Charles Stinson was born in 1952 in Temple, Texas. His parents, a professional cellist and a physician, were highly educated and pursued many interests — qualities Charles inherited. 

Small and quiet, Charles was often mistaken for a child many years younger. He was also aware of an attraction to boys, and pored over medical books trying to understand what he was experiencing. Steeped in Christian anti-gay rhetoric, and deeply disturbed by the possibility of being homosexual, Charles — a sensitive, hard-working Eagle Scout — did everything he could to suppress the feelings. He struggled with depression and often thought of taking his life. 

Charles went to college at Texas A&M University, then followed his father’s path to medical school. While earning his medical degree, he simultaneously studied art, which steadied him. Also during medical school, Charles went into therapy and found it helpful even as his therapist tried to steer him towards being straight. Upon moving to San Francisco to complete his medical training, Charles met people for the first time who demonstrated that gay men could be upstanding citizens and vice versa. 

Charles became a psychiatrist and worked from 1978 to 2012 as a clinician and researcher at UCSF, Fort Miley Veterans Affairs Hospital, and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, focusing on geriatrics and dementia care. While working at Laguna Honda Hospital, he took tangible measures to help some of his older patients creep cautiously out of the closet. 

In 1983, Charles fell in love with Gary Wise at the Golden Gate Park Arboretum. Soon after that, he came out to his parents. They responded with love, laying one of Charles’ lifelong nightmares to rest. Today, Charles and Gary are married.

Upon retirement from medicine, Charles embarked upon a second career as a full-time artist. Over the years, he has worked in bronze and mixed-media sculpture, printmaking, painting, and calligraphy. He especially loves working with found objects, transforming them from seemingly random, expendable items into deeply personal expressions of his own heart.

OUTWORDS interview Charles at his studio in San Francisco’s Mission District on our first trip to the Bay Area in July 2016. It’s a long way from Temple, Texas to San Francisco but for Charles, the pain he endured as suicidal gay Eagle Scout still evoked tears. Practicing his art and telling his story seemed like good remedies.
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] First and last name please and spell it.
Charles Stinson: Okay, first name is Charles, C-H-A-R-L-E-S and last name is Stinson, S-T like in Tom, I-N as in Nancy, S as in Sam, O-N as in Nancy.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. When I ask a question, if you can try to fold my question into your answer so that we ...
Charles Stinson: Edit out what you're saying? Uh-huh (affirmative).
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Do me a favor and just tell me when and where you were born and give me a general overview of the family that you were born into.
Charles Stinson: Okay. I was born in Temple, Texas in 1952. I am the second oldest of five children. My father was a physician who had a lot of interesting, artistic talents and very esoteric interests. My mother was a ...
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Let me interrupt you for a second. It's not going to be helpful for you to have your phone there.
Charles Stinson: Okay.
Mason Funk: It's really not. You're going to look at it. [crosstalk], "What's he looking at?" I think it would be much easier if you just wing it.
Mason Funk: You were telling us about your father.
Charles Stinson: Yeah, my mother was a cellist, a very talented musician. We were born and raised in a very small town in Texas, Central Texas.
Charles Stinson: [00:01:30] At first we lived in a small rental house in the middle of town and then they bought some land out in the country and we moved out. about ... It was about two or three miles out away from the city. My parents built a house there. There were very few other neighbors out there. We essentially grew up in farm country. It was in fact a farm land
Charles Stinson: [00:02:00] but no longer actively being farmed but that meant that we had a lot of exposure to animals and plants, both farm animals and farm plants and lots of wild animals and wild plants that were out there also. I had a very rural upbringing even though raised by parents who were well-educated and very talented in different areas.
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] Were they native Texans as well? Remember to say my parents.
Charles Stinson: Yeah. My father was born in Sherman, Texas. He was a native from Texas. He went to medical school in Galveston and then did his residency in the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and according to the story, he was driving to the hospital in winter snow
Charles Stinson: [00:03:00] and saw my mother carrying her cello through the snow drifts and stopped to give her a ride, talked with her and then ended up meeting her and falling in love and the two of them got married and moved back to Texas. They had my older brother in Texas and then I was born the following year.
Mason Funk: Pardon me, did you say you had just your old brother and you?
Charles Stinson: [00:03:30] No, there were five children total. I was the second oldest. Older brother, myself then a sister two years younger than me, another sister two years younger than her and then a little brother who is two years younger than them.
Mason Funk: It sounds like my family. Bam, every two years. Let me ask you this, your mom made a big adjustment to move to Texas to raise you all in Texas. Would you say that was a big adjustment for her?
Charles Stinson: [00:04:00] I had never thought of it in terms of was it a big adjustment for her to move from Minnesota to Texas but as I became older and more reflective about people and changes in life, I think it really was a huge adjustment for her. She did go through some periods of depression and I think that she missed being able to be really at the center of
Charles Stinson: [00:04:30] a more cultural environment and having music around her, and so on. She did manage to go to Baylor University where there was a very prominent cellist teacher there. Lev Aronson, a really wonderful cellist. She did manage to continue with her cello training but she really didn't have a lot of opportunities to play with other really excellent musicians or perform in quartets and so on.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] Would you say your parents, as a romantic story, needless to say how they met, would you say it was generally a happy marriage?
Charles Stinson: I think so for the most part. I think every marriage has its ups and downs. My mother did have episodes of depression. Those were periods that I was very aware of and she was at times very sad and other times she was happy and comfortable
Charles Stinson: [00:05:30] but yeah, I think overall they had a very caring, very loving relationship. I think all five of us kids probably felt that we had a really very solid good family that we enjoyed very much.
Mason Funk: You say you were aware, were you a sensitive kid?
Charles Stinson: Yeah, I was always very small. I was a very small kid. Everybody thought that I was about ...
Mason Funk: [00:06:00] Sorry, just a little truck outside. Okay. You were always very small.
Charles Stinson: Yeah, I was always very small for my age and very bright. It was a little bit of startle for most people to see somebody that they thought might be in kindergarten or first grade
Charles Stinson: [00:06:30] but actually in sixth grade or so on. Always people guessed me as about three to six years younger than I really was. That was something that was always ... I was always aware of that. Although I was strong and vigorous, I was not big and bulky.
Charles Stinson: [00:07:00] In central Texas, in junior high and high school you played football or you played basketball in the other season, possibly baseball but there generally was not much support for other things like swimming or tennis or judo, karate or yoga or dance or other such things that really would have been more suitable for me.
Mason Funk: [00:07:30] Did that mean you were a bit of a loner or did you make friends on the edges? How did you fit?
Charles Stinson: I knew since I was pretty young that I was different. I wasn't quite sure what that was but I knew that I was different. I was I think likable and well-liked but tended to be quiet, tended to be very observant
Charles Stinson: [00:08:00] and often times sitting at the back of spaces and observing, listening, asking questions. That was my style of interacting. I wasn't the person who is up in front of the class cheerleading or leading rebels and so on but was somebody who asked thought-provoking questions, became friendly with the other people
Charles Stinson: [00:08:30] who were at the margins or a little more eccentric. I was entering high school almost immediately following integration. There was tension in the high school about having a lot of minority kids in the same high school, a lot of people had problems adjusting to that. Actually a lot of my good friends there were minority kids
Charles Stinson: [00:09:00] because they were also different and I empathized with being a little different from the other people around.
Mason Funk: This is amazing. In this period, they would actually bus kids from different areas in order to make it more balanced?
Charles Stinson: There was a high school for the white kids on one side of town and there was a high school for the black kids on the other side of town
Charles Stinson: [00:09:30] and that was the other ... the one school was closed and everybody moved into the new high school.
Mason Funk: Wow. This would have been what year?
Charles Stinson: I entered high school in '66 I guess it was. Yeah, that was in the heart of it.
Charles Stinson: [00:10:00] I think the high school was integrated the year before I got there but it was ... there were definitely some tensions about it and it was something that again I was aware of the tensions but it was part of my being that I tried to look past those things and I made friends with people and again
Charles Stinson: [00:10:30] I felt like some of there was a couple of black friends who were in the honor society that I just considered some of the finest people that I knew there.
Mason Funk: When you describe yourself, when you say that you felt different in early age, what additional thoughts or feelings went along with that feeling of difference?
Charles Stinson: At first it was really my physical size and intellect, yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:11:00] [crosstalk] feeling of difference.
Charles Stinson: Yeah, feeling of difference because I kept having people say you should be in first grade, "Oh, I'm going to the sixth grade class." Or, "Why are you here in the high school? Shouldn't you be in junior high?" I was always contending with needing to explain why I was there. Throughout my life,
Charles Stinson: [00:11:30] since I was very young, I was aware that I was attracted to men. That was just something that I was aware of and intuited from all of the feedback around that that was not okay. It wasn't though until junior high school that I became more acutely aware of that as people were talking about boyfriends and girlfriends and so on. I recall having a dream
Charles Stinson: [00:12:00] that I was marrying a male, older male friend who had actually been a babysitter who all of us kids just loved. He was such a wonderful person. I had that as a dream and realized, "No, that's not possible." There were various different little conflictual things. It became more and more ... I became more and more aware of that in junior high school again with dating
Charles Stinson: [00:12:30] and one was expected to date and heterosexual dating and I certainly tried that. I gave it my best effort but I was aware of emerging feelings of attraction to other boys, other men. That continued and the stress from that became more and more and more intense as I would go through every Saturday or every Friday thinking, "Okay,
Charles Stinson: [00:13:00] I'm going to get a date and go out and then live happily ever after with somebody." That just wasn't happening. I found it very scary to be asking girls out and some that did go out with me. We had a very wonderful time out but it certainly didn't feel terribly sexual to me. It was something that I became aware of and at the same time,
Charles Stinson: [00:13:30] I guess I was in high school at this time, Christine Jorgensen and the sex change in Denmark I believe it was or Sweden. It was all over the news and I was aware of that and I was thinking, "If that what's going on, what is this?" That's why I gave a good deal of thought at that time of, "Do I really wish that I were a girl? Do I believe I'm a girl?"
Charles Stinson: [00:14:00] After a lot of questioning of myself of that, I was thinking, "No, that's not it." I began again, I was a little precocious and started reading Sigmund Freud's books in high school and reading about his theories about homosexuality. My father had various different medical books that included chapters on sexuality and so on. I was constantly throughout junior high
Charles Stinson: [00:14:30] and high school reading medical textbooks what I could find in psychology and psychiatry and trying to figure out what was going on. I figured, "Well, my dad's a doctor, if you get a broken bone, you go on, you get it fixed and if you get a disease, you get an antibiotic or you need surgery, you get that. Surely, there must be a cure for this." because also very prominent at that time were of course the religious beliefs,
Charles Stinson: [00:15:00] I was raised Episcopalian. My father was the son of a Baptist deacon. My mother I believe was raised Lutheran or Methodist I'm not sure but they decided the Episcopal church was the one that matched them. It was in fact a pretty comfortable church to be raised in. It was less of the rhetoric that would have been terrifying. It was scary nonetheless.
Charles Stinson: [00:15:30] This was central Texas. There was also a lot of very prominent McCarthyism at the time with a lot of the continued rhetoric about homosexuals being spies and criminals and traitors to their country and so on. I was church going and I was very sensitive,
Charles Stinson: [00:16:00] very caring. I loved animals. I loved plants. I tried to be a good student. I was always in the honor society and salutatorian of the high school, so on and so on. I was trying my best to be good. In fact, out of the readings in psychology and so on, read a lot about the behavioral therapies that were being attempted in correcting erroneous sexual orientations
Charles Stinson: [00:16:30] and tried many of those techniques myself to see, "Can I really get back on this railroad track and whatever problem it was that went wrong?"
Mason Funk: That's great. I want to stop and start again with that as a standalone because this is the first time I think I was told a story like this of coming up on essentially what we now call reparative therapy and trying to cure yourself.
Mason Funk: [00:17:00] Tell me a bit more about that? What kinds of things did you try? And set the stage for me. You said this is probably around high school.
Charles Stinson: Yeah, high school, junior high and high school. Yeah, throughout.
Mason Funk: Start by saying in high school, junior high school and high school. I was very trammeled by the possibility so I tried to explain to you.
Charles Stinson: Yeah, I was in junior high and high school. I was troubled, I was disturbed by the feelings that I was having and hearing all around a lot of rhetoric
Charles Stinson: [00:17:30] that was very disdainful of homosexuals and equating them with being criminals and perverts and rapists and attempting, do whatever with children and so on. This was certainly not in my being and so I found that very troubling to have attractions that seemed to fall into this domain that was labeled and painted so blackly and so dangerously.
Charles Stinson: [00:18:00] It was very troubling for me. I went through significant periods of depression. Again, I was quite intelligent. I maintained straight A's and going all through school and I got awards, academic awards from all sorts of stuff but behind the scenes,
Charles Stinson: [00:18:30] I was a very depressed kid in many ways. That was troubling and I would do things like okay, all my friends are reading Playboy. I need to read Playboy and look at the pictures. I need to masturbate looking at the pictures and make sure I'm orienting myself the right way and so on. I did all these things plus things like there was a snapping the rubber band around your wrist anytime you have a thought about
Charles Stinson: [00:19:00] the wrong kind of thought or whatever sort of adverse conditioning one can do you to try to suppress the homosexual feelings and to really nurture and grow the heterosexual feelings and I did date women, I dated women in high school. I dated women in college and I dated women later too.
Charles Stinson: [00:19:30] It wasn't really until I was 31 that I fully embraced who I am. It took a long time. It was not an easy journey in high school, I felt several times about killing myself. I certainly had the means to do so and I certainly had the knowledge to do so. I had again read a lot of my father's books and
Charles Stinson: [00:20:00] he had guns and I sat several occasions with a loaded pistol in a study with the door drawn and locked and you're trying to get the guts up to do that and it was very terrifying for me. I did not want to embarrass my parents. I thought I was going to be a failure.
Charles Stinson: [00:20:30] I thought that acknowledging or even admitting homosexual feelings would be a huge disappointment to them. I knew psychiatrists in the area but even that seemed too dangerous for me and I felt that really I had very little choice. On a couple of occasions
Charles Stinson: [00:21:00] I had gone into my father's study and checked out the guns and I was experienced, I had used guns before boy scouts and so on. I was pretty good at riflery. I sat for some period of time thinking about that and then on one occasion did go in there and was seated with a gun and I was really quite seriously ready to do that that time and I truly don't remember
Charles Stinson: [00:21:30] how that ended. My sister tells me that she came in and found me there. I don't remember her stopping me. I think she may have knocked on the door or opened the door and found me there and just having her there.
Charles Stinson: [00:22:00] She was my next ... my first younger sister and everybody thought we were twins because again, I was small and she was average size for her age. She and I were very close and I think whether she interrupted that or I just simply talked with her about that. It helped me get through high school in that way but it was difficult.
Charles Stinson: [00:22:30] It was a matter of putting a bandaid on things and pretense. I was the good Boy Scout. I was Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow and went on to additional level in the order of the arrow. I was doing my best, gotten country award, outstanding citizenship award, whatever.
Charles Stinson: [00:23:00] I racked up lots of those in high school and junior high school and yet there was a troubled kid below that. If I can look at some notes just a moment. I just wanted to see because I ...
Mason Funk: You're amazing though and I have to say I can ... I've interviewed other gentlemen, our age or a little bit older who just were so like One guy told me a story about how they'd go off on double dates with his buddy
Mason Funk: [00:23:30] and the girls then after they dropped the girls off, they were messing around in high school, I'm like "What? Who knew I didn't mess around in high school?"
Charles Stinson: I wish I had known about that.
Mason Funk: I know. I get so almost envious when I hear these stories. Your story is much more akin to mine. I could definitely relate.
Charles Stinson: Yeah.
Charles Stinson: [00:24:00] Yeah, okay I want to just wrap up couple things. In high school, I was gifted, talented in the arts and sciences. I was a geek. My three Math whiz buddies too. I have Math whiz buddies and I demanded that the high school get a computer class together so they instituted one for our senior year just before we graduated. We signed up for that and went in there eagerly waiting
Charles Stinson: [00:24:30] and the guy began reading from a textbook about computers and excuse me, when are we going to get to use the computer? because my friends and I had already read these textbooks and he said, "Oh, we're not going to use a computer. We're just going to learn about them." That was a big disappointment but the next year we went off to college and I was very nave. I knew very little about colleges and universities.
Mason Funk: [00:25:00] Let me interrupt you just so we could have a fresh idea. When I was 18 or whatever, I went off to college.
Mason Funk: Set that up as like a new chapter.
Charles Stinson: Yeah, when I went off to college, I wasn't quite sure where to go and I didn't know anything about college because I really hadn't researched it but my father had gone to Texas A&M University. That seemed to be the only option. I really didn't know much about other universities;
Charles Stinson: [00:25:30] in retrospect to UT Austin probably it would have been a better choice for me but at the time, that was considered a very radical, hippie terrible school. It was a wonderful school but it had a very poor reputation in the small towns in Texas. I ended up at Texas A&M University which previously have been an all military school. I did not want to join the ROTC.
Charles Stinson: [00:26:00] It was the first year that they actually had women on campus I believe and it was now campus with ROTC plus civilians and women, more and more women on campus. That's why it was something that I loved college. I loved learning, always did. Got deeply into the sciences and literature.
Charles Stinson: [00:26:30] Loved languages, studied different languages and the arts continuing there, but I wasn't quite sure what to do. Similarly throughout this, I continued with a lot of conflict about sexuality because in my own feelings, and I again tried very hard to be straight at that time. I think I began to acknowledge that, "Okay,
Charles Stinson: [00:27:00] I am probably bisexual but straight majority." I really gave it a try and dated. Had girlfriends but it was just not really the deepest part of me. It was also a conflicting time. I did have, again some thoughts of ending my life during that
Charles Stinson: [00:27:30] but it was more I think just some periods of depression as I would wonder what would become of my life. I began meditating, I began reading a lot of Zen Buddhism and found comfort in spiritual practices that did not have a dogmatic perspective about sexuality.
Charles Stinson: [00:28:00] That became something that was of some comfort to me. I began also some practice, more of serious practice of yoga. I had actually started doing yoga when I was about 12 or 15. Learned a little from a girlfriend then but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do in my career because I felt very split and the same way as my sexuality. I felt that way and
Charles Stinson: [00:28:30] that I was being asked to toss a coin and decide are you're going to go into the sciences, into the art, into music, into literature. What are you going to do? I ended up deciding to go to medical school in part because it seems like a very broad area to go into. Also, it was my father's career and I did feel, I think, some pressure there. It was not overt. I don't think that he ever said you need to become a doctor
Charles Stinson: [00:29:00] but I think there was a sense of some pride there that he really wanted me to take my intellect in that direction. So, I did. I graduated with magna cum laude from Texas A&M University and went into Baylor Medical School in Houston which is different from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Baylor Medical School in Houston is considered an Ivy league,
Charles Stinson: [00:29:30] one of the Ivy league schools. I really had an opportunity to meet people from all over the country. It was very eye opening for me. They had a very rigorous program of completing the basic sciences either in one year or two years. I felt up to the challenge and I took the basic sciences in one year which was a mammoth amount of intellectual work
Charles Stinson: [00:30:00] and reading and it was very depressing to me. It was also a time when I was acutely aware of my sexuality and really realizing "Whoa, I'm not straight. I'm bisexual, if anything."
Mason Funk: Just a quick question on a side here. During these years when you were really struggling so hard with your sexual feeling, were you having any experiences whatsoever sexually with other guys?
Charles Stinson: [00:30:30] I had an experience in early college during the summer when I was working.
Charles Stinson: [00:31:00] One experience which was hugely erotic for me and really made me very clearly aware that this is quite different. But again, through high school and college, I really felt like there wasn't a lot
Charles Stinson: [00:31:30] that I could do because it would be disgracing my family or shaming them or I would be cast into this waste, beyond of criminals and perverts, child molesters and never do wells and so on. I had already been told multiple times I was going to go to hell because I was an Episcopalian rather than other churches.
Charles Stinson: [00:32:00] That was the rhetoric that I lived with and also, very strongly McCarthyism was prominent. A lot of family, friends, elders were John Birch Society members and very into McCarthy. I was very keenly attentive to conversations of the elders. I heard this
Charles Stinson: [00:32:30] and I knew and had incorporated that this is really bad. In medical school, again I had gone through this first year very intense. It was basically two years of college shoved into one year. At the end of that, I realized something really had to change in my life.
Charles Stinson: [00:33:00] I was becoming very depressed at that point and decided I found myself thinking again of very serious ways to kill myself. I really had access to it then. I knew the proper chemistry. I knew how to do it but I also knew I didn't want to do it.
Charles Stinson: [00:33:30] Spoke with some friends and said, "I need your help. I need to go into counseling." Fortunately, the medical school advertised that. They said, "Yeah, it's a stressful, a very stressful program and we offer counseling. Please make yourself available. Make that available to yourself if you need it." I heard that very strongly and thought about it for some time, tried to make phone calls and really had difficulty doing that.
Charles Stinson: [00:34:00] I got two of my good friends actually to just sit with me while I made the phone call and said, "I need an appointment and told my parents. I said I can't explain why I need to go into therapy and my parents were very supportive of that. That began a change. When I went to medical school,
Charles Stinson: [00:34:30] initially I thought "Well, I could go to art school or language school or whatever but I couldn't do medicine on this side but I could go to med school and be an artist on the side." I went to med school and through that first year but thought, "Okay, I want to stay active in the arts. I did with time I could." but during the second year, I was able because I had compressed the first two years at one.
Charles Stinson: [00:35:00] I was able to still make it a four year program by taking courses throughout the three years spread out and also go to art school at the same time. I was going to art school and med school at the same time which I truly don't recommend to anybody. It's quite difficult. I have to say I am an art school dropout. I did graduate from medical school but if I had not been going to art school,
Charles Stinson: [00:35:30] I can promise you I would not have been able to have completed medical school. It was very important for me to stay deeply involved in the arts. I did. I had works in galleries while I was in medical school. I did also some when I was in college and completed medical school in 1978 and moved to San Francisco.
Charles Stinson: [00:36:00] I was accepted by the psychiatric training program here. I had excelled in psychiatry training in Baylor and continued that here. I came to the internship and the residency program, at the same time continued in the arts. I had pieces in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Rental Gallery at Fort Mason Center
Charles Stinson: [00:36:30] while I was in the psychiatry training program and also ... Sorry about that. Continued in the arts, in the training program. I was taking workshops and so on on weekends in the arts and continuing that.
Mason Funk: [00:37:00] Let me ask you this.
Charles Stinson: Sure.
Mason Funk: The therapy that you went through during medical school, let's just go back to that for a minute. What impact did it have on your life?
Charles Stinson: Sure. The therapy that I was in in medical school was very helpful to me. I have to say now, having been trained in psychiatry and particularly with my training, in depth of training, and in dealing with individuals with gender dysphoria
Charles Stinson: [00:37:30] or sexual orientation dysphoria and so on. I realized that the therapist was very well intentioned, very well-meaning but not necessarily trained in that. The therapeutic process did afford me a great deal of ... It helped me with my capacity for insight, not only into my own self,
Charles Stinson: [00:38:00] my own mind but also the minds of others. It was still somewhat under the orientation of being homosexual is not ideal and with treatment you can correct this and leave a satisfying heterosexual life. A large part of it really was aimed at that. I was really looking at dating women
Charles Stinson: [00:38:30] while I was in therapy exploring that but I was also looking at but I'm also having these other urges and did have some sexual encounters with men while I was in medical school. They were again very erotic experiences and did give me really the ability to look at these types of experiences and say "Yes, I can function sexually, heterosexually
Charles Stinson: [00:39:00] but it's not really where my mind is, not where my heart is, not where I am. It wasn't natural." That was an enlightenment for me but it truly wasn't until I moved to San Francisco and was immersed in the community here -- which by the way was quite threatening to me in many ways.
Charles Stinson: [00:39:30] It was very uncomfortable to be in a group of other trainees, many of whom were gay and openly gay. I found that very uncomfortable at first and I realized in retrospect I probably was insulting to a number of my peers or hurt feelings in ways that with subtle statements that I would not want to say at this point.
Charles Stinson: [00:40:00] I don't I think ever was directly rudely insulting to gay individuals because I was sensitive about that but it was not until here in San Francisco that I really began to see the gay community, see extremely fine, upstanding, wonderful people, spectacular role models and develop a sense that ...
Charles Stinson: [00:40:30] I'm sorry: McCarthy was incorrect and Freud actually did get it right in a lot of his statements that in basic deep sexual orientation does not change. Yes, somebody who's really fundamentally bisexual and equally heterosexual and homosexual in their feelings might well be able to lead a heterosexual life
Charles Stinson: [00:41:00] if that's really crucially important to them but for somebody who is not more heterosexual on the Kinsey scale, that's quite an uncomfortable position for somebody to be on. In the midst of this, was the blossoming of the AIDS epidemic.
Mason Funk: That's a new chapter. Let me just interrupt you for a second.
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] Okay. At one point you referenced the age of 31 when you finally came out.
Charles Stinson: Yes.
Mason Funk: You came to San Francisco where I'm guessing around you were at age 26.
Charles Stinson: 1978, 26 years old, yes.
Mason Funk: You had been in therapy with someone who it sounds like was basically trying to tell you you can get rid of this with therapy.
Charles Stinson: [00:42:00] Or nurture the heterosexual orientation so it becomes more predominant. It was really fundamentally an effort at re-orientation. It really was an attempt to a conversion-type therapy but again it was very insight-oriented and really what was there was
Charles Stinson: [00:42:30] my growing awareness of who I am. My being more honest about who I am, who I was and being able to talk with people more openly but again the practice of that really only became apparent as I was in my psychiatry training here in San Francisco.
Mason Funk: [00:43:00] When you were in therapy and you were receiving one set of messages, maybe not super dogmatic but nevertheless a set of message from the therapist but you were occasionally also having sexual experience with men, what feelings would that cause in you to be hearing some messages over here, having these erotic experiences over here, how did you metabolize or process this?
Charles Stinson: [00:43:30] From the very beginning even as a child just at the awareness of those feelings that I knew from all the back talk around, wrong feelings, it always brought a huge amount of guilt to my mind masturbating and having any sexual thoughts about other boys. I would feel terribly guilty afterwards. It was just something that I felt ashamed of, I felt like if family knew they would be horrified
Charles Stinson: [00:44:00] and friends would abandon me and I would be this terrible lonely figure. Consequence I was a lonely figure and quiet.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let's skip forward again now to You started to talk about the AIDS epidemic. Set the stage for us, this is like the early 80's. What did you do in your life when you first started hearing about this thing called AIDS or whatever.
Charles Stinson: [00:44:30] 1978 I was in my internship and I was taking care of people, primarily acute medical care and neurological conditions and so on. Between '78, '79, '80, '81. We began to see these strange infections coming along and certainly I think it was '82, really very prominent concerns
Charles Stinson: [00:45:00] and people scared about what is this, nobody knew what the cause of this was. I'm not entirely sure about the years but it was extremely worrisome. We saw people coming in with horrifying diseases. I remember seeing a case of Kaposis Sarcoma which the dermatologist were saying
Charles Stinson: [00:45:30] this was very unusual, don't usually see this around, and usually in Africa, and so on. Not realizing at the time that maybe this was one of the infections coming along. It was this growing awareness of something happening which was very disturbing and as the gay community began to get many more people falling ill and dying, it was terrifying. We were caring for people
Charles Stinson: [00:46:00] and needing to be cautious and I was working at San Francisco General and at the time they had needles and syringe, hypodermics that were not safe. They didn't have needle-proof caps. I was very good at drawing blood from very tiny blood vessels and I was working with an addict who had shot up all of his veins. I was having to draw blood from very tiny blood vessels from him
Charles Stinson: [00:46:30] and through those. As I was putting the needle back into the cap, the needle went straight through the cap into my finger. I was terrified that I was coming down with this. I in fact came down with an infection which ended up being totally stress-related but it was one of the infections that people were concerned about is it possible the evidence of AIDS,
Charles Stinson: [00:47:00] and out of terror I went to my dermatologist just for other skin conditions, who ended up being Marcus Conant who is the forefront figures in the AIDS epidemic. I said I'm concerned, I'm worried and at the time the only test that they had was I think it was I think it was a helper suppressor ratio in blood counts, it's a notoriously bad test.
Charles Stinson: [00:47:30] I had that test and came up with a false positive and lived for a year with a presumptive diagnosis of AIDS. This was again a period when I did not know whether I was going to live or not. Not of my own doing. I was not thinking of harming myself,
Charles Stinson: [00:48:00] I was well beyond that at that point but I was quite concerned because I saw many friends who came down with symptoms and a year later close friends died. It was quite a challenge.
Mason Funk: This whole time you're still not out?
Charles Stinson: I was not out. I was perhaps out as ...
Mason Funk: Sorry. During this time?
Charles Stinson: [00:48:30] During this time I was not out. I was beginning to date some men. I was dating women but I was also having some experience with men. I was allowing myself some experience and some exploration and really not ... it was not into wham bam thank you sir type of sex. I really was the person that if I was going to have an experience with somebody, I want it to be a friend.
Charles Stinson: [00:49:00] I wanted to know the person to be friends to have a relationship. That was something that was important to me and also disturbing that I would see aspects of the gay community where there was the quickie anonymous sex which I just it was never something that I was keen on. I was living with a presumptive diagnosis of AIDS or concerns that I might have AIDS.
Charles Stinson: [00:49:30] Shortly thereafter it became clear that no, that was not a good test and it was false positive and therefore I shouldn't make any assumptions and there is this new test the HIV test but also at the time getting the HIV test was no hope of treatment really at that time. It was just a diagnosis now, there you go, not much we could do.
Charles Stinson: [00:50:00] In my mind it didn't make a great deal of sense for me to take the test. I wanted to wait a while and just see. I was straightforward if I was meeting with somebody. I was always for safe sex, when I was in high school I had learned condoms are important. That was part of who I was.
Charles Stinson: [00:50:30] It wasn't until during the residency years between 1978 and 1930 ... or 1980 that I began dating. I was dating both genders at that point and realizing more and more that really I found it much more gratifying, much more comfortable, more intimate with other men.
Charles Stinson: [00:51:00] I began really thinking I would like a relationship. I really came from a family with very stable relationship, very caring family and family was quite important to me and I really wanted that. That was part of what I was looking for and I was honest with the guys that I met at the time. I would say, If were going to have sex its only with condoms.
Charles Stinson: [00:51:30] I had this thought at one point that I might have AIDS but no, that didn't turn after that but I haven't had the tests so I don't know whether I'm serologically positive but I have none of the HIV-related infections and so on. That was a challenging time because there were guys who just if somebody was potentially had AIDS, they were off on the other side of the world and so on.
Mason Funk: [00:52:00] I'm going to pause you right there in 20 seconds.
Charles Stinson: From 1982 to 1983, at that point I was dating, I really was very interested in forming a relationship. '83 I was actually doing, I finished residency and began doing a chief resident position,
Charles Stinson: [00:52:30] an additional year where you take on supervisory and administrative roles as well as the medical, clinical roles. During that year I met my current partner and my husband of 33 years, Gary Weiss. We met on July 4th of 1983, fell in love and have been together ever since.
Charles Stinson: [00:53:00] As soon as there was a domestic partnership available in San Francisco, we got a domestic partnership and then later the state offered a domestic partnership which rendered basically the city one null. We had to register for the California domestic partnership then Gavin Newsome opened the door to gay marriages and we were in the very first group of
Charles Stinson: [00:53:30] gay couples getting married there shortly thereafter that of the governor annulled those marriages. We had to renew our state domestic partnership and then after the challenge of that where the marriages came back and we got married so we've been married or domestic partnered five times -- all the same people. That's been 33 years there.
Mason Funk: [00:54:00] Tell me about Gary. How did you meet him and where did you meet him?
Charles Stinson: I met Gary in the Golden Gate Park Arboretum. We are both plant lovers. He had been a florist and I was very much fond of plants and had a greenhouse when I was in Texas. I raised orchids as a kid for some reason. They were always fascinating to me. I won science fairs with growing orchids and so on. I was always a plant freak and we were wandering around looking at the unusual plants in Golden Gate Park,
Charles Stinson: [00:54:30] met each other, started talking and spent the afternoon talking with each other. He had to go off to ... he had been Zen student and had to go take care of matters in the Zen center that evening. We parted ways and got together the following weekend and this continued since then.
Mason Funk: What was it apart from his love of botany? Botany, is that right?
Charles Stinson: [00:55:00] Yeah, plants and flowers botany, yeah.
Mason Funk: What was it that drew you to him? What did it feel like?
Charles Stinson: Gary was attractive to me. He was a conversant, sensitive individual. His appreciation of plants was certainly important to me. His appreciation of Buddhism.
Charles Stinson: [00:55:30] He was also something that I was very keenly aware of. I had also been going to the San Francisco Zen Center sittings. I was in meditating and again more rigorous practice of yoga and Tai Chi. It was really a nice, comfortable developing relationship that seemed to offer a lot of overlap in our interests and sensitivities.
Mason Funk: [00:56:00] Was he roughly your same age?
Charles Stinson: He is a year or two older than me. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Where was he at in his journey? His homosexuality?
Charles Stinson: Gary came out as gay at age 17 in Brooklyn, New York. It was quite an easy experience for him. He went through the turmoil early on and got over it.
Charles Stinson: [00:56:30] It was a little bit of an adaptation. I learned things from him about gay community and so on. It was very different. His upbringing and his awareness of his sexuality was much less challenging I think than mine.
Mason Funk: Right. You guys sound like you were a guy from Texas meets a guy from Brooklyn, a guy who has been out since he was 17,
Mason Funk: [00:57:00] meets a guy who is not even really probably out in a major way. It sounds like a very much an attraction of opposites. It's almost with these key things in common.
Mason Funk: I find it fascinating, you really knew from a very early age you didn't want to mess around, you didn't want to cruise or have tricks. You really wanted a relationship.
Mason Funk: [00:57:30] It's not everybody's thing when they're that young. Relatively young but you're really near that. I'm curious just to explore a little bit more how you knew and what you saw around you that you can say that's not me. You knew yourself.
Charles Stinson: Yeah, I think in thinking back about it, there's a very -- I guess almost a perverse sexism there and that
Charles Stinson: [00:58:00] I was growing up in a heterosexual dominant culture which looked with a lot of disdain down on homosexuality or bisexuality. In a way I was really encouraged to be sexist towards women. It would be perfectly okay for me to be dating women and trying to have sex with them but not okay to have sex with men.
Charles Stinson: [00:58:30] It was interesting that in my approach and that was always I think a little bit of a discomfort about that. Is this okay? Again, in dating women it's like, "Okay, having sex was fun but I didn't exactly see starbursts and fireworks there." Encounters with men,
Charles Stinson: [00:59:00] which when those happened, it was rare and it was with class mates, people that I knew, it was not with strangers. I felt bad about it afterwards because now there was another person and we had this terrible secret and a matter of trust not to talk with each other or anybody else about it whatever. It was a very strained and strange situation.
Charles Stinson: [00:59:30] As I became older and again went through more psychiatric training and realized that really this is okay. I was very keenly following the American Psychiatric Association's decision that to de-pathologize and remove the diagnosis of homosexuality. That was a hugely important thing for me
Charles Stinson: [01:00:00] and my classmates and really validated a lot that I had just learned from internal experience as well as observation outside. I became more and more comfortable in embracing, "Okay, I consider myself bisexual." I explored, I went to the bisexual society here in San Francisco, that didn't seem terribly comfortable to me.
Charles Stinson: [01:00:30] In meeting Gary and falling in love and feeling more and more comfortable, I really began to say, "Wait, this is really who I am. I want to be honest about this." Most importantly I wanted to be honest to my family and friends about that. I tried to be open. I was not an activist in the sense of, "Hey, I'm queer. I'm here. Get used to it." But a boss would say,
Charles Stinson: [01:01:00] "Oh, invite your girlfriend over to the part this weekend. Whatever." I'd say, "Thank you for the invitation." I wouldn't show up for the party. If that person is not going to ask me, "Do you have a significant other? Is there somebody you're close to or do you have a relationship?" I didn't feel comfortable talking about that. Other people, younger people that I worked with asked them.
Charles Stinson: [01:01:30] I was comfortable telling them. At one point I think my boss really got it and he said, "If you'd like to invite a significant other over, please do." I said, "I will. I'd like to invite my partner." Introduce them and that was it. I've generally treated the world somewhat since that the same way. A few exceptions when I worked in that group
Charles Stinson: [01:02:00] that was in the University of California San Francisco. I was co-director of a MacArthur Foundation funded Program on Conscious and Unconscious Mental Processes, where I learned about videotaping and audio taping and developed the transcription standards for how to transcribe psychotherapy transcripts with Erhardt Merganthaler of Germany, and published lots of papers and did a lot of work in this.
Charles Stinson: [01:02:30] I became more comfortable being open with people, talking with people and really did enjoy a lot of that. These were brilliant people that I was working with, just some amazing scientists, doing some great work and very exciting stuff. Gave me opportunities to write lots of papers, and book chapters, learned how to do lots of stuff like that
Charles Stinson: [01:03:00] but again, sticking with the arts and doing my painting and sculpting and so on.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you this, you mentioned in passing that you wanted to be honest with your family. Is that a step you took?
Charles Stinson: Yes. I wanted to be honest with my family and I don't remember exactly what year it was but I think it was the year before I met Gary that I said,
Charles Stinson: [01:03:30] My parents actually came to visit San Francisco, and I said, I really want to talk with you. I really want to share with you, I want you to understand who I am, what I am." I had written some letters to them before, letting them know some things that I had been quiet about before. Being honest with them and saying, "The reason I went in to therapy was I had really been planning to kill myself
Charles Stinson: [01:04:00] and I wanted to thank you for not asking questions when you agreed to let me go into therapy." It was hugely important and it was very helpful. I had them at my apartment and I sat down, we had a meal and snacks and I just ... I said, "I just want you to know that I am not heterosexual. I am bisexual, not predominantly heterosexual.
Charles Stinson: [01:04:30] I'm bisexual or predominantly homosexual. I am becoming used to that, I'm becoming comfortable with that and I hope you can also." My parents were wonderful about that. They said, "We suspected. We thought that that might be what was going on and are glad that you are comfortable talking with us about that."
Charles Stinson: [01:05:00] Looking back, I think that there were little entrees that they provided they were, "Okay, maybe we can talk about this." Or whatever but still it was so remote, such a hot topic that it was not something I felt comfortable raising with them and they didn't have the vocabulary to ask me in a way that gave me permission to talk about it either.
Mason Funk: Right.
Charles Stinson: That was probably the year before I met Gary and then when we met and fell in love,
Charles Stinson: [01:05:30] I wanted them to meet him very early on. I met his parents and he met my parents. My parents loved him and his parents loved me. It's been a situation where my brothers and sisters I was open and honest with them, they love Gary. His nephews really very much appreciate,
Charles Stinson: [01:06:00] loved us both. It's been a very good relationship. It's the family that I really wanted.
Mason Funk: Right. Was there anybody in your family who reacted negatively or did you have any difficulties once you started coming out? Was there ever a time when someone gave you a bad response?
Charles Stinson: [01:06:30] I won't give names. I think that there are one or possibly more family members who are very uncomfortable with the issue of homosexuality. I don't know what the issues are there fully. I don't know all parts of it
Charles Stinson: [01:07:00] whether it's religious dogma or personal concerns or whatever. Yes, there were some people that were not as comfortable but for the most part, they've been very comfortable and I will say probably all increasingly comfortable even those maybe we're not at all at first
Charles Stinson: [01:07:30] probably do have a good deal of respect for Gary and me both. I don't know whether they approve of our lifestyle but perhaps respect the people.
Mason Funk: How would you characterize your relationship with Gary, you've been together for 33 years now? Some relationships are very super compatible, other relationships are more stormy,
Mason Funk: [01:08:00] how would you describe ... have there been phases that were really great? Phases that were more difficult, just give me an overview of how you guys ... it's a long time.
Charles Stinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think any relationship goes through periods of its development. Certainly there's really infatuations and there are stormings and various different negotiations. Periods when we went,
Charles Stinson: [01:08:30] "Wait, is this worth it or not?" Gratefully I think very few occasions that we have ever gone to bed angry with each other. When we have had periods of being angry or upset with each other, we're pretty darn good about talking about the things and maybe it's a day or two days of we're uncomfortable.
Charles Stinson: [01:09:00] We talk and we figure out what to do. We've had at times points where we've just simply said, "We're upset. Let's just get down the baseline. Are we so concerned, so upset that we're worried that we need to go separate ways?" Both of us have looked at that and said, "No. We want to continue with the relationship." It's not something where that's a dark and looming unspeakable possibility.
Charles Stinson: [01:09:30] We say, "Yeah, is this bad enough we want to leave?" The answer has always been no. We get back to work and figure out what we can do, how we can work together. We have a huge number of overlapping common interests. Like I said, we love plants, plants and flowers. We love forests, nature,
Charles Stinson: [01:10:00] I hugely love animals. Ever since a kid I've had animals of an amazing variety, wild and domesticated. People thought we were weird with a number of animals that we had as pets. I've always loved pets and animals. Gary was not very much exposed to them. He did know friends that had cats or dogs or whatever but yeah,
Charles Stinson: [01:10:30] it was not something that he was overwhelmingly fond of but I said ... when we got a house in 1988 I said, "I want to plant a bamboo plant and I want to get a cat." Because I love bamboo and I love cats and dogs but cats are a little easier to deal with in the city. We got a cat and Gary has fallen in love with cats and tolerates my conversations with cats
Charles Stinson: [01:11:00] and training cats to understand what it means when you spell F-I-S-H and so on. We have had several cats that have been remarkably amusing and well-trained.
Mason Funk: Tell me you had a long career in medicine.
Charles Stinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: [01:11:30] At a certain point, I'm not sure how long, you made [crosstalk]
Charles Stinson: Career changes.
Charles Stinson: It's actually been career migrations. I don't know that my career has ever completely shifted 180 one direction because like I said, I was a polyglot in high school and then in medical school or in college I was a polyglot and then in medical school going to art school and medical school at the same time and then similarly continuing art training
Charles Stinson: [01:12:00] while in residency program here in San Francisco. After graduating -- and I had always been very keen on computers. I had always studied computers and studied computer languages and tried to use computers whenever I could. During residency I got very much involved in the medical computer center there and began very regular use of computers on-call time, where you have to spend 24 hours in the hospital.
Charles Stinson: [01:12:30] Lots of times there are some downtime and it's dull, and you either get some sleep or you do read a book whatever. I'd be over in the computer lab developing programs or writing software and so on. I got into that and when I finished the psychiatry residency program and the chief residence position, I did have a private practice but then also applied for a National Library of Medicine Fellowship in Medical Information Science. Did that for two years
Charles Stinson: [01:13:00] where I was studying medical artificial intelligence techniques, database work and so on. I was doing software development design and studying systems, getting also very involved in computer graphics -- fascinated with that on the art side of things. From the point that I left that fellowship, I went directly into this research program -- ten years with the MacArthur Foundation (program) where I was hired specifically to help with their database development
Charles Stinson: [01:13:30] which was using a lot of multimedia data. It was video data, audio data, physiological data, transcribed texts of what was spoken plus ratings done by judges of the video, audio and computer analysis of the text. I was working with systems that would pull all this data together and let individuals look at that on screen, sort through it and figure out areas that they wanted to zoom in on to look at in more detail.
Charles Stinson: [01:14:00] That was about ten years spent in that area before that research program lost its funding and we all had to go our separate ways. I went on from there into the City and County of San Francisco and was hired at the Laguna Honda Hospital which was a very large at the time. It was licensed for over a thousand beds,
Charles Stinson: [01:14:30] a long term care facility, which was very different from your ordinary skilled nursing facility, because it had on staff doctors, as well as the nurses. It had an acute care facility as well as the chronic care. It was an opportunity to really see healthcare outside of the acute care arena. Most doctors see the acute care end: they put the broken arm in the cast or broken leg or the person with a head injury
Charles Stinson: [01:15:00] and finally you're able to get them out of the door and discharged to home, but what happens then? They're followed up in a clinic but if they get too sick to go to a clinic when not well enough or not sick enough to be in the acute care hospital, where do they go? Long-term care or extended care is a major area that has really been overlooked in large parts by the healthcare system for such a long time.
Charles Stinson: [01:15:30] I ended up working there, and at the very start said that I wanted to work with computer systems there as well as the psychiatry program -- which had a fairly robust psychiatric consultation liaison program there. I was Chief of the Consultation Liaison Psychiatry group and also helping to bring in computer systems for the doctors to use there; and the initial response there was, "Oh doctors don't need computers here. There's no reason for it."
Charles Stinson: [01:16:00] I said, "This doctor does and they will." We got computers there and over the years that I was there, we did in fact develop a very substantial computer system network there, got the doctors trained, they went from early on not having any interest in computers at all to the end of my time there, the surveys that I conducted on them,
Charles Stinson: [01:16:30] much higher level of proficiency and a level of comfort with them and seeing the utility and wanting to learn and do more with it most importantly. That was a part of what I was doing. That was a basic information system for the doctors, nurses but also doing other things. I'm a creative person, I'm a creator. I am not somebody who likes doing day-to-day administration.
Charles Stinson: [01:17:00] I like to create new things. One of the things, a couple of stories that I'll tell on this one. One of them was pertaining to my work and consultation liaison. I would go to these wards where the patients were at those times. I frequently saw people that I recognized by my gaydar as being gay or lesbian or bisexual
Charles Stinson: [01:17:30] but because they were elderly people and they did not use the term gay or even feel comfortable using the word homosexual and they would maybe make reference to people who were wearing a yellow tie or a friend of Dorothy's or whatever the code words were. I ran into some of these people because they were depressed and some of them suicidal. I would meet with them and talk with them
Charles Stinson: [01:18:00] and they couldn't acknowledge being homosexual but they could acknowledge that they enjoyed being around the guys and so on. I said, "I know you're not comfortable with the term homosexuality but other people are using that term now and there are a lot of them here at the hospital." One of these guys in particular said, "No, you're wrong. I'm the only one here." (I said) In fact,
Charles Stinson: [01:18:30] I can tell you with some certainty that probably 30% of the doctors here are gay or lesbian. They said, "Oh no doc, that can't be true." I said, "If I can get a group of gay people ... If I could get a group of friends together like you, people who are like you for a party, would you be comfortable doing that?" He said, "You can't do it." I said, "If I could do it,
Charles Stinson: [01:19:00] would you be willing to come to it?" He said, "Okay, sure doc but you'll never get it done." I went and I talked with the CEO of the hospital at the time and explained the situation, I talked to the head of nursing at the time, I explained the situation. I said, "There's a population here that's invisible and they are depressed and we need to help them." I talked with some other of the therapists, other people who were gay
Charles Stinson: [01:19:30] and got social workers who were lesbians and we pulled together a group and got some advisers coming in from outside of the hospital. We managed to get together an activity group and the first group that met was Halloween that year and the residents came dressed up in costumes which provided a little anonymity and it wasn't called a gay, lesbian, bi group, it was the Rainbow Group which was a very safe term for them.
Charles Stinson: [01:20:00] We had about 15 patients and probably around 15, 20 staff people show up to that. There was music, dancing, food, confetti, balloons, the works, at the end of the party one of the patients asked for the microphone from the activities director and said, "I want to rename this place from Laguna Honda Hospital to Laguna Honda Heaven." They were so thrilled with this.
Charles Stinson: [01:20:30] This became one of the most important activity groups for a long time because it really had been a very underground population and they began to develop the community that they really needed there.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] story that you want to get to but I wanted to just ask you you were talking a bit earlier, what are some of the challenges that you've witnessed for elderly people who are in long-term care who may be gay or lesbian but who may not feel safe,
Mason Funk: [01:21:00] who may feel like they have to make choices for the sake of their care that preclude being able to be honest about who they are. Talk about that a little bit.
Charles Stinson: I'll talk about that very briefly but I would actually say Google LGBT and long-term care or LGBT and nursing home you will find an abundant literature on this.
Charles Stinson: [01:21:30] Many elders who and younger people and not as much younger people nowadays who are gay or lesbian or bi who are in long-term care remain very closeted because they're very uncomfortable about it. If the staff don't know how to make appropriate inquiries on that and make room for that,
Charles Stinson: [01:22:00] there are often times assumptions that the individual is straight and this and the other. There's a lot of very silent structure that's there that creates a blockade for that conversation that's really important. There's a great deal of literature actually on how to do interviews and how to inquire of people. For example,
Charles Stinson: [01:22:30] what's your wife's name but do you have a relationship? How long is your relationship? Are you married? Then you can get into questions of who is the person or whatever but you can leave room for the person to make statements and one of my favorite ways of asking that throughout my career and maybe it's been a little bit activist in your face is to ask almost anybody
Charles Stinson: [01:23:00] when I was doing a history in physical would be to when asking about relationships would be to say, "Do you have a girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband?" And leave the space completely open for their answer. Unfortunately, I don't think that's done in most places but in answer to your question of a failure to accommodate that creates a lot of silent suffering --
Charles Stinson: [01:23:30] nursing staff, doctors, activity therapists, many can make assumptions that are just frankly incorrect and perpetuate a great deal of discomfort. The patients in those positions feel extremely vulnerable. When we did trainings at Laguna Honda,
Charles Stinson: [01:24:00] we did staff training, staff awareness of here's how you can talk to gay, lesbian, bisexual individuals. This is what you should not say and this is how you may address them and so on. We had some people who because of their own personal beliefs or religious beliefs, were just not comfortable with that. I think some of them decided to work in other areas but it does take some training.
Charles Stinson: [01:24:30] It isn't something that people know how to do quickly, immediately. Fortunately the new generation kids growing up, it's out there. They're talking. Less a problem but let's be aware of these people who are in care facilities or seeing doctors and nurses and really wondering is this person really going to give me the appropriate care or are they going to ignore me?
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] That's great. That's really good. It's important to have this part of this overall archive of this issue and other people that you talked about as well. I think you might have had another story.
Charles Stinson: Yeah, this was just another example coming from the technology area again my life as a creative, which I'm more and more comfortable using that as an identity label since that seems to be in the parlance here in San Francisco Bay area.
Charles Stinson: [01:25:30] One of the challenges at Laguna Honda was we had a lot of people there with cognitive impairments and dementia, various stages of it. A lot of elderly or young individuals with dementia may be very vigorous and walk a lot and don't perceive that they have a memory deficit and may just walk straight out a door into traffic.
Charles Stinson: [01:26:00] They really can't keep track of where they are or what is safe. It's often times essential to have a more secured perimeter to some individuals and then the old hospital when I first moved there, they had some detection devices at the doorways to these large units and the patients with these impairments would be wearing a bracelet or an anklet but then when they would pass through the doors, a very loud alarm would go off.
Charles Stinson: [01:26:30] That would signal to the nurses who would run after the person and bring them back to the unit. These were also very large open units at that time, what are called Florence Nightingale units with a few private rooms when mostly large open units. The alarm would wake up everybody else in the unit. One event like this would destroy the night's sleep for half of the residents and the staff would be frazzled and so on.
Charles Stinson: [01:27:00] The next day would be similarly quite a challenge to deal with and so on. The request is always, "Oh, can't you give these people some sedatives?" Sedatives are the worst possible thing to give to an elderly person who is ambulatory. Just skyrocketing risk of falls and fractures and further confusion and further worsening of memory from that. This was a conundrum.
Charles Stinson: [01:27:30] How do you deal with that? Some of the units dealt with that by really just posting somebody at the door and making sure that nobody went past it but that required increased staffing. As we were designing the new hospital building, one of the things that I was passionate about was this has got to change. We can do it differently. I came up with the idea about overlapping things.
Charles Stinson: [01:28:00] We had also problematic smoking with people who were smoking all over the hospital cognitively impaired and smoking. I was coming up with technology assists for a number of these things because you can't possibly have somebody following being around each person. I knew there were smoke detectors and I had also been working with speech chips and so on and said, "Why don't we combine the two?" I got an engineer to put speech chips into smoke detectors
Charles Stinson: [01:28:30] and a Wi-Fi into that so that when a person smoking in an unsafe area would light up there, there would be an immediate prerecorded message saying This is not a smoking area, put that cigarette out or please put it out immediately. It would also signal to the nursing station who could then go there and intervene. That was what we did to help with the smoking cessation
Charles Stinson: [01:29:00] and get this really dangerous smoking under control. At the same time I was looking at, "Okay, wander risk -- other places that are doing ... tracking people to help reduce wander risk, can't we do this?" In one of the old building areas, one of the floors that had three units, we set up a prototype with detectors at all of the entries and exits and also in the elevator. If one of the impaired people opened up one of these doors or stepped into the elevator,
Charles Stinson: [01:29:30] it would signal an alarm and indicate to the nursing staff with the name of the person so they could go and retrieve the person. That was part of this prototype that we were seeing and looking at this as technology to put into a new hospital. This was something that I really wanted because the notion of confining a highly mobile demented individual in one small space is inhumane.
Charles Stinson: [01:30:00] If this individual were, for example, my partner Gary who hikes all over kingdom come, if he were placed in such a unit, he would go crazy. He needs to walk, he needs to ramble around places. Envisioning the new hospital and figuring out how do we maximize safety over the entire campus. By looking at that with concentric perimeters which is what I called that,
Charles Stinson: [01:30:30] within the safest area, how do we have the people who need to stay on this unit and really can't go out unless they are escorted and other people in this unit who may have cognitive impairment but they're intact enough that during the daytime they can go out and come back but at night they really need to be back here. Others that, maybe they can go out and come back anytime but we definitely want to know if they don't show up.
Charles Stinson: [01:31:00] How do we manage those populations? As a geek, I was thinking through these things and I was putting up these were the levels of concern, these are the perimeters that need to be secured, this is how we want to maximize this and began prototyping with people and we managed to get a really ... because we had done prototypes, we managed to get this into the budget
Charles Stinson: [01:31:30] to skip from an antiquated hospital with basically zero tech. We had telephones on each unit and one or two computer terminals around for people to use, but moved from there into a fully wired, fully Wi-Fi hospital system, state-of-the-art hospital that's now a model for the rest of the world. But one of the things I worked with the team on this was that I wanted to have voice interventions before you got to the state of alarm
Charles Stinson: [01:32:00] because the alarm was very disruptive. How do you target something to people in a way that really is effective? What I set up on this was I recorded 14 different voice messages. I worked with the nursing staff and others and figured out, "Okay, what messages do we need to give to them to intervene as a person approaches the door?"
Charles Stinson: [01:32:30] We have detectors over the doors as the individual with a cognitive impairment walks up there, a detector finds out who that person is, what language they speak and plays a redirection message in that language to them saying, "Please step away from the door. Please come back to the nursing station." A voice intervention before it would then do the next level intervention. The first intervention voice intervention;
Charles Stinson: [01:33:00] and the next one would be signaling directly to the caregivers for that person; the next to the nursing supervisors; and if the person really did manage to get out elsewhere, it would also signal the campus police; and potentially even then for detecting if an impaired individual got on a mini station and so on. We really looked at this as a system of how do we maximize protection and minimize this horribly disruptive alarm system.
Charles Stinson: [01:33:30] That was the thing that we put together. It has its very good parts, it has its challenges but it's been something that I just have to say one of the observations that I made was that there were some people who would go up and hear the message and turn around and go back, other people would ignore it and go on through
Charles Stinson: [01:34:00] but the other thing was the peer group of other residents in that unit, when the person would go up and the voice message would say, "Please go back to the nursing station." Other patients, other residents on the unit would say, "Oh Sarah, you should go back to the nursing station." It helped them incorporate into that structure of safety. That was stuff that I was doing. That was in my last year of working at Laguna Honda,
Charles Stinson: [01:34:30] we moved into the hospital, I participated in the training of staff and how to use the computer systems in the new hospital, setting up and testing. Worked very intensely with the IT group and doing all of that. At the end, everything was going and I was ready to move on to other projects and I suggested that we could really begin to do this and this and this with the structure,
Charles Stinson: [01:35:00] the infrastructure that we have here but some of the administrators there said, "No, we really want doctors to spend all of their time just being doctors." I don't think (they) quite had the understanding that medical informatics, specialists with a lot of knowledge of human behavior and dementia care is actually doing medicine in doing that.
Charles Stinson: [01:35:30] I said, "Well, it sounds like maybe a really good time to take retirement." I retired from the medical practice at that time and ...
Mason Funk: Hold on a second. Just take a breath.
Mason Funk: I want to ... I know we're probably going to be running out of time fairly soon and there's a couple of questions that I want to make sure we have time for. Where are we on this card?
Goro Toshima: 40
Mason Funk: [01:36:00] Okay. Could you give us, I know there's a lot more to talk about but we'd like to say we have limits to how much time we have. Can you summarize the transition from your medical career? It sounds like you were pointing in this direction already. You basically left, retired and took up a new career in the arts which is multifaceted I can tell but maybe just summarize that change for us in a relatively short way.
Charles Stinson: [01:36:30] Let me ask you a question about that if you want to put it on pause, I can certainly can. I've gone into the arts with my own art practice but I've also as a civic-minded person, I'm deeply involved in formation of a 501(c)(3) in the arts which is now a chapter of an international sculpture organization.
Charles Stinson: [01:37:00] That's a big chunk of my work and then I'm also continuing some in the technology arena though primarily as an investor side in that, I don't need to spend any time on that.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I think the most ... I want to focus back on after all, the purpose of the archive is mostly to focus on the LGBTQ portion of the story but I think I mainly just want to capture in a sense
Mason Funk: [01:37:30] that you upon retirement you were able to turn your attention back to or give your full attention to the arts and just rather than a lot of specifics about the different organizations, maybe just something about the sense of how that's been fulfilling at this stage.
Charles Stinson: [01:38:00] Right. Okay. I decided in probably about I think it was 1981, later in 1981-82 that I would be taking retirement and ...
Mason Funk: 81, '82.
Charles Stinson: Actually probably '81 I began to make serious plans and I began to make a lot of planning about how I would transition into retirement because I know from the clinical background if you retire and don't know what to do, you shouldn't retire.
Charles Stinson: [01:38:30] I had done a huge amount of planning and I knew what I wanted to do when I retired. I had put a lot of things in motion before then and formally retired I think it was August 2nd of 2012 and began full-time in the arts at that point. It was an interesting thing. My father had died a few years before that.
Charles Stinson: [01:39:00] My mother was still living but beginning to have cognitive impairments. She was constantly worried about, "Oh, will you be able to survive as an artist?" I kept having to remind her that things were going to go okay and that that was fine. There was a part of her that really loved that. I think that her giving up a lot of music
Charles Stinson: [01:39:30] in order to raise a family of five kids in a small town that was not a cultural center, I think that was a big sacrifice for her and I think to see my interests in the arts was always something that she really loved. In spite of the fact that it worried her, I think she really did like knowing that I was in the arts and very eager to hear about the things I was doing. I went really full tilt starting in 2012 really.
Charles Stinson: [01:40:00] Setting my studio up in a very workable way, beginning projects that I had wanted to do for a long time, being very disciplined about spending long hours in the studio. I typically am here six days a week. Often times seven, eight, ten hours a day. I love working in the studio.
Charles Stinson: [01:40:30] It's a passion. I got very deeply involved, I had been much involved in print-making, mainly etching but also drawing, sculpting and clay and casting pieces and bronze which I got quite a bit of exposure of, sold a lot of bronzes and had pieces in some prominent exhibits, some museum shows, Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, exhibited at the National Sculpture Society in Wall Street --
Charles Stinson: [01:41:00] Park Avenue in New York and North Carolina, and so on. Really seriously getting into the arts with quite an emphasis on sculpture although not an exclusion there. I had always been asked by the sculpture organization that I'm a member of if I would help out in being one of the officers and so on, and I was just too busy, spread too thinly.
Charles Stinson: [01:41:30] I said I'll consider it when I retire. When I retired, I said, "Yes, I'll volunteer to be president of the organization if the organization would agree to really step up in its professional status and become a chapter of the International Sculpture Center," which I had talked with about that possibility -- which would require that the group become a formal nonprofit.
Charles Stinson: [01:42:00] The members voted yes in agreement with that. I said, "Fine." And began a two-year project of really working with the group on that and then we've had a president after that. We are establishing ourselves as a 501(c)(3) or a chapter ...
Mason Funk: Sorry. Again, let's try to bring [crosstalk]
Charles Stinson: [01:42:30] Yeah. Yes, that's been an important part. I continue to be very active in that and doing a lot of new sculpture and various different media. I love working with bamboo and mixed media pieces, found objects. I always love working with found objects and also, working on yet other pieces in the background include paintings and various other things.
Mason Funk: What is it about working with found objects that you find so satisfying?
Charles Stinson: [01:43:00] My father, I said my family was somewhat eccentric and all of our friends almost uniformly said, "Wow, your family is so amazing. It's so weird." Because it was a zoo with all these weird animals but also, my father was a pathologist and had an amazing collection of strange animal skulls, old skulls from various different places,
Charles Stinson: [01:43:30] plastic skulls, various artifacts from all over. He always collected strange objects, odd pieces of a bark or a tree branch of whatever. I got into a similar appeal, I found beauty in those things that are out of the ordinary and would end up collecting those things. Just jumble them together in various ways,
Charles Stinson: [01:44:00] create new objects. I used to build little robots or strange things out of found objects when I was in high school and so on. It's always been something of appeal. Gary also finds unusual botanical specimens appealing. That's always been there and now I'm at a phase in life that it's less interesting to pick up new pieces like that and bring them in, and more interesting for me to figure out what to do with pieces that I've collected.
Mason Funk: [01:44:30] Great. I have one question and then I have three follow up questions. The one question is how I've always experienced having really rejected my own sexuality for a long time in my life that it wasn't like an overnight thing to suddenly embrace or accept my sexuality
Mason Funk: [01:45:00] that I carried within me a lot of history and a lot of internalized hatred essentially with my sexuality. I wonder if you have had similar thoughts or feelings and if so, how you feel like you've undertaken the journey to heal yourself or transform those very strong negative feelings into something more positive?
Charles Stinson: [01:45:30] Given the fact that I didn't really formally come out until really age 30/31, I carried a lot of baggage. From very early where I knew I had the secret that I could not talk about to anybody, that I really seriously felt like if anybody knew,
Charles Stinson: [01:46:00] I would just humiliate everybody around me. It would be devastating. I certainly went from that and certainly several times that I was very close to committing suicide feeling bad. It was really a sense that this secret part of myself
Charles Stinson: [01:46:30] cannot be allowed to exist or be out there or it's the end of my world as I would know it. It really was a challenge, it was again an experience of seeing role models, seeing classmates who were coming out as gay or who had very solid relationships that I admired and realizing
Charles Stinson: [01:47:00] that the myths out there that were being thrown out by the people who used just intense homophobia, that those myths are just simply not true. That process of just reality-testing, going along and seeing, "Wait a minute, is this really a true statement?" Those were important parts of my factual realignment of, "Wait a minute, this ain't true."
Charles Stinson: [01:47:30] Becoming comfortable with myself, it was still a longer process. Gary was very comfortable with himself. It was something that I became more comfortable gradually. I became more open with friends, gradually. I became more comfortable with my own body. I had been throughout high school, college
Charles Stinson: [01:48:00] I thought of myself ... I really almost thought of myself as physically deformed because I was always very small, I had a very late puberty. I was always feeling like I'm really off on the perimeter and I'm not one of these six foot tall hockey football guys. It wasn't until in the Bay Area, San Francisco area here I really began taking dance classes, tai chi, yoga and realizing
Charles Stinson: [01:48:30] that I had some very significant talents in those areas that I really wish I had the opportunity to explore in growing up and really was terrified of even contemplating trying those. I remember my mother asking me one time in one of those sensitive moments about, You could study ballet, if you would like to with this sort of intuited telling me, You don't want to, please."
Charles Stinson: [01:49:00] I intuited that and said, "Oh no, thank you." Whereas if I had actually had such experiences then, in my sense of my own body would have been hugely different. Part of how I became more comfortable, San Francisco, California, their beaches and nude beaches. I began to challenge myself. I would go to a nude beach
Charles Stinson: [01:49:30] and I would go there and just wear a swimsuit but eventually I took off my clothes and was at a nude beach and I survived it. At another point I had been going to life drawing classes and I was drawing for models. Then at one point met with a group of guys who were all gay artists and said, "Let's take turns posing for each other." There was a very regular group which went on from
Charles Stinson: [01:50:00] I think the early 80's and is continuing to go on nowadays where guys are doing just that. That experience where I would pose and I expected to see this hideously deformed, skinny, scrawny individual, this drawing that you would say, "What is that?" Realize people were drawing pictures of somebody that had a nice body and to have people tell me,
Charles Stinson: [01:50:30] "No, you've got a very nice body, youre very attractive." It was stuff that I very gradually changed my perspectives but it was not by any means at age 30 or 31, "Oh, I'm gay, I'm out. By the way, I'm perfectly happy with my sexuality." I had severe scarring damages, injuries from doubt.
Charles Stinson: [01:51:00] Are there scars still there? I suppose on some level but I'm much more comfortable than I was.
Mason Funk: Great. That was great. I really appreciate that. Three final questions. One, to somebody at any age, young, middle aged or older who is just about to take that step out of the closet,
Mason Funk: [01:51:30] risk exposing him or herself as who he or she is. It couldnt even be about sexuality or it can even be about something else but just that critical moment when you push yourself out of the life, what advice, insight or wisdom would you share with that person who is just about to take the plunge?
Charles Stinson: Do you want me to rephrase the statement there?
Mason Funk: In some way. It doesn't need to be as long as mine.
Charles Stinson: [01:52:00] Yeah. If asked the question about what advice I would give to somebody who senses internally, "Whew, I'm gay or a bi or transgender or whatever, what advice to that person might I offer?" I can say from my perspective
Charles Stinson: [01:52:30] that what was useful or helpful for me was reading voraciously. Reading and investigating, not accepting simply what I was told but reading by authorities or reading well-regarded, well-respected things and looking at people who were going through these experiences but again,
Charles Stinson: [01:53:00] I'm the person who I have tend to be quiet and observant. Watch, see what's going on then I speak up. That's my approach in general. Today, it's much easier for somebody to do that. I would say Google. Google LGBT or Google transgender or Google this or that. If you have heard these words,
Charles Stinson: [01:53:30] do not understand them, are worried about it, there's a wonderful amount of information and there are wonderful people out there who can help go through that question-answer process with you. There are very sensitive therapists out there who can help you simply with questions and knowledge sources. That's a critically important thing and nowadays,
Charles Stinson: [01:54:00] kids are seeing examples all over. They're seeing role models. It's so much easier because in the days that I was growing up with the residual of McCarthyism and friends of mine older than me who literally went through shock therapy, hormone therapy, surgeries to cure their homosexuality. Those guys went through some serious trauma.
Charles Stinson: [01:54:30] I managed to escape that but it might well have been my fate. I'm so grateful that these days people are talking, people are understanding and coming to a greater awareness that this is not something new. This is always been the case; and the rhetoric about, "Oh, gays are recruiting straights and turning them gay
Charles Stinson: [01:55:00] is absolutely preposterous. Just as preposterous as the statements that it's only human beings that do this. There are examples of homosexual behavior throughout the animal kingdom; it's not new. Get over it, wake up. I'm very grateful that kids these days will have an easier time
Charles Stinson: [01:55:30] if not just in their own personal experience, they will have a much easier time getting access to information that will be very helpful for them.
Mason Funk: Great. Thank you. Second question, what is your hope for the future?
Charles Stinson: I'm thinking elections right now. I wish I could think beyond elections. I'll try to think beyond the elections.
Charles Stinson: [01:56:00] I hope that the humanitarian gains in the world in the area of human behavior are not lost, that they can be solidified, that people can come to a more sensitive awareness of
Charles Stinson: [01:56:30] who we are as a species in a huge, huge range of variability that that's part of what has helped us evolve as an amazingly adaptive species.
Charles Stinson: [01:57:00] I hope that that can continue and not slide under that dark rock of sexist McCarthyism and so on that was so prevalent.
Mason Funk: Great. Last question, what do you see is the value of OUTWORDS going all around the country and collecting stories from people like yourself?
Charles Stinson: [01:57:30] I think on a number of levels, the research scientist part of me says, "That could be an amazing archive for study." From a research perspective whether that's psychological or human development
Charles Stinson: [01:58:00] or anthropological or psychological, whatever. I think that could be quite an important treasure trove but I also see it is extremely important for younger people who may be wanting to see role models to realize that, "Oh, that mythological,
Charles Stinson: [01:58:30] horrible perverted homosexual scum of the earth who is always addicted to drugs and predatory young children and also a spy for the communist and so on ..." that's just totally false. That's just absolutely false. I hope that younger people would be able to see that, "Hey, there are some role models here." Perhaps theyd even be helpful for family members
Charles Stinson: [01:59:00] who are having trouble accepting a child who is gay or lesbian or bi or transgender or whatever. I always tried to lead a good life and tried to be good and go to church regularly. I feel myself very spiritually oriented and I always wanted to work to serve other people
Charles Stinson: [01:59:30] whether that was being a boy scout leader for a troop of mentally retarded kids going to summer camp or being a scout leader for others or the type of work I've done in the medical profession. It's been with the intention of how do I make the world a better place?. Similarly a lot of my art I donate to Art for AIDS and various different other things.
Charles Stinson: [02:00:00] I've been an amazingly fortunate individual in many ways. That's a far cry different from that horrid pathological creature that I was taught is what a homosexual individual is.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Goro Toshima
Date: July 26, 2016
Location: Studio of Charles Stinson, San Francisco, CA