About Lou Sullivan
Source: Susan Stryker PhD
Guide to the Louis Graydon Sullivan Papers, 1955-1991
Louis Graydon Sullivan, a female-to-male transsexual gay man, was born Sheila Jean Sullivan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 16, 1951, the daughter of John Eugene Sullivan, who owned a small hauling and moving company, and Nancy Louise Sullivan, a homemaker and sales clerk in a stationary store. Sullivan was the third child of six: Kathleen Marie (1948), John Eugene, Jr. (1949), Bridgit Therese (1953), Maryellen (1955), and Patrick Rory (1957). Sullivan grew up in an emotionally close-knit Catholic family in suburban Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, in modest economic circumstances. Extremely religious as a child, Sullivan attended Catholic primary and secondary schools, where he compiled an above-average academic record. Following high school graduation in 1970, Sullivan began working as a secretary in the Slavic Languages Department of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Sullivan's intense, life-long, concern with male gender identity and male same-sex relationships began to take on greater definition in the early 1970s. Sullivan recalled that as a child he had always enjoyed "playing boys" and realized even then that it "meant more to me than it did to the other kids." By his early teens, Sullivan's diaries, poems and short stories reflected an interest in male homosexuality and questions about gender identity. At age seventeen, Sullivan began a long-term relationship with a self-described "feminine" male lover, and play with gender roles figured in the relationship from the beginning. Both Sullivan and his partner were attracted to the gay liberation movement, and to the gender-bending aesthetic then evident in much of popular culture.
By 1973, Sullivan identified as a "female transvestite" and began a career of transgender community activism with the publication of " A Transvestite Answers a Feminist," an article which appeared in the Gay People's Union [GPU] News. Another article, "Looking Towards Transvestite Liberation," published the next year in the same periodical and widely reprinted in the gay and lesbian press, remains a landmark article for its early investigation of the question of gender identity in homosexual culture. Sullivan continued to contribute articles and reviews to the GPU News through 1980, and donated valuable type setting and copy editing services as well.
Sullivan identified as a female-to-male transsexual by 1975, when he moved to San Francisco and found work as a secretary for the Wilson Sporting Goods Company. Although still employed as a female, Sullivan spent approximately 75% of his time cross-dressed and living as a gay man. In 1976 Sullivan began seeking sex-reassignment surgery, which was routinely denied him on the basis of his openly declared homosexual orientation. Female-to-gay male transsexuality was not recognized by the medical/psychotherapeutic establishment as a legitimate form of gender dysphoria at that time. As a result of his own frustrations, Sullivan became involved in an eventually successful campaign to remove homosexual orientation from the list of contraindications for sex-reassignment. He pioneered methods of obtaining peer-support, professional counseling, endocrinological services and reconstructive surgery outside the institution of the gender dysphoria clinics, and disseminated this information at the grass-roots level through his booklet Information for the Female to Male Cross-Dresser and Transsexual, which is now in its third edition and is still the only practical guide for FTMs. As a consequence of his efforts, Sullivan became one of the founders of the female-to-male transsexual community, and is responsible to a significant degree for the rapid growth of the FTM population during the late 1980s.
Sullivan began taking testosterone in 1979, at which time he also became a volunteer at the Janus Information Facility (now J2CP), a gender dysphoria clearinghouse and referral service in San Francisco. He also became involved in Golden Gate Girls [and successfully petitioned to have "Guys" added to their name], one of the first social/educational transgender organizations to offer support to FTM transsexuals. In 1980 he underwent a double mastectomy and began living full time as a gay man. Sullivan also changed jobs at this time, becoming an associate engineering technician at the Atlantic-Ritchfield Company, so that coworkers would have no knowledge of his previous female life history. That same year he published the first edition of his Information for the FTM. Throughout the decade, Sullivan continued to write about female-to-male issues in the gay and transgender press, and became a popular public speaker on the topic in the San Francisco Bay area. He [was a founder of] the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society, whose newsletter he helped edit and publish. In 1984 Sullivan started his own typesetting and word-processing business. He also began work on a biography of Jack B. Garland, a female who lived as a man for forty years at the turn of the century. The book was published to favorable reviews by Alyson Press in 1990.
In 1986, Sullivan finally obtained genital reconstruction surgery; he also organized FTM, the first peer-support group devoted entirely to female-to-male [transsexual and transvestite] individuals. Later that year Sullivan was diagnosed with AIDS. In his last years Sullivan devoted himself to work on behalf of FTMs, as well as the broader transgender and homosexual communities. He died of an AIDS-related illness on March 2, 1991, at the age of 39.
- 1973: Lou Sullivan starts dressing and passing as a man
- 1976: Lou Sullivan applies to the gender clinics for the first time, but they do not answer.
- April 1979: First Issue of Gateway
- July 1979: Lou Sullivan becomes the editor of the 2nd Volume of Gateway
- November 1979: Lou Sullivan begins taking hormones
- 1980 Transsexualism first appears in DSM III
- March 3, 1980: Lou Sullivan's first letter to David
- April 28, 1980: Lou Sullivan's second letter to David
- October 21, 1980: Lou Sullivan's third letter to David
- 1980: Lou Sullivan has chest surgery
- April 1986: Lou Sullivan has what his doctor calls "genitalplasty," which included testicle implants and a clitoral extension.
- December 1986: Lou Sullivan is diagnosed with HIV and told he has 10 months to live.
- September 1987 First issue of FTM
- May - July 1988 Lou Sullivan gets an MAI infection and loses a lot of weight.
- 1991: Lou Sullivan becomes the first transman to die of AIDS
- 1991: Jamison Green transforms FTM into FTM International or FTMI
- 2007: The Lou Sullivan Society (LSS) is created to continue the mentoring begun by Lou Sullivan.