Lou Graydon Sullivan (June 16, 1951 – March 2, 1991) was an author and activist who became the first transman to die of AIDS. He was 39 years old.
Sullivan was the first transgender man to be publicly known to identify as gay. His activism is considered to be one of the primary reasons for our current understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity as separate, unrelated concepts.
In 1986, Sullivan had reconstruction surgery but was diagnosed with HIV afterwards and informed that he had 10 months to live. It is speculated that he contacted HIV in 1980 just after his chest surgery.
He wrote, “I took a certain pleasure in informing the gender clinic that even though their program told me I could not live as a gay man, it looks like I’m going to die like one.”
In 1973, Sullivan grew up in Milwaukee, born into a Catholic family, and identified as a “female transvestite.” By 1975, he identified as a “FTM transsexual.” Later that same year, he relocated to San Francisco where began working as a woman but cross-dressed as a man.
Sullivan founded female-to-male (FTM) International, one of the first organizations specifically for FTM individuals, helping them obtain peer-support, counselling, endocrinological services and reconstructive surgery outside of gender dysphoria clinics.
Although Sullivan lived as an out gay man, he was repeatedly denied sex reassignment surgery because of his sexual orientation and the view held by the medical establishment that transgender people should adopt “stereotypical heterosexual opposite-sex gender roles.”
Sullivan campaigned to remove homosexuality from the list of conditions that served as a reason to withhold SRS from prospective patients. In 1979, he was finally able to find doctors and therapists who would accept his sexuality, began taking testosterone and underwent a double mastectomy.