Trans+ History Week: This diary of a gay man who died in 1991 is an amazing testament to trans joy

Lou Sullivan

Lou Sullivan (1951-1991) was arguably one of the first publicly gay trans men, known for campaigning for gay trans men to access transition healthcare.

He was instrumental in forming support networks for trans men in the US and beyond, and in bringing together trans men through meet-ups, newsletters and relentless socialising at a time when the existence of trans men was nearly invisible, even within queer and trans circles.

Lou kept a diary his whole life and intended for them to be published after his death; he died of AIDS-related complications in the early 1990s. His diaries are a frank, moving, exhilarating ride from his teenage life through to his death.

The following is an extract from Youngman: Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan.

I’m actually going to live as a man. I can’t believe it. Something I’ve wanted to do since I can remember — be a boy! God, it’s too good to be true. There’s no going back now, I just know it. It just seemed everything fell into place — when it’s right, it just happens.

Ma said that if this is what I want + it’s what will make me happy, that’s all she cares + that who is she to say if the doctors + I agree it’s right for me? But, she said, the only thing that worried her was — how was I going to go into the men’s bathroom? I said, ma, I’ve been going into men’s rooms for 6 years — there’s no problem. You just go into a stall + close the door, and if there’s no door you just have to be quick at pulling the pants down + up. She said oh, of course she hasn’t been in a men’s room, but, yes, she supposes that’s true! (If that’s her main concern, it can’t be that bad.)

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When I told dad, he was very receptive + said he hoped I’d be happy + he’s glad I’m doing something that will make me feel better + that if I need anything, money or anything, I should just let him know. Dear Jack. When he offers you money, you know it’s from his heart! Of course I would never take him up on that offer, he knows that, and that’s why we get along so well. I don’t test his love… He said that somehow he felt very close to me.

Lou Sullivan, a gay trans man who died of Aids in the early 90s
Book jacket for ‘Youngman: Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan’. (Supplied/Penguin)

Bridget, Kathy Steininger + I snorted cocaine and stayed up all night Saturday having deep conversations. We talked in depth about my change, about their fears, etc.

Bridget said she remembers when I was about 14 I came to the dinner table with something obviously stuffed in my pants for a penis. When she confronted me about it, she said I pulled a sock out in which I’d put a hair roller + said something like — this is what it is, so what? — or something defensive like that. God! I don’t remember….

We talked about my relating to their kids + they acknowledged that I related to them like, say, Patrick did + that I am surely more an “uncle” than an “aunt” and Kathy said she hoped I’d be the one Cheyney comes to to ask questions about sex, etc.

I’ve been feeling a little apprehensive about taking these hormones + living as a man. Worried me but I tried not to think too hard about it.

Today, I’ve tried to identify this feeling. And I remember having felt this way once before. It was when I worked at Trade Press, just out of high school, + I’d only been living in my own apt. for a few months. One lunch hour I was walking along the street + I suddenly had this strong urge to get on the bus + go back to Bluemound Rd. + become a little girl again + have mommy take care of me. I just wanted to escape the responsibility + insecurity of adulthood. I wanted to be taken care of + not have a care in the world.

And these last few days, as the appointment with Fulmer gets closer, I have those same feelings. It’s so hard to be mature sometimes. Yet I’m still not getting my hopes up. I still can’t believe that I’ll be leaving Fulmer’s office tomorrow with a prescription in my hand.

Took Cheyney to a basketball game last night + it turned out really well. He was full of energy + curiosity + no trouble at all. We were talking about faces + I said I was going to be an ugly grandpa. He corrected me, “grandma,” but I told him by then I’ll be a grandpa. He asked when I was going to “do that” + I told him I had to take all these tests, but it should begin in a few weeks. Told him my name’d be Lou + he said he didn’t like that name + I should pick “Ned.” I said thanks a lot!

Told him his great-grandpa’s name was Louie. He didn’t know that. Asked what he thought of my being a guy + he said he liked it cuz then he would have someone to play ball with instead of waiting around for his dad or Rusty to be there. (I’m always perplexed by people’s reasons!)

Later he said he liked me best of all the Sullivans cuz I never told him what to, or not to, do. In other words, I’m the only one not playing mother or father — tomorrow I call Fulmer to see if he got all my test results + then make THE appointment! — Looks like my job is safe, too, til at least the end of the year.

So went for my 1st shot — 50 mg of Depo-Testosterone. Was so relieved + happy I could have burst. God, Finally. Finally. Got it in the ass, “going right to the root of the problem — right where it’s needed most” I laughed to Maryellen.

Originally published as We Both Laughed in Pleasure in the US, where it received a Lambda Literary Award and was a Publishing Triangle finalist, Youngman: Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan is published in the UK by Vintage Classics.