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Louis Graydon Sullivan papers
1991-07  
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Collection Overview
 
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Description
Louis Graydon Sullivan (1951-1991) was a gay and transgender activist who was notable as a community organizer, lay historian, and particularly as a diarist. Sullivan’s papers include extensive diaries, short stories, poems, essays, correspondence, and photographs which intimately document his life and transition. The collection also contains his personal subject files and memorabilia.
Background
Louis Graydon Sullivan (1951-1991) was a gay and transgender activist who was notable as a community organizer, lay historian, and particularly as a diarist. Sullivan’s diaries chronicle his social and medical transition – as well as his rich emotional and sexual life – from his teenage years in Milwaukee until his death. Sullivan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1951, the third of six children born to a close-knit Catholic family. He attended Catholic schools, where he was a good student, and loved to take on male roles in games, which he called “playing boys.” As a teenager, his interest in masculinity coalesced into an aesthetic built around a romantic appreciation for rock stars (especially the Beatles) and tough, troubled young men. Sullivan struggled throughout his early life to understand himself and his gender, but his attraction to men was never in doubt; nor was his recognition of himself as queer. After graduating high school and beginning work as a secretary, he often wore men’s clothing and became an active member of the Gay People’s Union (GPU) of Milwaukee. By 1973, he had begun to identify as a “female transvestite,” and had begun to write publicly about his experiences in the GPU News, first with the article “A Transvestite Answers a Feminist” and then with “Looking Towards Transvestite Liberation,” which was widely reprinted in the gay and lesbian press. It remains a landmark article for its early investigation of the question of gender identity in queer culture. By 1975, Sullivan identified as a female-to-male (FTM) transsexual, the contemporary term and the one he would use for most of the remainder of his life. After he and his long-term partner moved to San Francisco, he began seeking medical transition, but was held back by a number of factors – including his partner’s disapproval, an unsympathetic therapist, and the fact that, as a gay man, he did not fit the medical establishment’s stereotypical image of an FTM. For a time, he attempted to give up wearing men’s clothing and recommit to living as a woman. Nonetheless, by 1979 and following the end of his relationship, he had begun medical and social transition. Sullivan rapidly became a leader in the trans community, both in the Bay Area and beyond. Through his involvement in support groups such as Golden Gate Girls/Guys and his volunteer work at the Janus Information Facility, he connected with other FTMs as a mentor, correspondent, and friend. In 1986, he founded the group now known as FTM International. He also began compiling his practical knowledge into a booklet he would publish as Information for the Female to Male Cross-Dresser and Transsexual, whose three editions would connect him with transmasculine people across the country. After meeting Allan Bérubé and seeing his presentation “Lesbian Masquerade,” Sullivan also became interested in trans history and began working on a biography of an early 20th century trans man, From Female to Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland. He was a founding member of the GLBT Historical Society, whose newsletter he helped edit and publish and whose periodicals collection he cataloged for the first time. In 1986, Sullivan was diagnosed with HIV. He spent the last five years of his life intensifying his activism and mentorship within the trans community, as well as his advocacy to the doctors and psychiatrists who had held back his own transition by failing to understand that someone could be both trans and gay. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1991, at the age of 39.
Extent
9 linear feet (7 cartons, two oversized folders)
Restrictions
Copyright to material has been transferred to the GLBT Historical Society. All requests for reproductions and/or permission to publish or quote from material must be submitted in writing to the GLBT Historical Society Archivist.
Availability
Collection is open for research.