Letters, Privacy, and Ethics

"There is a difference between shame and the desire for confidentiality. There is a difference between pride and unnecessary exposure." -Jamison Green[1]


Letters have long been the way that GLBT individuals have sought out mentors to ask the most intimate questions that they are unable to ask friends, family or their doctors. Lou Sullivan wrote to individuals around the globe mentoring them about FTM issues. This exhibit follows Lou's letters to a man named David. David's identity is kept anonymous in order to distance the letters from the past. Knowing little about who the letters are intended for, it is easier for us (present day readers) to see that the letters are actually written to all of us.

Like Lou's letters to David, Man-i-fest seeks to use newsletters, letters and photos from the past to mentor to individuals in the present. The central items in this exhibit come from Gateway: the newsletter of Golden Gate Girls/Guys; FTM; and Lou Sullivan’s photos of his transition.

For more information, visit the Lou Sullivan Papers at the GLBT Historical Society.



A central theme is this exhibit is the tension transmale mentors hold between the desire to pass as men and the need to be out in order to educate and advocate for other transmen. Jamison Green writes directly on this theme in FTM Issue 28 "Pride v. Confidentiality."


This exhibit makes public Lou Sullivan's intimate transition photos. Making public what are traditionally called "private" parts, runs the risk of exploiting and continuing the oversexualization that trans individuals regularly experience. However, the photos displayed are of Lou Sullivan a man who not only dedicated his life to FTM mentoring but also actively sought ways to preserve his legacy and papers after he knew he was dying of AIDS. Donated to the GLBT Historical Society, which Lou helped to establish, Lou intended these photos along with his papers to live beyond the limitations of his frail body. In this way, Lou continues to mentor to GLBT individuals after his death. While we cannot prevent individuals from using these photos inappropriately, in today's society where so much inaccurate information about transmen can be found on the internet, this exhibit seeks to provide education, inspiration and a safe space to learn about transmen.


  1. Green, Jamison, FTM Newsletter, Issue 28 (see above)