Barry Reay
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A transgender story
The diaries of Louis Graydon Sullivan
in Sex in the archives
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The San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library contains the Louis Graydon Sullivan Papers, an extensive archive, including Sullivan’s own recorded transition from a heterosexual woman to a gay man. (Sullivan was designated female at birth, Sheila, but when he died of AIDS in 1991, at the age of 39, he was a spokesperson for gay trans men.) There are biographical accounts of Sullivan but they all tell the story of the making of a trans activist rather than giving any sense of the ambiguities and conflicts he experienced. There is an inevitability about these biographies – the making of a transgender role model. The story told in this chapter is more interesting, if untidier. Though not wishing to denigrate those who seek comfort in certainties, there was nothing inevitable about Sullivan’s trans story; it could have taken a different trajectory at almost any point. The story of Sullivan is compelling because it threatens the very categorisation that his biographical sketch posthumously forced him into. The notable thing about Sullivan, as revealed in the diaries, is that he moved in a milieu of gender and sexual indecision and flexibility.

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Sex in the archives

Writing American sexual histories


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