it. She was wonderful in creating an emotional bridge between people, and I saw her doing it.
Charles Silverstein: [00:35:00] She and Frank had worked for a long time together and in other respects of each other. But, no one else could stand Frank Kameny. Man was impossible. On December 15, 1973 is when the APA announced homosexuality is no longer a disorder. A bunch of us were there and we went out to lunch afterwards. And we went to a gay restaurant
Charles Silverstein: [00:35:30] and Frank was with us. He kept saying to me, "I want you to denounce Cardinal Spellman."And he kept saying, "You have to denounce him, you have to denounce him." I said, "Frank, he's been dead for 10 years, let's go after someone new." And Frank got up and he slammed his fist down on the table. Frank could do that. He started screaming,
Charles Silverstein: [00:36:00] "You have to denounce Cardinal Spellman." The owner of the restaurant, who also was gay, came over and said "If you don't control yourself, you're going to have to leave." And, that was Frank, there was no way negotiating with him. It was his way or the highway. But Barbara could do it.
Mason Funk: So, I was going to get to Frank but, you brought him in and so, let's back up a little bit. For the uninitiated, who was Frank Kameny?
Charles Silverstein: [00:36:30] Frank Kameny was an astronomer, who sometime in the fifties, maybe '54, was working for some governmental agency. I don't know how they found out he was gay but, they found out he was gay and they fired him. That moved him to start fighting not only for his job back, which he never got, but fighting for gay rights,
Charles Silverstein: [00:37:00] and he was certainly an early person in the gay rights movement. He was one of the people that started the Mattachine Society in D.C. but he was thrown out of everything. It's interesting, because you take a look at Frank, and you can also look at Larry Kramer more recently. These are thoroughly unreasonable people.
Charles Silverstein: [00:37:30] These are people, the only way of stopping them, you got to shoot them. That's the only way. One of the things that's important about social movements, is these are the kinds of people you need at the beginning of a movement who will get out there and talk about things that everybody else is afraid to talk about. Then, after a while, as a movement gains momentum,
Charles Silverstein: [00:38:00] and then has to start negotiating with society, then these people are a problem. We couldn't have gotten there without them, but then they're a pain in the ass, because they never wanted to negotiate, they just want to win. Sort of like someone I know in Washington D.C. right now, who wants to win.
Charles Silverstein: [00:38:30] I don't mean to suggest that Frank, Larry is anything like Trump. I don't mean that. But that, these are people who started something important. Frank with gay rights, Larry with AIDS. Without that we would not have moved. These leaders helped to make it a little more accessible to fight.
Charles Silverstein: [00:39:00] One of the things that's important is that one generation always stands on the shoulders of the ones that came before. We stood on their shoulders and other people have stood on ours. And that's as it should be. Every social movement is like that.
Mason Funk: What's interesting about Frank, I'm sure you can fit this into context for us, is that he was also regarded as early head of Mattachine as being very assimilationist. He was ...
Charles Silverstein: [00:39:30] Oh, he was more than just that.
Mason Funk: Okay, so talk about that. Maybe include my question in your answer.
Charles Silverstein: Frank was a man of his generation. And what he fought for was acceptance. It was an assimilationist agenda.
Charles Silverstein: [00:40:00] It was a desire to knock on the door of society and be let in. Therefore, when he and Barbara Gittings had their demonstrations, there was a requirement about dress. The men had to wear suits with nice shirts and ties. The women, no shorts, and no skirts, they had to wear dresses. Shoes had to be shined,
Charles Silverstein: [00:40:30] they had to show that we're good boys and good girls. The movement that came after Stonewall was completely different. This was, again, a movement that was associated with the Vietnam War. And, that movement was not going to say, we're good boys and girls. They were going to say, "Fuck you,
Charles Silverstein: [00:41:00] we're not knocking on the door, we're breaking in." And, people dressed as they wanted in those days. Long hair was in. I even had a pony tail in those days. There was no attempt to assimilate. The idea was we didn't want to be like those horrible heterosexuals.
Charles Silverstein: [00:41:30] Marriage was frowned upon in those days, and we're sort of left wing in ideology. But always non-violent. And so, Frank Kameny could not get along with us. I think I remember his coming to one meeting at the firehouse. I'm not sure, but I think so.
Charles Silverstein: [00:42:00] His giving orders about you have to do this and you have to do that, and we threw him out. We weren't going to obey the law, we were going to ... When he marched, he marched on the sidewalk carrying carefully made signs, I'm sure you've seen photographs of it. We wanted to walk in the street and stop traffic. We wanted the press to show up. We wanted the police to show up,
Charles Silverstein: [00:42:30] cause that's how you get publicity. So, it was quite a difference. Barbara did her thing with the library association, she was very effective in that.
Mason Funk: So now let's talk a little bit about how the GLF, what you remember of it, and how the GAA,
Mason Funk: [00:43:00] and of course name these organizations please by name. How the GAA looked at and saw the GLF and how it maybe eclipsed the GLF.
Charles Silverstein: Well, I was not a member of GLF ...
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] give me the full names.
Charles Silverstein: Gay Liberation Front (GLF). I was not a member of that. I came in with the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA).
Charles Silverstein: [00:43:30] What happened with the Gay Liberation Front, is that it was a hodgepodge of different issues. Of gay issues, women's issues, black issues, left wing. They didn't have a clear path forward. And so, they would just fight with each other. One thing they did do is they did organize the first gay march in the city.
Charles Silverstein: [00:44:00] But then they just collapsed. What happened is that a few people from there decided they would form a new organization called the Gay Activists Alliance. It would only have one issue and that was gay rights, and they would drop all the other important social issues,
Charles Silverstein: [00:44:30] but they were going to keep a narrow focus. And that was very successful, because they did keep a narrow focus. That's when we fought for gay rights with demonstrations, people who handcuffed themselves. I don't remember who it was in political office handcuffed themselves to fences,
Charles Silverstein: [00:45:00] whatever. And demonstrations, and I participated in lots of those demonstrations, I loved it. It was a radical organization, but it was highly organized in the sense that before a zap, the publicity committee would make out
Charles Silverstein: [00:45:30] press releases and send them out to different newspapers. So, they would know where and when our next demonstration was, and then, of course, there was copy to go along with it. If you knew about newspapers, they often just published the press release. It was all to tell the police, because we wanted them to show up, because it's important to have the police.
Charles Silverstein: [00:46:00] But, the most important people were the photographers from the newspapers because we had to be very conscious about getting the shit kicked out of us by the police. They wouldn't do that if the photographers were there to take pictures. And so, it was wonderful. I remember we went from a dance, 1000 or so people one Saturday night and marched down the streets to Sheraton's house,
Charles Silverstein: [00:46:30] I think that's his name, he was head of a committee that was holding up a gay rights bill. And, demonstrating at 2:00 in the morning, waking up all of his neighbors. We had what was called the suicide squad. Suicide squad was police would put up a barrier and the guys in the suicide squad would jump over the barrier, the object was to have police on the other side,
Charles Silverstein: [00:47:00] they'd jump over and the police arrest them, the photographers take their pictures and everybody is happy. And then they let us go. The police show they're doing their job, the newspapers get their pictures, and the gay rights people get publicity in the newspaper, so it was a win-win all around.
Charles Silverstein: [00:47:30] Occasionally, that didn't happen, we had some people beaten up very badly, a couple of demonstrations they were hospitalized, some of our leaders. But, as much as possible, we tried to do that.
Mason Funk: So, two questions off that. One, I want to back up a little bit. You've said a couple times, "We were never violent."
Charles Silverstein: Yeah.
Mason Funk: And, some groups resorted to violence. Some would have justified violence. Obviously the whole underground movement ...
Charles Silverstein: [00:48:00] The Weather Underground?
Mason Funk: The Weather Underground.
Charles Silverstein: Well, I mean the Weather Underground was all violent, that's all they were. Until someone blew his brains out next to someone's house, I forget who it was.
Mason Funk: But, nevertheless, I want to ask the question ...
Charles Silverstein: But we had no association with groups like that.
Mason Funk: Right.
Charles Silverstein: Our heroes were Martin Luther King and Gandhi.
Mason Funk: Okay, but I still want to ask what might seem like an obvious question, was there ever talk of armed resistance?
Charles Silverstein: [00:48:30] Never.
Mason Funk: Okay, and why not?
Charles Silverstein: Never. Because we didn't believe that effective.
Mason Funk: Okay, form my question[crosstalk]
Charles Silverstein: No, there was never talk of armed resistance, I would say now it would be foolish because that would just give justification for the police to kill us. But, I do not ever remember
Charles Silverstein: [00:49:00] there being a time when anyone discussed armed resistance. Not at GAA, not at all. Opposing what we called oppression, by demonstrations, by civil disobedience. We were all for civil disobedience. It was a time when civil disobedience was practiced a lot more than it is right now.
Charles Silverstein: [00:49:30] I don't know why people don't get more involved in civil disobedience. But, we did things like that and that caused a lot of trouble. But, no, there was never talk of violence. There was a left wing group labor party that was even more radical than us. But, I never came across a situation where they talked about violence.
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] Okay. Again, it's kind of obvious, so that's not a great path but other groups thought it was necessary so, I just wanted to raise that question.
Charles Silverstein: Okay.
Mason Funk: Interestingly, you talked about how GAA very quickly said we are a single issue organization. That will help make it effective. The GLFers for their part, are proud of the fact that they were
Mason Funk: [00:50:30] talking to the Black Panthers, and that they were focusing on women's issues and so on.
Charles Silverstein: Whoop dee doo. They talked to Black Panthers, great. Their tenure was less than one year.
Mason Funk: But, today fast forward however many years, fifty years. There's a lot of conversation about the gay rights movement having become very insular and very single issue oriented and this, I'm playing devil's advocate, of course.
Charles Silverstein: [00:51:00] No, I don't think that's true because the gay rights movement, if you talk about a movement spreading out, the question is in which direction does it spread? What's happened to the gay rights movement, it's spread out to the whole area of gender and transgender. And so, that's where it has chosen to go.
Charles Silverstein: [00:51:30] So that we have what started off as, G, the gay rights movement, became GL, the gay and lesbian movement, then became LG and a B connected and then finally a T connected, LGBT. And so it's moved in that direction.
Charles Silverstein: [00:52:00] I know people who want to put a Q next to it. And that would take a whole different interview because I'm an anti-Q person you see. It's not the Q, it's really QQ which is one of my problems with it. So, you have to decide which Q you're going to have and then there's an I and there's an A and another A and a DL and don't forget 2S's.
Charles Silverstein: [00:52:30] See, so all of them have to be put together. And if you're someone who speaks in various situations like me, writes, published eight books, you're going to tell me I have to put all these fucking letters down every time? I'm going to say screw you. I'd rather you be mad at me. I have to make a macro to put down this whole alphabet of letters. So, has it gone into the racial stuff?
Charles Silverstein: [00:53:00] I don't think they've honed that alliance. Although, quite obviously, lots of different racial groups are part of these other letters. But, your point that GLF went out to get them, is certainly correct. The gay rights movement.
Charles Silverstein: [00:53:30] I'm a psychologist, I know about psychology. If you go to division 44 of APA, and that's the gay division, and you go to one of the meetings, you'll certainly see lots and lots of women. But you won't see many black men or women.
Charles Silverstein: [00:54:00] Now, whether that's because there aren't that many in psychology, which I think is probably true, or they're more in the closet, which is also true 'cause it's harder for them. Psychology always talks about diversity and there's not much diversity there. So, in that sense, GLF was right, we haven't done this. Some of it probably has to do with money,
Charles Silverstein: [00:54:30] that white people seem to have more ways of raising money so that they go to graduate school, more resources.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. I'm glad we talked about that, we'll probably come back to it at a certain point. I also want to ask, circle back to one thing you said. At the time, I sensed you believed it, it was a smart decision for GAA to say we're going to focus on this one issue.
Charles Silverstein: [00:55:00] Right, I do.
Mason Funk: Talk about why that was effective please and mention GAA by name.
Charles Silverstein: The Gay Activists Alliance decided they were going to be a one issue organization 'cause they saw the failures of GLF. It was a smart decision because there were a lot of social problems in America then,
Charles Silverstein: [00:55:30] as there is now. And, what they were saying is that we're going to fight for our rights and we're not going to fight for anyone else's rights, that's their problem. Now, while that seems selfish in a sense, politically it's smart. Because there is a clarity of what the goals are. So, in New York City, one goal was
Charles Silverstein: [00:56:00] to have a resolution passed giving gay rights to LG people so that they weren't discriminated against. Those were the days of entrapment.
Charles Silverstein: [00:56:30] Police could pick you up if you were having sex anywhere or thinking about having sex. They could pick you up in toilets and they could pick you up for any reason whatsoever. Also, people were discriminated against in housing, that if a landlord found out that you were gay they could refuse to give you a place to stay.
Charles Silverstein: [00:57:00] And so, we wanted to fight for that, all that was very local. There was a bill before the civic council, city council. And, so there was clarity about that issue and we would go to meetings, we did go to meetings, and cause demonstrations right in city hall, fighting for the bill. GLF could never have done that sort of thing. Then there was also
Charles Silverstein: [00:57:30] the psychiatrists to deal with and there was clarity there. Homosexuality was listed as a perversion, and we wanted that out. So there was a direction, and we weren't going to be distracted by other movements that were certainly fair enough. but we didn't want to repeat what happened to GLF.
Mason Funk: [00:58:00] That's good.
Charles Silverstein: And it worked very well for quite a while. What happened is something that happens in all movements. You get this radical movement, and it starts having successes. The successes of it then brings in more moderate people who have power.
Charles Silverstein: [00:58:30] Then you have something like happened with Martin Luther King. When King started off, he was considered a radical. He's a monster, he's causing trouble all over. But then Malcolm X appeared on the scene, and Malcolm X was quite different. Malcolm X was a Muslim, he had control over his people, and he said,
Charles Silverstein: [00:59:00] "Maybe violence is okay." All of a sudden, the image of Martin Luther King changed from a radical to a moderate. So that, what determines this terminology is the relative perception of different groups. So Martin Luther King became much more acceptable because Malcolm X was seen as much more extreme.
Charles Silverstein: [00:59:30] So what happened in the gay movement was that, as we started to get success, more moderate people would get involved, but they didn't want to be involved with us show-offs. They thought of us as publicity-seekers, which was certainly true; radicals, which was certainly true. But the people who didn't want to negotiate
Charles Silverstein: [01:00:00] with the mainstream society, which is not true, but we pretended it was true. So moderate people would come and not want to be associated. We take current day, take the community center on West Thirteenth Street. It's a wonderful organization devoted toward service.
Charles Silverstein: [01:00:30] I was at the garden party. They had a budget last year of $25 million. It's a very moderate organization. They can't do anything political, because theyre 501(c)(3) so they're not allowed to or they lose their nonprofit status. Therefore, if someone comes around and says, "You people are horrible. I'm going to make a law against you,"
Charles Silverstein: [01:01:00] they can't do much, because they've made their compromise with society that they want the building, the money, that's more important. Someone like ... well, we don't have any radical groups anymore, but someone like Larry Kramer and the AIDS activists,
Charles Silverstein: [01:01:30] they could do anything they want politically. That's what they get and the price they pay is that moderate people won't relate to them. There's always this symbiotic relationship between the two, although both groups would deny it. There is a symbiotic relationship, and how they're perceived by society depends on the relative perception of each group.
Charles Silverstein: [01:02:00] So is a community center downtown a good thing? Absolutely. But it's also impotent at the same time. They can't foment social change.
Mason Funk: Great. That is really good. Just a great overview and kind of parsing the movement. There was a question from the back. Oh, okay, so I wanted to go to zap. You mentioned zaps in passing,
Mason Funk: [01:02:30] but again for the uninitiated, and we're going to ... we still have to get to the major battle about declassified homosexuality. But first of all, what was a zap?
Charles Silverstein: The Gay Activists Alliance would hold demonstrations for or against certain civic laws, and the demonstrations they called a zap.
Charles Silverstein: [01:03:00] I don't know where the name came from. But it was a zap. Things like, they went to a county clerk's office with a wedding cake, and on the top of the cake were two grooms and two brides, you see. They brought that into the county clerk's office. They were very smart. I wasn't on that one. What they did is, they told the staff there,
Charles Silverstein: [01:03:30] "Have some wedding cake," and they cut pieces of cake and they handed them out to the people. They may or may not have brought coffee. I don't remember. And of course, the county clerk wanted them out and they refused, of course. The objective of course was to have the county clerk call the police, which is fine, as long as the photographers were there. So the photographers were there, so when the police arrived, pictures and it's another situation where everybody wins, except the county clerk.
Charles Silverstein: [01:04:00] That was one of the famous ones, because it had a yippee quality, if you remember the yippees. It had that quality to it. Other zaps became violent, but only because our members were beaten up.
Mason Funk: Can you talk more about that, because you mentioned that in passing, as well.
Charles Silverstein: [01:04:30] Well, the most notable ones was the Inner Circle, a group of all the city leaders, and they have an annual dinner together. But all the movers and shakers in New York City are there, and a few of our members went. I don't know how they got in. Of course they started yelling for gay rights, and
Charles Silverstein: [01:05:00] the chief of the fire department went and beat the shit out of a couple of them, and put one of them in the hospital while the chief of police was watching and did nothing. That was the time when there was a lot of violence against our members, but we never started it. Jim Owles, who was then President of GAA,
Charles Silverstein: [01:05:30] ended up in the hospital, very badly beaten up. And everyone sat there and watched this. They weren't going to interfere. The police weren't going to interfere.
Mason Funk: Okay. So now, do you want to take a break at all, or should we just keep going?
Charles Silverstein: Maybe two minutes. Just let me drink some water, and then I'll come right back.
Mason Funk: Sure. Take a little pause ...
Mason Funk: ... background history of the DSM and so on, and then work our way through. So are we speeding?
Speaker 2: [01:06:00] Yep.
Mason Funk: Should we swap cards while we're at it, or did you already swap the cards?
Speaker 2: Oh, you know, yeah I could do that.
Mason Funk: And he, for him ... oops, do you want that water?
Charles Silverstein: No, no. No, that's fine.
Mason Funk: He was straight as far as he was concerned.
Charles Silverstein: Oh, yeah.
Mason Funk: This was just an-
Charles Silverstein: Unquestionably straight.
Mason Funk: Huh, wow. But didn't want to be perceived obviously, or maybe not obviously, as gay.
Charles Silverstein: Well, but he's not only gay, but he'd be made fun at. You know, in the emergency room.
Mason Funk: [01:06:30] Yeah, even a gay person might be embarrassed to have to go and say I lost my [inaudible].
Charles Silverstein: I think gay men are better at that today.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It's weird, but I feel like in a weird way, and aside from myself, I have almost no shame, and I feel like that's partly because I've become a little bit used to ... You kind of grow up living with shame, and so at a certain point it's like, "I'm not embarrassed about anything anymore." I've done all my embarrassment. I've done it to the hilt. And now, I'm so like, "Yeah, whatever. Whatever."
Charles Silverstein: [01:07:00] Well, you're more like young people today.
Mason Funk: Hmm.
Charles Silverstein: You know, I've been in practice for over four decades, and I see a young kid today, young kid means below thirty. They come in, and they talk quite openly about their sex lives. And if I want to ask them a question about sex, which is often important,
Charles Silverstein: [01:07:30] they just answer it. But in an older generation, I'll be very careful about that, because they get ... I mean, you used the important word, shame. It tickles their shame button, and they're very resistant, so I have to be very careful talking about sex. With some young guy I might say, "Oh, it sounds like you'd like to be fucked."
Charles Silverstein: [01:08:00] And he'll say yes. Someone much older, I'd never use those words.
Mason Funk: Right.
Charles Silverstein: I'd be more careful.
Mason Funk: Sure.
Charles Silverstein: And I might even ask, "Is it all right for us to talk about sex? Is it all right to open that door?" And sometimes the answer is no for people who are older. Your generation. Mine, forget about it.
Mason Funk: [01:08:30] Yeah. Well we're talking about, you know ... You and I are ... I'm going to be 60 this year, so we're ...
Charles Silverstein: We're a generation apart.
Mason Funk: And then of course there's entirely different generation below me. So, I remember what we were talking about exactly, thankfully, which was you were listing some of the other-
Charles Silverstein: Oh, about DSM.
Mason Funk: Some of the other things that were in the same category.
Charles Silverstein: There was in this category all of the anti-social diagnoses. The ones that-
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] We do have a siren happening permanently out there.
Charles Silverstein: Yeah. There's a firehouse just a block and a half away.
Mason Funk: Right. This is a car alarm, actually.
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Mason Funk: At least what's happening right now and what we're hearing is. Oh, it stopped.
Charles Silverstein: No, it's not a car alarm. I think they're illegal now, car alarms.
Speaker 2: Really?
Charles Silverstein: I think so. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Oh, it was a ... Okay, in any case, it stopped. So go ahead.
Charles Silverstein: Yeah, probably fire engine.
Speaker 2: I think it's just cycling.
Mason Funk: [01:09:30] It's cycling.
Charles Silverstein: Pardon me?
Mason Funk: It's cycling. She says it's cycling through different sounds.
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Woo woo, woo woo, woo woo. Doo woo, doo woo.
Charles Silverstein: Oh yes, that's an ambulance or police car. Ambulance. We get a lot of that. When I was doing some readings myself and filming them, I would go into the waiting room, and I would film in there, because after 6am,
Charles Silverstein: [01:10:00] it was impossible out here. All the noise. All the different police cars, ambulances, fire, people beeping their horns, the sounds of trucks moving down.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Charles Silverstein: I could film here up to 6am, and then it's move.
Mason Funk: I think we're good.
Speaker 2: I wouldn't mind briefly just cover everything leading up to what we were just about to say.
Charles Silverstein: [01:10:30] The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual had this one section of variously called sexual deviations, perversions, paraphilias, and in it were all of the behaviors that were not acceptable by society. Sadism, masochism, pedophilia, and also homosexuality. We took it upon ourselves at the Gay Activists Alliance
Charles Silverstein: [01:11:00] to be a force to eliminate homosexuality as a mental disorder, because we viewed psychiatrists as gatekeepers of society's attitudes. It was important to get them to change this diagnosis, because if that happened, other changes would automatically follow.
Charles Silverstein: [01:11:30] Psychiatrists could no longer testify before committees about the proper sentence for sodomy or putting a gay man convicted of sodomy into special jails, like concentration camps for faggots. So this was important, and since at the time, I was
Charles Silverstein: [01:12:00] getting a PhD in Clinical Psychology, I was obviously someone to participate in this a great deal, and I was a member of some of the organizations. What happened was that there was going to be a meeting at the Hilton Hotel of the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy (AABT). This was a group that were anti-psychoanalytic.
Charles Silverstein: [01:12:30] They were people who use behavioral techniques to cure various mental conditions, and one of the things they wanted to cure was being gay. Those were the days of aversion therapy. The most common kind was electrical aversion where you have some electrode attached to you and they show you pictures of nude men and you have a strain gauge around your penis,
Charles Silverstein: [01:13:00] and if your penis starts to react to it, zap. A different kind of zap. You'd get an electrical shock. Nothing that's going to hurt you, but it's negative. The rather simple-minded theory of the day was that, if they could get you to decrease arousal, this is arousal, to naked pictures of men,
Charles Silverstein: [01:13:30] that you would automatically be interested in naked pictures of women. Of course, this was patently absurd. But they would produce volume after volume of this. So in any event, there were going to be a few people at the AABT annual meeting who were going to talk about their work in aversion therapy and their curing of homosexuals, which of course they never cured. I presented this to the executive committee of GAA,
Charles Silverstein: [01:14:00] and I said, "This is really a place that's important. We should zap them." So a zap was approved. The zap was going to consist of two things, one: demonstrations in the streets, and then a bunch of us were going to go into the room where a psychiatrist from Belfast, Ireland was going to speak about his work curing homosexuality with aversion therapy.
Charles Silverstein: [01:14:30] I was a member of the association, and this was the Hilton. This was at the same hotel where those guys had gotten beaten up a year before. And the Hilton, they have their own police force there, and they're very nasty. There was no way that the Hilton police were not going to find out about this,
Charles Silverstein: [01:15:00] and I didn't want to get anyone in the room beaten up, particularly not me. So I spoke with friends of mine in the association who were running the convention, and I said, "Look, this is going to happen, and it's going to happen whether you like it or not, but we don't want to get beaten up, and you don't want a demonstration like that of people getting beaten up." And he agreed. He and a couple of others stood at the door, and when the Hilton cops showed up,
Charles Silverstein: [01:15:30] which they did, they stopped them from coming in. So that was very important. So the psychologist from Ireland, his name was Quinn. I don't remember his first name. We were going to zap his lecture, because doing so would be the right time for journalists to get their stories
Charles Silverstein: [01:16:00] into the papers in the deadline. See, it's very important to understand deadlines of newspapers, and we had people on the committee who understood that. So when we go to choose who to zap, it was done on the basis of time and deadlines. There were four or five of us that walked into the room, and Quinn came in.
Charles Silverstein: [01:16:30] Since I was a blossoming psychologist, I walked over to Quinn and I ... That's police.
Speaker 2: Okay.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Charles Silverstein: [01:17:00] So, I walked into the room and I saw Quinn up front. I went over to him and I introduced myself, Charles Silverstein, and I'm a graduate student in psychology, and I'm also a gay liberationist. And I told him that we were going to have a demonstration during your lecture.
Charles Silverstein: [01:17:30] I said, "Please, we're going to let you speak for ten minutes, and then we're going to interrupt. Please don't try to interfere, because it's really going to happen whether you like it or not. So why don't we just cooperate this way." This is a very effective way of talking to professionals, you see. And Dr. Quinn, who had just come from Belfast, where there were all sorts of violence going on,
Charles Silverstein: [01:18:00] I think he appreciated to get this warning in advance, and he said okay. I went back to my seat, and we let him speak for ten minutes, and then Ron Gold, who represented the organization, got up and he interrupted. We had this fierce conflict, verbal, with the audience who was pissed off at our doing that. Now, the importance of this is that, in the room was a psychiatrist by the name of Robert Spitzer.
Charles Silverstein: [01:18:30] Spitzer came to us afterwards and said that he was on the nomenclature committee of the American Psychiatric Association, would we like to make a presentation before them about removing homosexuality. Of course we jumped to that, of course. So afterward,
Charles Silverstein: [01:19:00] this was discussed at the GAA executive committee, and if you understand the ideology of the day, you will understand that GAA did not want to be represented before the psychiatrists. You see, that was cooperating with the oppressor, and the ideology of the day was, you do not cooperate with the oppressor,
Charles Silverstein: [01:19:30] because then he will co-opt your organization. So the question was how to do it. Because they certainly wanted to do it, because they realized this was a great opening. So they decided that they would form a committee that would be led by a GAA member and would consist of GAA members and members from other areas of the community. And it was called the Ad Hoc Committee.
Charles Silverstein: [01:20:00] That's it. It was called the ad hoc committee. Not the ad hoc committee of something, just the ad hoc committee. And that was formed. I was certainly on it, for obvious reasons, and then we had some other people, Bernice Goodman, who was not a member of GAA but a very prominent lesbian therapist at the time. There were a bunch of community people.
Charles Silverstein: [01:20:30] We were invited to make a presentation before the nomenclature committee on February 8, 1973. Then we met, our ad hoc committee, to decide how we were going to handle it. It was decided that I should make a presentation from the professional point of view, about why homosexuality should be deleted.
Charles Silverstein: [01:21:00] And Jean O'Leary would make a presentation about discrimination against gay and lesbian people in New York City, and then we agreed amongst ourselves who would handle certain kinds of questions. At the time, Ron Gold, who was the chairman of the committee,
Charles Silverstein: [01:21:30] wanted me to submit my statement to him for approval. I had no intentions. I knew what he wanted. He wanted a hard, gay liberation sell. I didn't think that was effective. I wanted to attack it from the inside from a different point of view,
Charles Silverstein: [01:22:00] and this point of view was humor to show the silliness of what the diagnostic systems had been. In any event, in each meeting, he wanted me to read it, and I'd give him various-
Mason Funk: Okay, I hate to sort of ...
Speaker 2: He wanted you to read it.
Mason Funk: Yeah, just back up to at each meeting.
Charles Silverstein: At each meeting, Ron would want me to read my speech, and at each meeting I told him it wasn't finished. He would say,
Charles Silverstein: [01:22:30] "Well, I want you to do this. And I want you to do that." Absolutely not, and I had no intentions of doing it. In any event, I think I made a terrific presentation. I threw back at them some pretty silly diagnoses from the past, like syphilophobia, pathologic mendacity. These were diagnostics. In any event, I did that.
Charles Silverstein: [01:23:00] And Jean presented her statement about discrimination. Then there were a bunch of questions, and we followed our agreement about who would handle the various questions and we had lunch. Then they had the internal battle, and I wasn't privy to the internal battle, but it was written about pretty well by Ron Bayer,
Charles Silverstein: [01:23:30] who wrote a book about it [note: called Homosexuality and American Psychiatry], and the battle was with the psychoanalysts. The psychoanalysts were most adamant about homosexuality remaining a mental disorder, mainly because they made the most money from it. Certainly one of our objections, or one of our objects was to reduce the income that psychoanalysts were making
Charles Silverstein: [01:24:00] by trying to cure gay people. We wanted to do that. And they understood that we were trying to do that. People misunderstand what the board of directors did. People think that in 1973 that they eliminated homosexuality. It's not true. They didn't do that. They came to what you always come to, a compromise, that pleases no one, but it can get the votes.
Charles Silverstein: [01:24:30] What they said was that there are some people who are happy being gay, and those people do not suffer from a mental disorder. But other people were dystonic when it comes to homosexuality. They're very upset about it, and those people do suffer from a mental disorder, and it is okay to treat them.
Charles Silverstein: [01:25:00] Patently absurd, because clearly it's not about whether you are homosexual or not, but your attitude about it. It wasn't until at least ten years later that homosexuality was just completely removed.
Mason Funk: Okay. That's a great overview. Back to the humor in your presentation.
Mason Funk: [01:25:30] Can you give us a few more details? You said that you mentioned a couple of examples you gave. What was the atmosphere as you were giving this speech and what were their reactions? Just give us a bit more of the humor you employed, if you can remember.
Charles Silverstein: One of the reasons it took me a long time to write it is that I decided ... I was and am a scholarly man, besides my activism, and I sort of became curious about
Charles Silverstein: [01:26:00] what diagnostic systems are like. I went back to read the history of diagnostic systems, and it went back to the Chinese and the European systems and how they varied. It just became, as you take a look at them, you see that they're not descriptions of mental illness. They're descriptions of behavior
Charles Silverstein: [01:26:30] and people that frighten society. It's the ones who frighten society who get diagnosed and treated, sort of like the witches of Salem. These were people who frightened others, so the way to deal with them was throw them in wells or burn them or whatever.
Charles Silverstein: [01:27:00] What the committee, that is the nomenclature committee would be expecting of someone like me is to really criticize them and talk about how horrible they are and, "You did these horrible things." A Gay Activists Alliance kind of person and I wouldn't give them that. I wanted to do something different
Charles Silverstein: [01:27:30] and I collected a bunch of these, just a few, of these diagnoses and talked about how in each issue, each addition of DSM, they appear and disappear, and that there was no logic to it. I addressed the argument
Charles Silverstein: [01:28:00] that a show of hands is not an indication of science. That was the argument made against us when homosexuality was removed and we pointed out that it was the show of hands that put it in, in the first place. Same show of hands. So I just read off these diagnoses and their descriptions,
Charles Silverstein: [01:28:30] knowing that it would be embarrassing for them to hear it, because they knew it was trash. I said that this is not about mental illness, it's about society and it's about time you look at all the research that's been done that shows that homosexuality is no different from heterosexuality when it comes to mental illness. They received it very well. Very well.
Mason Funk: [01:29:00] Did you lack ... These were psychiatrists?
Charles Silverstein: Yes.
Mason Funk: And you were a psychologist in graduate school?
Charles Silverstein: Right.
Mason Funk: Was that something that you ... there was a potential something you had to overcome and was there a lack of credibility there because they might look down their nose and say, "Well, you're not a psychiatrist"?
Charles Silverstein: [01:29:30] See, this conflict was between the psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. The psychoanalysts, absolutely, they always look down their nose at anyone who is not a psychoanalyst. But the other psychiatrists were different and the ones ...
Charles Silverstein: [01:30:00] I'm not sure that there were any psychoanalysts on the committee, but there were psychiatrists that worked in institutions and places like that. I never felt that they looked down upon me or our group. I'd say it was a subject that was in the air. But their enemy at the time was not us. It was the psychoanalysts,
Charles Silverstein: [01:30:30] with people, especially Charles Socarides, who was fighting to keep us on the list of mental disorders and when the decision was announced, he was able to get a petition raised to poll the membership of the American Psychiatric Association about
Charles Silverstein: [01:31:00] whether to approve this. He got enough votes and it was ... He got his petition, and that's a whole story in itself. You want that or not?
Mason Funk: Sure, sure. He's not here to tell the story.
Mason Funk: He said it was [inaudible]
Charles Silverstein: So what happened is that Socarides got enough votes to force ...
Mason Funk: I'm sorry, just start again by giving his full name.
Charles Silverstein: [01:31:30] Dr. Charles Socarides was our nemesis. A psychoanalyst who was against us and always was against us. When the board of directors removed homosexuality per se from the nomenclature, he took up a petition amongst the psychoanalysts, to force the board to have
Charles Silverstein: [01:32:00] the membership polled about whether to support this decision. He succeeded in getting those people and so the membership was polled, but what happened was that if you're going to have a vote about something, the question is, how do you pose the question?
Charles Silverstein: [01:32:30] Smart people think a lot about how you pose questions. The president of the Gay Activists Alliance at the time was Bruce Voeller and he worked getting money from various people to send around a letter
Charles Silverstein: [01:33:00] to the membership to ... That's an ambulance.
Mason Funk: [01:33:30] Okay.
Charles Silverstein: No, wait a minute [inaudible].
Mason Funk: Another one will come?
Charles Silverstein: No, you-
Speaker 3: He just paused.
Charles Silverstein: He what?
Speaker 3: He's just paused for a second.
Charles Silverstein: It could be ... Okay. So Bruce Voeller was able to raise some money so that -
Charles Silverstein: [01:34:00] representing GAA, but saying he represented someone else - could send out a letter to the entire membership, in which it was argued that the issue of the petition was not about homosexuality, it was about whether or not to support the decision
Charles Silverstein: [01:34:30] of the Board of Directors of their APA. And that if they voted against the decision of the board that it would be an embarrassment to the board because the board would then have to publicly take back the decision and it would be embarrassing. It did not discuss homosexuality. Everybody at the time was quite convinced
Charles Silverstein: [01:35:00] that if the membership of the American Psychiatric Association were polled, "Do you think homosexuality should be a mental disorder?" that the majority would say yes. So we weren't going to do anything so stupid, so the argument was made about supporting your board of directors. That letter went out and then when the vote came, I think it was something like 58% voted in favor.
Mason Funk: [01:35:30] So presumably, one piece that you might have left out, was presumably the board of directors had endorsed the change. In other words--
Charles Silverstein: Well the Board of Directors made the change. It was the Board of Directors. The nomenclature committee reports to this committee, which reports to that committee, which makes a recommendation to the Board of Directors, and it's the board that made the final decision.
Charles Silverstein: [01:36:00] So the argument was, they had made this decision and Socarides didn't like it, they had the petition, and so this letter went out to say, "You're going to embarrass your own board of directors." And that's what swung the vote. Socarides knew what we had done and took a shit fit. But the man was like a bull in a china shop, and no one wanted to be associated with him. Because he was ... I mean, it was embarrassing.
Mason Funk: [01:36:30] I want to go over again, just briefly, even though you covered it, 1973 is always quoted as the day that homosexuality was struck from the list. But in fact, I think there were two other successive decisions that were made. I don't wanna get too much into the weeds, like in baseball as they call it, but I would like to just clarify for the record that 1973 was not the final decision. What happened in 1973?
Charles Silverstein: [01:37:00] What happened in 1973 is that the American Psychiatric Association said, basically, that there were some gay people who are very happy being gay, and there are some gay people who are not happy being gay. If they're happy, they don't suffer from a mental disorder, but if they're unhappy they do.
Charles Silverstein: [01:37:30] And so it is appropriate to treat them. It then went through a couple of stages, but the stages are only a change in terminology. The first stage was egodystonic, and egosyntonic, and then it went to something else, but it was the same thing. It wasn't ... DSM,
Charles Silverstein: [01:38:00] I think DSM-IV was where homosexuality was completely taken out everywhere. I'm not sure what year that was, but people do misunderstand that date. And that it changed ... There were changes that went along.
Mason Funk: Did the decision in 1973, first from the committee up to the board, strike you? How did that strike you at the time?
Charles Silverstein: [01:38:30] I don't know how to say this without seeming as arrogant as I am. I wrote my speech the night before. That is the evening of February 7th, with my lover lying in bed right near me. He was a master of language and he corrected it and made all sorts of changes
Charles Silverstein: [01:39:00] and when I knew, when I walked in ... It was held at the Psychiatric Institute, up town. When I walked in, I knew that we had won. There wasn't any doubt in my mind. I didn't need the vote. I knew we had won, an absolute certainty. I read my presentation and
Charles Silverstein: [01:39:30] we answered questions and all the politics went on. So on December 15th, when the board of directors announced their decision, I said, "Of course." That's the way I felt about it. It's inconvincible to me that anything else could happen.
Mason Funk: On what basis did you have that absolute conviction?
Charles Silverstein: [01:40:00] Because I was right. You want something I can't give you. You want me to justify, to provide evidence for something that I feel inside of me and know. You can't do that with someone who's really an activist like me. I walked out of the house that morning, kissed William goodbye,
Charles Silverstein: [01:40:30] and I went and I knew that what I was going to present was right, and that we were going to win. That's all there is to it. I need no reason. And that's sort of a good attitude for anyone who's going to be an activist in any field, because if you start raising questions about what you might be doing is wrong,
Charles Silverstein: [01:41:00] then you transmit that weakness. Weakness was not something I wanted to transmit, nor did anyone else in the committee. They're all very good, a good choice of people. And I knew what schmucks our opponents were, like Socarides. Socarides, you may or may not know, had a son who was gay. We knew about this son.
Charles Silverstein: [01:41:30] We would never expose him, would never do that. That would be an awful thing to do. We didn't believe in what would later be called "outing", that was between Socarides and his son. How the family actually handled that, I have no idea. Anyway, that's the answer to your question.
Mason Funk: Were you an Evan in that regard, I think share something, he was in a similar thing, Evan Wolfson.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] It was just this conviction that was unshakable. It's what he needed, and you needed obviously, and we needed.
Charles Silverstein: I think that you're going to find this a rather common characteristic of activists that is discouraged today, because we've become so assimilated,
Charles Silverstein: [01:42:30] and we have to be very rational and reasonable, and we have to work together with this person and that person, and a camel is a horse designed by a committee, and so the times are very different.
Charles Silverstein: [01:43:00] If I take this current controversy right now, this outrageous thing about Trump putting children in jail, I see colleagues of mine, they want to hold a circle in Central Park to demonstrate against it. My attitude is, "Central Park? Get 1,000 people
Charles Silverstein: [01:43:30] down to Washington and go into the halls of Congress. Don't tell me that the police are going to stop you, just keep going!"
Mason Funk: Yeah, tell the press.
Charles Silverstein: Yeah, and get the press there. And bring baby shoes. I think in Philadelphia they're having a demonstration of baby shoes. That's a great idea, bring it down there, but go into the offices of congressmen from red states,
Charles Silverstein: [01:44:00] and throw in the baby shoes. Do something that gets you arrested, so what? They won't keep you arrested. You know what we found out is that the jail simply was not large enough, and they really did have more. In my youth when the East Village was very popular, I went down there
Charles Silverstein: [01:44:30] where we used to smoke pot, and most of the days we had hash. I was on some demonstration, I can't remember what demonstration it was. The Fugs were singing, I remember. The Fugs were a sort of outsider group, and their most popular song was "Up against the Wall, Motherfucker". They used to make fun of the cops. In any event, we were on demonstration, we got "arrested". Arrested is with quotation marks
Charles Silverstein: [01:45:00] because we were nonviolent, but the cops just wanted to get us off the streets for a while. So we're all herded into some jail downtown and someone had a bunch, a very large bunch of Oreo cookies filled with hash, and we started eating the cookies. We had such fun in the cell, because as we would eat each cookie, I mean, hash hits you a lot faster than pot.
Charles Silverstein: [01:45:30] We would get stoned, we start singing, we're laughing, were blowing kisses to the guards. They couldn't figure out what was going on, and it was because we were eating the hash. Those were the good old days. I sort of miss those days, and I'm sort of too old for it.
Mason Funk: That's great stuff. Okay, since you mentioned William, your lover who kissed you goodbye that morning.
Mason Funk: [01:46:00] Great segue into what was going on in your love life during these years. When did you first finally have your first and so forth?
Charles Silverstein: Well, I told you about my first, the one when I had that cast up my leg. I was obviously very active in the Gay Activists Alliance, and on Saturday nights they would have their dances.
Charles Silverstein: [01:46:30] They'd get 1,000 guys there that came to the dance. You paid $2, and all the soda and beer you want. $2, and maybe some cookies. Because I was sort of shy about this business of cruising, I worked upstairs in the coffee room, and I had a staff of people
Charles Silverstein: [01:47:00] who used to work with me, and we would cruise from there. So what it was, there was this big professional coffee jug maker thing, and we would take the spigot and have it toward us so we would have to pour the coffee. We could have people pour their own coffee, but we do that because we chat with people on the way.
Charles Silverstein: [01:47:30] One day, William came in. I had met him once before, and he came over to get some coffee, and I decided I'd like to sit with him. So I said, "Here you go, can I sit with you?" And he was quite charmed to have me sit with him, and I told other people, "You take over the coffee."
Charles Silverstein: [01:48:00] They understood everything that was going on. We ended up going home, and I found out that first night how well educated and sophisticated he was, and we listened to, actually, Gregorian music together as we were having sex. And that started a relationship
Charles Silverstein: [01:48:30] that went on for twenty years. It had its ups and downs. I've written about it in a book that you may know about, and eventually he died of AIDS related causes and he's someone ... Some people asked me whether I loved him, and I still do.
Charles Silverstein: [01:49:00] I think about him every day, and even though he was impossible in many situations, I still loved him. Still do, still wish he was around. It's nice that there are straight people now who understand that.
Charles Silverstein: [01:49:30] When I came out, straight people didn't understand that, but they do now. At least some of them. I have a lot of straight friends with whom I have close relationships, and they have no problems about my being gay. None at all.
Mason Funk: [01:50:00] How do you think that shift occurred, societally?
Charles Silverstein: One of the problems about homosexuality in those, in the middle ages, was it was secret. People in the know knew, "Oh, Central Park is where they go." Or the Soldiers or Sailors Monument,
Charles Silverstein: [01:50:30] or there were these dirty bars downtown where they could ... but they didn't really know anyone that was gay. One of the things that happened as gay people came out, they found out that they're not these seedy people, they're people just like us. This was probably led by children, I think a teenager is still a child, who came out.
Charles Silverstein: [01:51:00] Who would come out at 14 and 15 and say, "Dad, mom, I'm gay." Earlier, you might get a father or mother who throws the kid out of the house. I know lesbians who were thrown out. I have a good friend in New Jersey who told his father and mother he was gay, and his father threw him out right then and there with only the clothes he had on his back and the couple of bucks he had in his pocket. But that doesn't happen anymore.
Charles Silverstein: [01:51:30] What happens is that the kids came out, they said, "Oh, I'm gay." And parents know it's the same kid. Or athletes come out or ... the point is, the rest of the world started to realize that we were not from Mars, that we're from Earth. A lot of people have changed their attitude.
Charles Silverstein: [01:52:00] I'm intensely aware that, here I am, I live in New York City, particularly on the Upper West Side, which is probably the most progressive area in the city. And there are other places in the country where kids don't feel safe to come out so much. Other people ... I mean, I don't know what it's like to be gay in Alabama,
Charles Silverstein: [01:52:30] and Mississippi, and Tennessee, and those places. I don't know what it's like. I wouldn't want to live there. I'm sure there are many charming things about there, but sexual freedom, I don't know. Except that you'll find that in the universities, a lot of the universities, they're ... A lot of university towns will be much more liberal. They'll be islands in a sea. Islands of freedom in a sea of oppression.
Mason Funk: [01:53:00] We interviewed a gentleman named K.C. Potter, who was for many, many years, essentially the dean of students at Vanderbuilt. Through his entire career he could not come out.
Charles Silverstein: Yeah, of course not.
Mason Funk: But he opened up the first office, made the first meeting place for gay kids, and now his name is on the LGBTQIA etc. center on campus, Right there, smack in the middle of campus. Great story.
Mason Funk: [01:53:30] Along the way you wrote, and then wrote a second edition of The Joy of Gay Sex-
Charles Silverstein: And then a third edition.
Mason Funk: And you did this ... I think you had a collaborator on this?
Charles Silverstein: On all of them.
Mason Funk: On all of them. So could you tell us that story?
Charles Silverstein: Well, the funniest story is the first edition.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, just give us a quick overview first.
Charles Silverstein: Alright.
Mason Funk: What did you write?
Charles Silverstein: [01:54:00] With Ed White as co-author, we did the first edition of The Joy of Gay Sex. Ed was a struggling novelist at the time. It's 1976. I was a psychologist, I was head of the Institute of the Human Identity, a gay counseling center. I had already published, or already signed a contract
Charles Silverstein: [01:54:30] to do a book for parents who find out that their kids were gay. The same editor said that he wanted to do a gay sex book, that the people who had published The Joy of Sex wanted now to do The Joy of Gay Sex, because they made a killing, so they thought they'll make a killing with The Joy of Gay Sex and The Joy of Lesbian Sex,
Charles Silverstein: [01:55:00] which was a big mistake. In the event, they came to me, "Would you write it?" and I said, "Yes, but I need a co-author who writes better than I do." And there was a beauty contest that went on, of their interviewing different authors and having them write various things. I knew about this because
Charles Silverstein: [01:55:30] Ed was a patient of mine at the time, and he would report to me what was happening. I wasn't sure what the ethics of this was, because he was talking, he said that they wouldn't tell him who the other author was, and of course, he was seeing the other author. When he was chosen, and by the way, this is not, I'm not giving away some confidence. He's written about this himself.
Charles Silverstein: [01:56:00] When he was chosen, I said, "I'm the other person". I said, "Look. We can't be both therapist and patient and co-authors at the same time. One of them has to go". He said, "Well, I need money for rent. Let's be co-authors, and we'll drop the therapy", and I said, "Okay". We had a terrific collaboration.
Charles Silverstein: [01:56:30] We worked very well. We had lots of trouble with the publishers. This was 1976. The book was published in '77. They were very worried about censorship. Anything we wrote was read by lawyers in New York and London, because the publishers were actually British, not American.
Charles Silverstein: [01:57:00] It was what's called a package book. It was Beasley-Mitchell. They would object to various things. "Why do you have to write that?" So we had a lot of conflicts. We had big conflicts over with them. For instance, they wanted us to write a section under teenagers, that any man who wants to have sex with a teenager is sick.
Charles Silverstein: [01:57:30] We refused to do that. Absolutely refused, because we didn't think it was true. We weren't going to do that. They objected to the word shit. "Why do you have to use shit? Why do you have to use the word fuck?". Then, the editor of the New York edition - it's horrendously complicated between New York and London
Charles Silverstein: [01:58:00] - a really very sweet guy from Crown. He's the editor in chief. He called me in. He said, "I noticed you use the work cock in your book a lot". I said, "Yes". "Can't you use penis instead?". I said, "No, because your cock and your penis are different".
Charles Silverstein: [01:58:30] He says, "What's the difference?". I said, "A penis is a part of your anatomy, and a cock is what you fuck your wife with. Cock stayed in. There was stuff about sadomasochism. We couldn't get a lot of things. Then there were the pictures that were a disaster. Anyway, we had a lot of fights with them.
Charles Silverstein: [01:59:00] Then they didn't want a section on what were then called venereal diseases. Ed and I had written one, and they wanted to take it out. I said, "Why?". They said, "It's discouraging to gay people". I said, "It's not discouraging. People have to know about diseases. Then they asked,
Charles Silverstein: [01:59:30] "Why ...". This sticks in my mind. "Why haven't you talked about Dobys Itch?". I said, "Excuse me? Dobys Itch?". Yes. We didn't know what the fuck Dobys Itch was. We didn't have the internet either to find out. But we did find out. Dhobis itch was some kind of dermatitis
Charles Silverstein: [02:00:00] that people suffered in South Africa. I thought, "What the fuck ...". We ask them, "Where did, who on your side reviewed what we had written?" It turned out that the publisher's dentist was the person he chose to read what we had written! We had consulted the CDC. Here's this, the dentist was from South Africa, so he wanted Dobys Itch in. That's what,
Charles Silverstein: [02:00:30] I mean, this was nonsense. When we got to the next edition, which was ten years later, Ed was well established as a novelist. I understood he didn't want to write this kind of book again. I got Felice Picano, who was another novelist, well known. He and I did the second issue.
Charles Silverstein: [02:01:00] At that point we could write anything we wanted. There was no censorship in any way. Language, pictures. That was also true with the third edition. There won't be any more editions.
Mason Funk: One question I want to go back to is, you said in passing that The Joy of Lesbian Sex was a big mistake. Tell us that story. Why?
Charles Silverstein: [02:01:30] The Joy of Lesbian Sex was a complete failure for a few reasons. First of all, the two co-authors didn't get along. They had different views of what should be in the book. They fought about it a lot, apparently. Also, the novelist person, the one comparable to Ed on my side,
Charles Silverstein: [02:02:00] was insulted that she should have to write a book like this to get money. She wrote a number of things that were tongue in cheek, and a lot of women who read it were incredibly insulted. I would have to go back to the book to remember exactly what, but it was a failure. Very few people bought the book,
Charles Silverstein: [02:02:30] cared about the book. It was panned in every lesbian publication.
Mason Funk: Do you think that's partially because - and I'm generalizing, apologies ahead of time - for women, it was hard to write about sex in an apolitical way? It was hard to just talk about sex for its own sake?
Mason Funk: [02:03:00] Because lesbianism was tied into the women's movement, which was heavily politicized, and so on and so forth, that in some ways it was harder just to write about sex in a way that was completely separate from political issues?
Charles Silverstein: It is so long since I have read that book that I'm not really sure. The question you raise is, what kind of book would have made sense at the time?
Charles Silverstein: [02:03:30] I think that the word sex helped to doom the book, that lesbians at the time didn't want to read a book about sex. They would have wanted a book about relationships. About politics. The format of the book was not something that lesbians wanted at the time,
Charles Silverstein: [02:04:00] and you're right, it was also a time when there was a backlash against lesbians in the women's movement. But also, I think it was a badly written book.
Mason Funk: You think about a book like Our Bodies Ourselves, which has been through who knows how many printings.
Charles Silverstein: Yeah. I have a first edition inside.
Mason Funk: [02:04:30] Anyway, I think I'm going to pause right here. With those questions, I think we are definitely getting close to being done. Isabel is going to have a turn. She may have a few questions stored up. Let me just see if there's anything. I have one more, but I want to take a pause and see if you have any questions. When you answer her questions, you're going to still talk to me as if I had asked it.
Charles Silverstein: Okay.
Mason Funk: Just for consistency's sake. Anything on your mind?
Isabel Bethencourt: [02:05:00] Yeah. I was curious about the link between your experience as a patient in therapy versus your interest in it later, and how that shaped your career. If that motivated you at all.
Charles Silverstein: There is no question that my experiences in psychoanalysis for seven years influenced how I worked
Charles Silverstein: [02:05:30] as a psychologist later. I completely rejected the model of psychoanalysis as one I would identify. I was trained in psychoanalysis, but completely rejected it as Teutonic, distant, and harmful. What gay people needed,
Charles Silverstein: [02:06:00] who I worked with, was affirmation. I wanted to be that, a model of affirmation. In those days they used to call it a role model. The idea that gay people needed to see successful gay people in business, the professions, whatever. We were often called role models. I wanted to work with people,
Charles Silverstein: [02:06:30] and let them know that when you come and sit down in my chair, you don't have to defend yourself. I started the Institute for Human Identity, which is still around today. Each year we had a training program, training other therapists how to work with gay people. That was an important part of our job. I do that now on the state level,
Charles Silverstein: [02:07:00] run programs. New York State Psychological Association. We just finished our convention. I ran a track of five sessions on human sexuality, and we'll be having a conference October 21st. Again, working that one much more is the LGBT Task Force on just those issues. But that in my life and at ten years old,
Charles Silverstein: [02:07:30] going down to Florida and seeing the chain gangs at eleven being forced out of California, having to come home because of discrimination. All of those things add up to who I am and how I work with people. I'm much more active than a lot of people are in therapy.
Charles Silverstein: [02:08:00] Not the untouchable unreachable psychologist. I don't have a business phone number, I have one phone number. Home, business, you can always reach me.
Mason Funk: Do you have a follow-up to that? Or other questions?
Isabel Bethencourt: I've been trying to remember that since the beginning, so -
Mason Funk: That was a good one.
Isabel Bethencourt: [02:08:30] I don't know.
Mason Funk: It's interesting. My husband's a psychotherapist.
Charles Silverstein: Oh, is he?
Mason Funk: He's very much in your model. I've been in psychoanalysis for decades. There's always kind of a constant tension there between what he perceives, whether it's accurate or not, of what my psychoanalyst does and how he behaves, and what Jay practices. It's been an interesting fertile conversation for years.
Charles Silverstein: His license is in what?
Mason Funk: [02:09:00] MFT. He's a marriage and family -
Charles Silverstein: Marriage and family therapy.
Mason Funk: Yeah. He did the traditional -
Charles Silverstein: Oh, the course that's in California.
Mason Funk: Correct. Oh, that doesn't exist in New York?
Charles Silverstein: They had one in New Jersey. I'm not sure that we have that in New York. We have lots of other titles.
Mason Funk: Right. But interesting, even though he is much more aligned with you, he does still have, but this is probably because he came out of school and he thought, "This is what you do. You have a separate phone line". Yet certain clients, he gives them his phone number. They text. It's just easier.
Charles Silverstein: [02:09:30] Yeah, I tell them not to text. I don't tell them, "You can't text". I say, "Look. I only barely know how to use my cellphone. If you text me, understand I may not read it for two weeks. Whereas if you call me, I can answer the phone. Or better yet, send me an email, and I'll be happy to respond."
Mason Funk: [02:10:00] I want to make sure that we cover, again, due diligence. Why was there even a necessity or a perceived necessity for such a thing as the DSM? The idea -
Charles Silverstein: What?
Mason Funk: What was there a necessity -
Charles Silverstein: For?
Mason Funk: For the DSM? Why did they even think that a book like that had to exist?
Charles Silverstein: Oh. But there was always diagnostic systems.
Mason Funk: And manuals.
Charles Silverstein: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Charles Silverstein: And manuals.
Mason Funk: [02:10:30] But why? Why does such a book need to exist? For the people who are not part of -
Charles Silverstein: Okay. It's about the medical model. The medical model says that diagnosis is the fulcrum of a disease. That if you know the diagnosis, then the etiology will be obvious, and the treatment will be obvious.
Charles Silverstein: [02:11:00] Diagnosing disease was important. Whether it's being schizophrenic, being mad in other ways. It was important to know the fulcrum, the diagnosis. Because then you knew the etiology and treatment.
Charles Silverstein: [02:11:30] Now, of course, it was not true that you knew the etiology and treatment, but that was part of the medical model. In the 20th century, earlier, there was a mental hygiene department that had a diagnostic system. Then it was the American Psychiatric Association that picked up
Charles Silverstein: [02:12:00] the diagnostic system from them and put out their first book, DSM-1. I think that was '52.
Mason Funk: Okay, cool. Now along those lines, I wanted to fast forward to the present. Within the DSM of today, there still exists a category, I think it used to be called gender identity disorder, and now it's -
Charles Silverstein: It's now called gender dysphoria.
Mason Funk: [02:12:30] Now, could you compare and contrast that as a diagnosis?
Charles Silverstein: You see, that is a perfect example of the politics.
Mason Funk: Tell me what you're talking about.
Charles Silverstein: Gender identity disorder has been changed in DSM- 5, that was from DSM-4 into DSM-5, into gender dysphoria.
Charles Silverstein: [02:13:00] It's a political issue, and one where the psychiatrists had some compassion. The question about whether compassion belongs in that book or not. The problem was that there were those who were transgender who did not want to be listed as suffering from a mental disorder.
Charles Silverstein: [02:13:30] They wanted gender identity disorder removed from DSM. But on the other hand, there were those who said, "I want some kind of diagnosis so that I can get insurance to pay for my sex change." In order to get insurance to pay for the sex change, you needed a diagnosis of it being a mental disorder.
Charles Silverstein: [02:14:00] When the relevant committee was discussing this for the new edition, DSM-5, they had the problem of how to deal with this issue. What they did, their solution, their compromise, was to change gender identity disorder to gender dysphoria,
Charles Silverstein: [02:14:30] but to say, like they did with homosexuality, that some people are comfortable with it and they do not suffer from mental disorder. People who are uncomfortable and want a sex change, they suffer from it, and therefore they can get money from insurance companies. That's what it's all about.
Charles Silverstein: [02:15:00] Where this is going to end, no one knows. Together with all the rest of the paraphilias is where it's going to end, because the same committee said that paraphilia, suffering from paraphilia is not in itself a mental disorder. Only if the person is upset about it, it is. Again, the same thing they tried to do with homosexuality. I don't think it'll work in time.
Mason Funk: [02:15:30] Yeah. It seems like trying to classify a disease based on whether the person is upset about it feels very mushy.
Charles Silverstein: What's really going to happen is that the internet and all the dirty pictures on the internet are really going to decide what attitudes are about this.
Mason Funk: That's fascinating. I can't think of any more questions to ask, and you've been asked -
Charles Silverstein: That's okay.
Mason Funk: You've told us so many great stories. I have four final questions that we ask everybody. Just standard questions. These are intended to be as short and sweet as possible.
Charles Silverstein: [01:16:00] Okay. Good.
Mason Funk: Ready? Question number one. If somebody comes to you tomorrow or this afternoon and says, "I'm thinking about coming out", whatever that means to that person, what nugget, pearl of wisdom or guidance do you offer that person?
Charles Silverstein: I would say, "Why don't you sit down? Let's talk about it." That's what I would say. If he's come to tell me that and he wants some kind of relationship with me about it, then I'll say, "Sit down. I'd love to talk with you about it." Next question.
Mason Funk: [02:16:30] What is your hope for the future?
Charles Silverstein: Oh. My hope for the future. My hopes for the future are more selfish. I'd like to stick around a couple more years. I have a number of health problems. My friends know all about it. I feel as if
Charles Silverstein: [02:17:00] I want to be around a little longer. That's my answer. Quite selfish, which is okay. Next question.
Mason Funk: You're the first person who ever said, "Next question", which I love. You're also one of the top five people in terms of keeping these answers short. Next question is, why is it important to you to tell your story?
Charles Silverstein: [02:17:30] I would say a combination of pride, narcissism, and not wanting the history of the movement to be forgotten. This answer's a little longer. People out there, you know, what people out there? Up to thirty years old. They don't know what the hullabaloo was about.
Charles Silverstein: [02:18:00] Go over to high school kids, or college kids. They have friends who are gay. They don't know what the... "So you're gay? So what?" They don't know what it was about. It's important that we have a history. That Jonathan Katz contributed to that early. That people like you can contribute now. That's why.
Mason Funk: [02:18:30] My last question is kind of a piggyback on that last one, which was, specifically OUTWORDS, this nationwide effort to interview people like yourself in both big cities and small towns, from all the different ethnicities, and so on and so forth. What value do you see in this specific effort? If you could mention OUTWORDS in your answer.
Charles Silverstein: [02:19:00] Social movements always start in cities. Big cities. For a variety of reasons, and move in a wave outward. OUTWORDS is going to change that in a way I think is good.
Charles Silverstein: [02:19:30] That it's going to give equal voice to rural areas, like being in the Ozarks interviewing people. Very different lives than here. Suburban areas and big cities. It will be good for people to see differences in perception and activities. They all have their contribution to make.
Mason Funk: [02:20:00] Great.
Isabel Bethencourt: I thought of a delayed follow-up.
Mason Funk: Great.
Isabel Bethencourt: Okay. You mentioned that you were thought of as a role model, and someone people could look up to. But did you have any equivalent role models when you were young, turning to psychiatry or psychology?
Mason Funk: Again, if you could answer me.
Charles Silverstein: [02:20:30] That's a perfectly good question. I remember when I was still a student at City, seeing Dick Leitsch on TV. Talking, I don't know who was interviewing him, but talking openly about being gay, and about his organization. I so admired the balls of this guy.
Charles Silverstein: [02:21:00] To get up there and say he was gay, and not be ashamed of it. I never knew him. I never met him. He was not terribly in favor of the radical gay movement. But this is before I became involved with the radical movement.
Charles Silverstein: [02:21:30] I very much admired someone who would do that, and never saw myself as someone who could. But beyond that, I can not think of anyone who was a role model to anyone. There were no role models in those days. None. Neither gay nor lesbian. No.
Mason Funk: [02:22:00] Certainly not, like you say, not in most people's personal lives, much less in the media.
Charles Silverstein: Well, there may have been role models in people's personal lives. But if you weren't out and within the gay community, you would never see that. I never saw that. I wasn't out. I was at graduate school at City College. I didn't tell anyone that I was gay. I'd get thrown out. I had to keep it a secret.
Mason Funk: [02:22:30] Did you ever know a woman, a psychiatrist, or know of a woman named Martha Stephens?
Charles Silverstein: I don't think so.
Mason Funk: Okay. We're going to record what's called room tone. Just 30 seconds of silence. Then we'll be done.
Charles Silverstein: Go ahead.
Mason Funk: Room tone. Okay. That should do.
Charles Silverstein: [02:23:00] Okay.
Mason Funk: Thank you.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Isabel Bethencourt
Date: June 20, 2018
Location: Home of Charles Silverstein, New York, NY