All photos by my family.
I remember Uncle Lou as perhaps the happiest person I have ever known, and this includes the time spent with him after he was diagnosed with the little-known disease which later took his life.
Lou was always joking and laughing, and had the magic of life on Earth within him that far too few of us begin to grasp. I never for a moment had a sense of what intense struggle his life must have been, or the pain of feeling alone that must have accompanied his lot in life. He carried it all with grace and ease, as if his were the most joyous and carefree life ever.
Sullivan's intense, life-long, but rather unfocused 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 companion were attracted to the gay liberation movement, and to the gender-bending aesthetic then evident in much of popular culture.
With expressed permission, I am compelled to post a good chunk of this bio written by Susan Stryker, PhD. As my family worked closely with her helping to compile the info; I am sharing her thoughts about Lou with the world on the 20th anniversary of his passing.
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.
Lou was always a man to me, even though I was old enough to be in photos when he was still known as Shiela. He moved out to S.F. well before the rest of our family did, and I was so young when we moved. He was our anchor as we got settled 2,000 miles away in what then became my hometown.
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.
Lou loved an array of curious, beautiful things. Carnival glass, for example. He was also a big fan of dub reggae. And puffins; they were his favorite animal.
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.
I had little awareness of just how important Lou's contributions were until after his passing. It is a testament to his humility and selflessness. He did all that he did simply to leave a legacy that would make it easier for others in his shoes. Only now can I really appreciate how much, years later, Lou means to the GLBT community in the area, and beyond.
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.
I remember how happy Lou was to finally have his sex-change operation. It is a a bit tragic that he lived only a few years in the body he always felt he was meant to have, but the joy of living those years was palpable.
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.
This rare photo shows him in his weakened condition in my childhood home, just a few weeks before his death.
He was feeble and thin upon passing, but he maintained his good spirits until the very end. Medical marijuana, long before its acceptance, helped him cope with the effects of his illness. I was bequeathed his awesome collection of records and tapes from various artists I had never heard at the time. It's an heirloom of sorts I hold dear.
“I took a certain pleasure in informing the gender clinic that even though their program told me that I could not live like a gay man, it looks like I’m going to die like one.”
Some actions you can take to honor Lou's memory today.
• Buy his book.
• Visit http://www.glbthistory.org/ or the GLBT History Museum
• Donate to or volunteer with an GLBT group.
• Laugh and smile more today.
Others feel free to mention other ideas you think he'd support in the comments.
Updated by LaughingPlanet at Tue Mar 1, 2011, 11:24:17 PM
Giving to an AIDS charity would be a good idea as well.
These three are rated highly by this site.
American Social Health Association
Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
but give to any that you know on Lou's behalf, if you so choose.
Updated by LaughingPlanet at Wed Mar 2, 2011, 01:27:36 AM
Thank you all for the kind comments. Forgive me for being unable to reply as much as usual. This diary was more emotional than I expected. I think Lou would have liked blogging on Daily Kos.