Lou Sullivan

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Lou Sullivan
Born(1951-06-16)June 16, 1951
DiedMarch 2, 1991(1991-03-02) (aged 39)
Occupation(s)Author, activist
Known forTransgender activism
Quotations related to Lou Sullivan at Wikiquote

Louis Graydon Sullivan (June 16, 1951 – March 2, 1991) was an American author and activist known for his work on behalf of trans men. He was perhaps the first transgender man to publicly identify as gay,[1] and is largely responsible for the modern understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity as distinct, unrelated concepts.[2]

Sullivan was a pioneer of the grassroots female-to-male (FTM) movement and was instrumental in helping individuals obtain peer-support, counselling, endocrinological services and reconstructive surgery outside of gender dysphoria clinics. He founded FTM International, one of the first organizations specifically for FTM individuals, and his activism and community work was a significant contributor to the rapid growth of the FTM community during the late 1980s.[3]

Early life[edit]

Sullivan grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sullivan was born the third child of six in a very religious Catholic family and attended Catholic primary and secondary school.[3] Sullivan started keeping a journal at the age of 10, describing his early childhood thoughts of being a boy, confusing adolescence, sexual fantasies of being a gay man, and his involvement in the Milwaukee music scene.[3][4] During his adolescence he expressed continued confusion about his identity, writing at age 15 in 1966 that "I want to look like what I am but don't know what some one like me looks like. I mean, when people look at me I want them to think—there's one of those people […] that has their own interpretation of happiness. That's what I am."[5]

Sullivan was attracted to the idea of playing different gender roles, and his attraction for male roles was outlined in his writings, specifically in his short stories, poems and diaries; he often explored the ideas of male homosexuality and gender identity.[3] At the age of seventeen he began a relationship with a self-described "feminine" male lover, and together they would play with gender roles and gender-bending.[3]

Transition and adulthood[edit]

In 1973, Sullivan identified himself as a "female transvestite" and by 1975 he identified himself as a "female-to-male transsexual".[3] In 1975, it "became apparent" that Sullivan needed to leave Milwaukee for somewhere where he could find "more understanding" and access hormones for his transition, so he decided to move to San Francisco.[6] His family was supportive of the move and gave him "a handsome man's suit and [his] grandfather's pocket watch" as going-away presents.[6]

Upon arrival in San Francisco, Sullivan began working at the Wilson Sporting Good Company, where he was employed as a woman but cross dressed as a man much of the time.[3] In his personal life, Sullivan lived as an out gay man, but he was repeatedly denied sex reassignment surgery (SRS) because of his sexual orientation and the expectation of the time that transgender people should adopt stereotypical heterosexual opposite-sex gender roles.[1] This rejection led Sullivan to start a campaign to remove homosexuality from the list of contraindications for SRS.[1][3]

In 1976, Sullivan suffered a severe crisis of gender identity and continued living as a feminine heterosexual woman for the next three years after being rejected by Stanford on the basis of Sullivan's self-declaration of being a gay man. As Sullivan tried to go through life masking and presenting effeminately, he came across the hardships Steve Dain, a transgender teacher formerly known as Doris Richards, experienced in newspaper spreads in 1976.[7] In 1978, he was shaken by the death of his youngest brother.[4]

Dain and Sullivan were able to meet in 1979, Dain encouraging Sullivan to proceed with transitioning. Thus in 1979, Sullivan was finally able to find doctors and therapists who would accept his sexuality, regardless of prior university-based contradictions of prioritizing declared sexual orientation over diagnostic criteria, and began taking testosterone. Sullivan had a double mastectomy surgery following a year later.[1][3] He then left his previous job to work as an engineering technician at the Atlantic-Ritchfield Company so that he could fully embrace his new identity as a man with new co-workers.[3]

In 1986, Sullivan obtained genital reconstruction surgery. He was diagnosed as HIV positive shortly after his surgery, and told he only had 10 months to live.[8] It is likely that Sullivan was HIV- infected in 1980, just after his chest surgery.[4] He wrote, "I took a certain pleasure in informing the gender clinic that even though their program told me I could not live as a Gay man, it looks like I'm going to die like one."[1] Sullivan died of AIDS-related complications on March 2, 1991.

Sullivan kept a journal throughout his life: selected excerpts were released in 2019 as We Both Laughed in Pleasure (retitled "Youngman" in the UK).

Activism and community contributions[edit]

Sullivan wrote the FTM Newsletter, one of the first guidebooks for trans men,[9] and also a biography of the San Francisco FTM Jack Bee Garland.[10] Sullivan was instrumental in demonstrating the existence of trans men who were themselves attracted to men.[11][12][13][14] Lou Sullivan began peer counselling through the Janus Information Facility which was an organization that provided transgender issues.[15] He is also credited for being the first to discuss the eroticism of men's clothing.[15]

Editor of The Gateway[edit]

Sullivan was active in the Golden Gate Girls/Guys organization (later called the Gateway Gender Alliance), one of the first social/educational organizations for transgender people that offered support to FTM transsexuals, and in fact successfully petitioned to add "Guys" to its name.[3] From July 1979 to October 1980, Sullivan edited The Gateway, a newsletter with "news and information on transvestism and transsexualism"[16] that was circulated by the Golden Gate Girls/Guys.[17] It was originally primarily focused on the needs of MTF and transvestite readers and read "much like a small town newspaper", but under Sullivan's editing it gained more gender parity between MTF and FTM issues. According to Megan Rohrer, Sullivan "transform[ed] Gateway in a way that [would] forever change FTM mentoring" because trans people could still obtain information on how to pass without having to attend group gatherings in person.[17]

GLBT Historical Society[edit]

Sullivan was a founding member and board member of the GLBT Historical Society (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society) in San Francisco. His personal and activist papers are preserved in the institution's archives as collection no. 1991–07; the papers are fully processed and available for use by researchers, and a finding aid is posted on the Online Archive of California.[18] The Historical Society has displayed selected materials from Sullivan's papers in a number of exhibitions, notably "Man-i-fest: FTM Mentoring in San Francisco from 1976 to 2009,"[19] which was open through much of 2010 in the second gallery at the society's headquarters at 657 Mission St. in San Francisco, and "Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating San Francsico's GLBT History," the debut exhibition in the main gallery at the society's GLBT History Museum that opened in January 2011 in San Francisco's Castro District.[20]

Lobbying for recognition of gay trans men[edit]

Lou was a writer and capable of standing up for what he saw as truth. He was a gay transsexual man, before this was even allowed or recognized. He is also the person who helped to change that, and now—being gay is no longer an issue if you want to begin transition.

Sullivan lobbied the American Psychiatric Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health for them to recognize his existence as a gay trans man.[15] He was determined to change people's attitudes towards trans gay men[22] but also to change the medical process of transition by removing sexual orientation from the criteria of gender identity disorder so that trans men who are gay could also access hormones and surgery, essentially making the process "orientation blind".[22]


In June 2019, Sullivan was one of the inaugural fifty American "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City's Stonewall Inn.[23][24] The SNM is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history,[25] and the wall's unveiling was timed to take place during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.[26]

In August 2019, Sullivan was one of the honorees inducted in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood noting LGBTQ people who have "made significant contributions in their fields".[27][28][29]


  • "A Transvestite Answers a Feminist" in Gay People's Union News (1973)
  • "Looking Towards Transvestite Liberation" in Gay People's Union News (1974)
  • Female to Male Cross Dresser and Transsexual (1980)
  • Information for the Female to Male Cross Dresser and Transsexual (1990)
  • From Female To Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland (1990)
  • We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan 1961-1991. (2019). Edited by Ellis Martin and Zach Ozma


  1. ^ a b c d e Highleyman, Liz. "Who was Lou Sullivan?". Seattle Gay News. February 22, 2008. Archived from the original on November 4, 2015.
  2. ^ Susan Stryker (1999). "Portrait of a Transfag Drag Hag as a Young Man: The Activist Career of Louis G. Sullivan," in Kate More and Stephen Whittle (eds). Reclaiming Gender: Transsexual Grammars at the Fin de Siecle, pp. 62-82. Cassells, ISBN 978-0-304-33776-7
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Guide to the Louis Graydon Sullivan Papers, 1755-1991 (bulk 1961-1991)". The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society. San Francisco, 1999. Accessed November 4, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Stryker, Susan. "The Difficult Decades." In Transgender History. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2008.
  5. ^ Sullivan, Lou. Diary. 1966. As quoted in "FTM Newsletter", Summer 2007, edited by Susan Stryker. Archived from the original on November 4, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Murray, Eldon E. "I Remember Lou Sullivan". "FTM Newsletter", Summer 2007. Archived from the original Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine on November 4, 2015.
  7. ^ Stryker, Susan (2017). Transgender History (Revised ed.). Basic Books. pp. 143–149. ISBN 9781580056908.
  8. ^ "AIDS: The FTM Response and the Death of Lou Sullivan." Archived September 14, 2016, at the Wayback Machine - OutHistory.
  9. ^ Sullivan, Louis. Information for the female to male cross dresser and transsexual. Janus Information Society, 1980
  10. ^ Sullivan, Louis. From Female to Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland. Alyson Publications, 1990. ISBN 978-1-55583-150-9
  11. ^ Eli Coleman & Walter O. Bockting. "Heterosexual" prior to Sex Reassignment – "Homosexual" Afterwards: A case Study of a Female-to-Male Transsexual. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. Vol 1(2). 1988 pp69-82
  12. ^ Susan Stryker (1998). Lou Sullivan. Third International Congress on Sex and Gender.
  13. ^ The Lou Sullivan Memorial Issue. FTMi Newsletter, Issue 58: Spring 2005.
  14. ^ Special Issue. Archived May 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine FTM Newsletter, Summer 2007.
  15. ^ a b c "Louis Gradon Sullivan (1951-1991)". A Gender Variance Who's Who. July 11, 2008. Accessed on November 4, 2015.
  16. ^ The Gateway, July 1979, pg. 1. - OutHistory
  17. ^ a b Rohrer, Megan. "Man-i-fest: FTM Mentorship in San Francisco from 1976–2009". OutHistory.org. Retrieved November 4, 2015.
  18. ^ Guide to the Louis Graydon Sullivan Papers, 1755-1991 (bulk 1961-1991) Archived June 5, 2014, at the Wayback Machine (Online Archive of California).
  19. ^ "Exhibit Opening! Man-i-fest: FTM Mentorship in San Francisco from 1976-2009". History Happens! Monthly News From the GLBT Historical Society. March 2010. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
  20. ^ B[ieschke], Marke (March 8, 2011). "Mighty real: New GLBT History Museum brings "Our Vast Queer Past" to light". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
  21. ^ Valerio, Max Wolf. "Remembrances". "FTM Newsletter", Summer 2007. Archived from the original Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine on November 4, 2015.
  22. ^ a b More, Kate, and Stephen Whittle. "Reclaiming Genders." October 1, 1999. Page 77
  23. ^ Glasses-Baker, Becca (June 27, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor unveiled at Stonewall Inn". www.metro.us. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  24. ^ Rawles, Timothy (June 19, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor to be unveiled at historic Stonewall Inn". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  25. ^ Laird, Cynthia. "Groups seek names for Stonewall 50 honor wall". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  26. ^ Sachet, Donna (April 3, 2019). "Stonewall 50". San Francisco Bay Times. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  27. ^ Barmann, Jay (September 2, 2014). "Castro's Rainbow Honor Walk Dedicated Today". SFist. Archived from the original on August 10, 2019. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  28. ^ Bajko, Matthew S. (June 5, 2019). "Castro to see more LGBT honor plaques". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  29. ^ Yollin, Patricia (August 6, 2019). "Tributes in Bronze: 8 More LGBT Heroes Join S.F.'s Rainbow Honor Walk". KQED: The California Report. Retrieved August 16, 2019.

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