Lou Sullivan

  • Youngman

    • Lou Sullivan

    • Susan Stryker (Introducer)

    • Zach Ozma (Edited by)

    • Ellis Martin (Edited by)

    A unique first-hand account of a historical gay trans man's whole life, which reads like a celebratory coming-of-age novel.

    Lou kept candid diaries from the age of 10. Through these extracts, we hear Lou's life in his own words: from 'playing boys' in his childhood in Wisconsin, to cruising San Francisco's gay bars for handsome 'youngmen'; from first hearing about gender non-conforming communities, to becoming a vital part of them as an activist, author, and archivist.

    Lou navigated his identity with few role models and was perhaps the first publicly gay transgender man. Successfully campaigning to remove heterosexuality from the medical requirements for gender affirming surgery, Lou was pivotal in our modern understanding of gender and sexuality as distinct identities. After he was diagnosed with HIV in 1986, he remarked that he had been told by clinics that 'it was impossible for me to live as a gay man, but it looks like I'm gonna die like one.'

    This selection shows Lou's joyous love of life, men, and sex.



    'Chatty and tender, casually poetic and voraciously sexual-Sullivan workshopped his identity and his relationships, committing to the page an interior monologue of self-discovery that paralleled the gay-liberation movement, the burgeoning transgender-rights movement, and the aids crisis... Given how many contemporary trans narratives are rooted in trauma, their choice to foreground trans pleasure and sensuality is celebratory, even radical' The New Yorker

Louis Graydon Sullivan (b. Milwaukee, 1951; d. San Francisco, 1991) was a writer, activist, typesetter, trans historian, and queer revolutionary. Sullivan began early explorations of masculinity, which he called "playing boys," while growing up in 1960s suburban Wisconsin; his Catholic family was surprisingly accepting. He first sought out other queer people just after high school through his job at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. The Gay People's Union featured Sullivan's earliest writings in their newsletter including the now widely-quoted "A Transvestite Answers a Feminist". In his diary, Sullivan began to see himself as "a girl who's real desire + passion is with male homosexuals". Many of the medical professionals he met with throughout his transition had never heard of a female-to-gay-male. Even when it would have made transition easier, Sullivan resisted lying about his sexuality, remaining committed to his vision of authenticity. This commitment became a major aspect of his activism and legacy. After moving to San Francisco in his mid-twenties, Sullivan became involved with Golden Gate Girls/Guys, one of the first social and educational transgender organizations to offer support to FTM transsexuals. In 1980, Sullivan published his first edition of Information for the FTM, a practical guidebook. Six years later, he organized FTM, the first peer-support group for trans men. That same year, Sullivan was diagnosed with HIV. From that moment on, Sullivan had two main goals: to publish a biography of Jack Bee Garland (who was assigned female at birth and lived as man at the turn of the 20th century) and to publish his own diaries. Sullivan was only able to complete the former task. Sullivan left 8.4 cubic feet of archival material from his life and studies to the GLBT Historical Society, of which he was a founding member. The content of the archive includes extensive diaries as well as photographs, short stories, poems, essays, and correspondences.

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