The following is an excerpt from We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan. Lou was a writer, activist, typesetter, trans historian, and queer revolutionary. Born in Milwaukee in 1951, Lou journaled from age 11 until his AIDS-related death in San Francisco in 1991.
Since we already knew the end of Lou’s story, we edited this volume to ensure that the sadness of his premature death didn’t overshadow his life. We didn’t attempt to encompass the full breadth of Lou’s journaling. Instead, we selected moments of his evolving relationships, selfhood, and ways of living.
Lou braided contemporary and past cultural iconography to form an identity he didn’t see articulated in any one singular source. From the poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne to his Jockey shorts, Lou was particular yet varied in his tastes. He liked when drag queens called him “Butch,” soft tufts of hair on a man’s unshaven cheek, and cream and sugar in his coffee. He took his name from Lou Reed, rode a motorcycle, frequented beatnik bars, frequented gay bars, wore an opal ring. Raised Catholic, he more than once compared his partners to God. His informal writing is familiar, like texts from a close friend about a new crush.
This excerpt is from the early 1980s during a time when Lou was living in San Francisco’s Mission District. Lou had just moved into a new building where no one knew he was trans. He was considering his surgical options, falling in love with the friend of a neighbor. In his new relationships with men (friends, neighbors, lovers, strangers), he was finding intimacy and acceptance.
—Ellis Martin and Zach Ozma, editors of We Both Laughed in Pleasure
Well I guess I knew sooner or later it would creep up on me but this last week or so I’ve really come to the end of my rope trying to deal with being a twin in my body. I am so tired of trying NOT to be sexual. I look in the mirror + see this fucking beautiful guy looking back at me + I see other men smiling at me + almost reaching out. But I have to keep it on such a platonic superficial level.
I’ve tried to learn to live without affection, but I can feel it eating me from inside. It seems so foreign to me when I see how free + open everyone around me is with their bodies. I realize that I don’t even give potential lovers a second glance, or encourage even the slightest any men who are attracted to me. And I know they are. I am beautiful! It hurts me too much to encourage them, or to even notice their attentions to me. I can’t stand to see someone offering themselves, and my having to deal with this fucking body. It’s just not fair. I have to start now to pursue the rest of me.
I can feel it’s time to see Dain again. All the goddamn questions + decisions + concessions I’ll have to wrestle with—AGAIN. Do I want a cosmetic cock like Dain’s? Although it has no hole in it and is very tiny . . . Or do I want to be able to use a urinal like every other guy? Or have an erect cock? Is it smart at all to allow them to start snipping + nipping around down there + possibly lose the sensation I have, possibly jeopardize orgasm—Falces said he was going to leave part of nipple tips intact but he didn’t + the sensations just aren’t there that used to be. Do I want to entrust my clitoris to him? Shit. Do I have to resign myself to the fact that I may possibly lose the feeling I have there in order to have halfway passable male organs?
Meanwhile how the shit am I going to pay for whatever I settle for? I can fight ARCO’s insurance. I can try to hit up Jack again . . . but I really don’t want to do that + he wouldn’t have the amount I need. I just want to LUNGE at someone to hold me. I just get crazy imagining kissing a man. I am a good good person + deserve something better than this. My fucking clit looks like it’s stopped growing or something. I’ve gotten NO more hair on my body than 8 months ago. What the fuck is going on?? I want to sleep with a man. I want to wrap myself around him. I want to offer myself unconditionally + unapologetically. I should be free to feel all the warmth + love I do.
I have gone as far as I can go the way I am. I’ve very successfully adjusted to being a man. Now I want to BE A MAN.
I think I’m in love + I can’t believe it. I mean, this gorgeous boy just told me to go out + find someone who’d be my perfect lover, while he smiled + teased me. He knew it, too. God, is he fine. He’s small + hard + eager + logical + quiet. What more can you ask?
On a chance I invited T to my place + he came! He’s 20 years old + looking for LOVE. He as much as told me he would get involved in a gay relationship just for the experience. And I had to ignore that—(see what I mean, I’m tired of running, I’m tired of pretending I didn’t hear that). I told Dan when we were alone that I was falling in love with T. He said forget it, T’s 100% straight. But hear it from T, that fucker’s a romantic.
So what do I do now? Try to kiss him? Invite him over for dinner? Ask him to smoke another joint?
It’s supposed to work. One day I’ll find someone who likes me so much it won’t matter. He is almost frightened, but his eyes are so steady. He is so small, so pretty. I wanted to touch his hair. He almost laughed at me. He knew. He said, “Do you think I come on sexually?” I said, “Yes, to me you do.” He just laughed + said he knew it.
This was the best Gay Pride Parade ever—not counting of course the first one. Didn’t see much of it but it looked like all highlights. God God God
The beautiful lusty men in this city.
At the Civic Center after the parade I finally sat on a ledge. A well-muscled but small man lay in the grass at my feet. Soon he knew I was watching him. He scooted over closer—He said hi first. I offered him a joint + he was soon moving closer + closer. I said “Your body is so beautiful.” He said, “OUR BODIES.” He began snoogling + kissing + it felt so so fucking good. He said “Feels so good . . . ” I said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve necked in the park.” I thought, I’ve never necked in the park before in my life.
This morning, rushed up onto the roof + laid in the sun, rolling down my jockey shorts so that only a thin strip covered my pubic area. I’d remembered to stuff my basket a little so I was prepared when some doll of a guy comes up + we began discussing the fire in the building yesterday. He stood, looking down on me as I laid there, looking up at him. I felt so desirable. We talked a long time. Then he introduced himself + we shook hands. He was obviously gay + I was obvious to him, too. God, it feels so good.
I walked down the middle of Market Street. The first time I can say I actually felt I “marched in the parade.” My opened shirt blew in the wind—The sun tanning my stomach—Feeling lean and alive and beautiful—Saying I am a man—Saying I love men.
T’s facial hair is just like mine, except it’s black. Just a thin mustache + chin whiskers. Nothing on his pure smooth cheeks. God, what a beautiful boy he is.
This evening I even closed my door, but he rang the bell. I opened it + there he was. We drank tea, he told me about some old girlfriend he phoned, but she’s going out with all kinds of guys + doesn’t want to get serious with him. Except, he said, “she let me fuck her.” Just the thought of this beautiful boy, I was shocked, “LET YOU??” He didn’t even get it. He said, “Yeah, she was touching my body + everything.”
I had been attempting to start lifting my weights when he came by + he picked up my barbell + dumbbells + said I needed to put more weight on them. Shit, I’d just removed some of the weight because they were too heavy for me!
My God, when he stands so near to me I feel like I’m going to be burned if he brushes against me. I can hardly hold myself back from taking hold of him. He looks like he tastes good. He smells good.
I said I was very complimented he came over. He said he’s real lonely lately. I debated with myself whether to give him “Fragoletta,” but decided against it at this time—no need to rush anything—we’re having a 4th of July cook-out on the roof. I just told him I got into a real poetry-reading mood after everyone left from the party.
We drank tea + talked. He sees me watching him + pretends he doesn’t + then he decides to give in + looks me right in the eye + laughs.
Why is he always teasing me?
Will I ever be able to kiss him. I wonder if this is all fantasy-land, or after some point he’ll actually let me give him some of these physical pleasures he’s craving so bad but wants from a true blue female. Ah, those 20-year-old hormones!
“Fragoletta,” too gushing, too physical. I found instead “A Leave-Taking” by Swinburne.
So I did it. I gave him the poem. He immediately opened it in front of everyone + asked me, “What does this mean for you?” I answered, “It’s a love poem.” He began reading it + asked what it meant. I said “It says it all there, better than I could say it.” He said, “Then you’re putting yourself down.” I said don’t read it here! He said, “I want to talk with you about this at your place.” I was so shocked and nervous, I said, “What?” He repeated it.
COME HENCE LET BE LIE STILL; IT IS ENOUGH.
He asked who wrote it, I said a turn-of-the-century English poet. Suddenly we were alone in the room + I said what did you want to talk about? He’s sitting in an easy chair. I’m standing. He says, “What do you feel—inside—for me?” I answered, “I think I love you.” He asked “Why?” I thought a second, recovering from his question—so blatant, so cutting, so disbelieving: I said, “Because I think about you a lot during the day.” A smile came over his lips, he smiled at me + said “That’s nice. Thank you.”
I suggested we all go to a movie + he wanted to go get a sweater, I guess, so was going to meet us at the theatre. I asked, “Can I come with you, T?” He called back, “Sure Lou. If you want to.” We went to his beautiful beautiful place. It was like Albion, but more beautiful. He said he built all the wood himself—a loft where he slept. I was enthralled. Mystified. He lived there 3 years with a 30-year-old roommate.
Suddenly we were sitting on the floor talking about some shit + we lost track of the conversation + I was gazing into his face + he asked, “What are you thinking about—RIGHT NOW.” I started laughing, fell back on my elbows + answered, “I was thinking how beautiful you are.” He told me that from the start he felt something special between us, too, and that he liked me a lot and thought we really had something good between us. That he really felt good that I told him how I felt. He said he didn’t want to get into anything sexual with me, though, and I said, “Neither do I. That’s what that poem says.”
We ran together to the movie. I didn’t arrange to sit next to him, but there he sat, next to me.
IF I FOLLOW MY HEART I’M GONNA LOVE YOU
He fuckin let me kiss him in front of a big group of people. I said, “Look at this guy—he’s an insatiable flirt. Have you no shame?—He has no shame, and I have no scruples.”
He told me he was complimented by my attentions. I said, “You should be. Because you really did turn my head.”
Oh sweet brat boy
Bellyward on my bed
He keeps wearing the same shirt, but it always looks fresh on him.
THOU HAST A SERPENT IN THINE HAIR
I asked if he read the poem + liked it. He hedged around, wouldn’t be direct. I asked, “Did you read it?” He blurted out, “Yes, three times!” “And did you like it?” “Yes,” he shouted, his eyes flashing proudly.
In the beginning of the evening, I offered him a joint and he says, “Are you trying to get me stoned, Lou?” I laughed, “I’ll try anything!”
So Friday night we all go to the bar where Bridget works to wish her a happy birthday. The sweet doll of a man I wrote about last month was there, and it turns out Mary knows him from when she first moved out here + was picking up men in the gay bars! She’s had sex with him on several occasions, and I remember her telling me about him! HA HA So he joins our table and remembers me, too. He flirts outrageously with everyone.
Mary + I go with him to his car where we smoke his marijuana + snort his cocaine. Back at the bar, I go to the jukebox and he follows me. I say I dislike the bar, so straight + boring. He agrees with me, asks where I hang out. Told him Polk + Castro. He told me he preferred there, too, but guesses he’s not all the way out of the closet yet. I told him I was, that everyone at my work knew, too, + once you do come out, it’s not as big of a deal as you thought it’d be.
He continued to discreetly brush up against me; smile + nod at me invitingly, etc etc etc. Once I was going into the bathroom + he followed me. I caught him around the waist + kissed him + tried to pull him into the bathroom with me. He said, “Not yet! Not here!” and explained that he was trying to get Steininger. I laughed + said forget it! He said no, no, he wanted to see if he could, but that I shouldn’t go away because he’ll be back for me later! That’s all he needed to say!
So as the night wore on, people trickled home and then Kathy was saying goodbye and going home. Kim + I are suddenly the only ones there. I told him I was just going to stay there + he could, too, if he wanted. I turned out the light, laid on the couch and moved over.
He crawled in beside me + we cuddled up. He laid perfectly still as I opened his shirt. He rested his arms above his head as I ran my fingers over his smooth, hard chest, kissing + licking his chest, his nipples, and he moaned and his breathing quickened.
Slowly I loosened his blue jeans and reached inside. He was hard. I took my time feeling inside his pants + licking his chest. He wiggled only slightly and helped me lower his blue jeans. I licked and kissed and sucked his testicles, his penis. He put his hand on my hair, or on my shoulder. Rusty suddenly comes from the back to go to the bathroom, putting us directly in his sight range. Kim tensed up, but seeing I continued on without flinching, he relaxed again. (Rusty later tells the story that he went to the bathroom and “it looked like someone was saying their prayers” . . . that he couldn’t tell which one of us it was. I said “I was kneeling and giving thanks.”) Well, he was plenty hard and aroused but wouldn’t do a goddamn thing himself, so I didn’t sweat trying to make him come, but just took as much pleasure as I could.
When he got up to go to the bathroom, I opened up the sofa bed. We slept a little, but I woke often, stroking him, kissing him. Soon it was light out, I lifted his quilt and rubbed + kissed his ass, still covered by his blue jeans. He moaned in pleasure, encouraging me. I shoved my hand inside, feeling his ass, trying to find the opening there. He moved to let me open his pants + yank them down. I stroked + kissed his ass and licked between the cheeks. When I got the hole good + wet, I fingered it and slowly inserted my finger. He didn’t flinch. I finger-fucked him, but soon I got so turned on I had to stop. (I think now . . . I could easily have fucked him, had I been able. He would have let me put my cock in him, I know it!)
Later I laid beside him and put my hand into my pants and jerked off. He turned his face toward me, and I know he knew I was masturbating.
I came. After I caught my breath, I reached over (with the same hand I had used to jerk myself off) and stroked his tousled blond curls. What a beautiful man! He turned his face the other way. I continued petting his hair. We fell back to sleep.
He had told me during the evening that he had to work at 9 am. At 8:45 he suddenly awoke + when I told him the time, he sprang out of bed and buttoned his shirt, zipped up his pants, grabbed his jacket. He came back over to the bed and held out his hand and said goodbye, hurriedly. I grasped his hand and squeezed it and said “Goodnight.” He dashed out the door, and I turned over + fell asleep.
Oh, God. I am so happy. My life as a gay man has been so fulfilling, so perfect, everything I could have hoped for. The beauty of a man loving a man just takes away my breath.