JD Davids Reflects on the Life of the First Openly Gay Trans Dude After Reading his Diaries

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The Body‘s JD David reflects on his reading of We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan and what he learned from what he calls “a racy and determined gay transgender ancestor.”

The book drawn from Lou Sullivan’s meticulously kept journals, this landmark book records the life of arguably the first publicly gay trans man to medically transition

From the preface by Susan Stryker: We Both Laughed In Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan narrates the inner life of a gay trans man moving through the shifting social, political, and medical mores of the second half of the 20th century. Sullivan kept comprehensive journals from age eleven until his AIDS-related death at thirty-nine. Sensual, lascivious, challenging, quotidian and poetic, the diaries complicate and disrupt normative trans narratives. Entries from twenty-four diaries reveal Sullivan’s self-articulation and the complexity of a fascinating and courageous figure.

The following is an excerpt: “With such a wealth of personal writing from which to choose, the editors of We Both Laughed in Pleasure explain in an opening note that they intentionally prioritized his “worldly pleasures and ephemeral expressions of identity formed alongside his queer community … to illuminate the personal, lascivious, quotidian, poetic, and romantic aspects of his archive.”

I was hooked; I read until late at night. I drank down the immediacy and intimacy of Sullivan’s adventures. I felt the familiarity of his internal questioning and confidence in his core self from adolescence to adulthood, along with the fluctuating challenges of self-acceptance and attempts at developing his own language for his gender, body, and desires. And I ached with his search for a deeper, comprehensive acceptance from his three most significant partners.

Sullivan was prolific in his writing, passionate in his actions, and prescient in his collection of vital materials illustrating queer and trans history and lives in his times. And he was saucy, ready to look men in the eye at the bar and take them home or follow them to their place in a blink when he could, honoring his own desires even as he fought gatekeepers who sought to devalue his self-knowledge and put up roadblocks in his transition.

Read the full story here.

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