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Dear Lou Sullivan (And Understanding Transmasculinity)

Lou Sullivan was a transgender man and activist who died of AIDS in the early nineties. He is seen as a transgender forefather, someone who fought to be seen as a man and understood for who he was. Yet, he seems as a singular force in the community, at least according to filmmaker Rhys Ernst.

Ernst created a film called Dear Lou Sullivan that celebrates the work of Sullivan and dissects his own personal struggles in relationship to the greater LGBTQ community. Sullivan (and Ernst) found his attraction to gay men but had a struggle being accepted and finding a home within their world. Ernst echoes this in the film, using the format of Grindr as a means to materialize community ignorance, transphobia, etc. Ernst spoke about this with Visual AIDS (via) and the importance of transmasculine role models. It’s quite a great read—and this was a particularly grabbing passage.

Over the course of years I saved screengrabs of my experience of transphobia, ignorance, and debasement on Grindr. It’s more often ignorant statements or questions than open harassment (though I’ve experienced both). My experience of transphobia on MSM apps is not unique—after I began collecting my own screengrabs I discovered a tumblr dedicated to this topic: http://transmenongrindr.tumblr.com/. What really blew my mind is how often gay cis men didn’t even know what the terms “ftm,” “trans man” or “trans” even mean—it’s incredible how many cis gay men can live in an insulated bubble and be completely disconnected from the rest of the queer/trans world—this points to a very particular type of cis privilege.

It’s baffling to me that what seems like most (cis) gay men have no idea what the queer and trans world is all about. Admittedly, I do not know everything about the transgender (or lesbian—or even gay) world but I like to think that I very much try very, very hard to be as educated as I can possibly be. On the bright side, terms like “trans,” “FTM,” etc. are things I am very aware of. It fucking blows my mind that gay dudes are unaware of this. (I very much want to say “are selfishly unaware” but that would be an equally as ignorant claim on my behalf. Regardless, I’m ashamed.)

Ernst’s film is a well done VHS garble of interview footage with Sullivan interspersed with intimate gay men and Grindr interactions. There is a deep, seamless connection from the past to the present and back again, a pulsating link between Sullivan and Ernst. It’s necessary viewing for any LGBTQ person and supporter: watch it below.

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