Charles Silverstein was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1935. He grew up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn and went to P.S. 235 and P.S. 135. During high school, he attended the School for Industrial Art in Manhattan. He went to college at SUNY-New Paltz and majored in education, after which he taught in the public school system in Larchmont.
At that point, Dr. Silverstein decided to become a psychologist. He initially went to CUNY and studied clinical psychology and then went to Rutgers, where he studied under Peter Suedfeld and earned a Ph.D. in social psychology. While at Rutgers, he became involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement. In the interview, he discusses conversion therapy and the process he went through before coming out.
In the years immediately following the Stonewall rebellion of 1969, Dr. Silverstein became an activist in the gay liberation movement with the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). He founded the Identity House, which was a counseling center, and then the Institute for Human Identity (IHI). He served as the editor of the Journal of Homosexuality.
Through his activism and professional engagement, Dr. Silverstein played an important role in enacting paradigm changes in the psychological community towards homosexuality. On February 8, 1973, Dr. Silverstein made a presentation to the Nomenclature Committee of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In December 1973, the APA changed the diagnosis of homosexuality in the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II). It was later in DSM-III-R in 1987 that homosexuality was completely removed as a mental disorder.
Dr. Silverstein is the author of numerous articles and books, including Man to Man, The Joy of Gay Sex (along with Edmund White), A Family Matter: A Parent’s Guide to Homosexuality and his memoir For the Ferryman. He is a practicing psychologist, in addition to working with the New York State Psychological Association and supervising students at several New York universities. He won the gold medal for the practice of psychology given by the American Psychological Foundation. Dr. Silverstein is featured in the episode “Dr. Davison and the Gay Cure” in the Radiolab podcast UnErased.
In the oral history interview, Dr. Silverstein discusses his activism in the field of psychology, experiences during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and involvement in battling censorship, along with analyzing the LGBT movement.
Pictured in the photograph are Charles Silverstein (left) and his partner of twenty years William Bory (photo courtesy of Charles Silverstein).