He wrote or edited more than 50 books, many of them on the history of sex and sexuality. He allied himself with gay causes, and was a founder of gay caucuses in the American Historical Association and the American Sociological Association. He wrote the policy on gay and lesbian rights in the 1960s for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California. He was a charter member of the original Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), which was founded in Los Angeles.
He met Virginia Prince in 1960, and continued as a friend. He “halfway encouraged” John Brown to do transsexual surgery, as he admits with chagrin. He was sponsored by the millionaire ftm Reed Erickson to write Sexual Variance,1976, Homosexuality, a History, 1979, and with his wife Bonnie Bullough, The Subordinate Sex, 1974.
His Sexual Variance contains many examples of transgendered behavior from around the world and across history.
In his Homosexuality, a History, chapter 10 is called “Cross-Dressing: Transvestism, Transsexualism, and Homosexuality” in which only one real transvestite is named: his friend, the avowed non-homosexual, Virginia Prince. He also mentions the Chevalier d’Eon, Lili Elbe and Christine Jorgensen who were not homosexual either. But only these few. Did he not know of any gay transvestites, or any transsexuals whom he might regard as gay? Prior to 1979 when he wrote the book we could choose from José Sarria, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Bunny Breckinridge, Jimmy Donahue, Miss Destiny, Tamara Rees, Patricia Morgan, Norma Jackson, Hedy Jo Star, Candy Darling, Minette, Rachel Harlow, Rae Bourbon, Francis Renault, Dawn Langley Simmons, Abby Sinclair, Angela Douglas, Perry Desmond, Lee Brewster, Liz Eden, Holly Woodlawn, Carlotta. To be blunt about it: if Bullough did not know of half of these people he had no right to publish on this subject.
In 1993, Vern and his wife, Bonnie, published Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender, specifically on transpeople and their doctors. In the chapter “Transsexualism” he discusses (only) 6 known transsexuals: Lili Elbe (surgery 1931), Alan Hart (1918), Roberta Cowell (1951), Michael Dillon (1949), Christine Jorgensen (1953) and Jan Morris(1972)– none of whom had a male partner. He does also mention Coccinelle (1958), who had three husbands after her operation, but he puts her in the “Drag Queens and Cross Dressing on the Stage” chapter rather than the “Transsexualism” chapter, and omits all mention of her husbands. There is no mention at all of April Ashley (1960) whose divorce by her husband set such an unfortunate precedent, but then she could not be mentioned without admitting that she had a husband. Almost all the people that I mentioned in the previous paragraph are still apparently unknown to the Bulloughs, as are the extra people who were in the news in the additional 14 years. Only Jan Morris and Coccinelle transitioned later than Jorgensen in 1953. Thus in the 40 years prior to writing their book, the Bulloughs seem to have become aware of only two more transsexuals, although they knew of Michael Dillon from Liz Hodgkinson's 1989 biography rather than from the media kerfuffle in 1958. In the “Organized Transvestism” chapter, again, only his friend Virginia Prince is mentioned, and the equally important work by Louise Lawrence, José Sarria and Sylvia Rivera is totally ignored.
Evidently Bullough is uncomfortable with transsexuals or transvestites who have male partners. This explains why he was unable to name any gay transvestites or transsexuals in his 1979 book, and why Coccinelle is put in the other chapter in the 1993 book.
And one more thing. The Bulloughs ignore completely the organizations for female-to-males. Surely they would not omit Reed Erickson, his former sponsor? Actually they do. But the next major ftm organizer is Louis Sullivan. Okay, he is briefly mentioned (p306) as a female cross-dresser who finds men's clothing erotic. They suppress the fact that he transitioned to male, and – this fits the pattern - that he became a man to be a gay man, a role that he tragically embraced to the point of dying of Aids.
In his final book with Ariadne Kane, Crossing Sexual Boundaries, 2006, Bullough's Introduction again - as we now expect - fails to mention any transsexuals with male lovers/husbands, as does the book itself which contains 18 mtf and 2 ftm autobiographical essays, but not a single one in which the person has a male spouse. As Kane has said (click the link in the previous sentence): "We tried to involve contributors from all sectors of the gender spectrum, including androgynes, non operative and post-operative, individuals, spouses and close friends of ‘T’ people" --- and they could not find a single transy with a male partner!!!
In his Preface to Richard Docter’s biography of Virginia Prince Bullough makes the claim – that surprisingly has been ignored in the debate about social construction - that “there is no evidence in Western culture of what might be called a heterosexual transvestite consciousness before the twentieth century”, and probably not before Magnus Hirschfield coined the term 'transvestite' in 1910. Michel Foucault is associated with the claim that there were no homosexuals before that term was coined in 1869, and this claim is wrongly taken to represent the social constructionist position. The historian Rictor Norton has written extensively against social constructionism largely by demonstrating the many homosexuals who existed and had sex before 1869.
What a shame that Bullough made this claim only in a Preface to someone else's book. Could someone pay attention to the claim and either refute it or develop it.
Photo of Bullough, Prince, and Docter from Docter's book.
- Vern L. Bullough. Sexual Variance in Society and History. New York: Wiley 1976.
- Vern L. Bullough. Homosexuality, a History. New York: New American Library 1979.
- Vern L. Bullough & Bonnie Bullough. Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press 1993.
- Vern L. Bullough, Bonnie Bullough & James Elias (ed). Gender Blending. Amherst NY: Prometheus Books 1997.
- Vern L. Bullough. “Preface” in Richard F Docter. From Man to Woman: The Transgender Journey of Virginia Prince. Docter Press xiv, 149 pp 2004.
- J. Ari Kane-Demaios (Ariadne Kane) & Vern L. Bullough (eds) Crossing Sexual Boundaries: Transgender Journeys, Uncharted Paths Prometheus Books, 365 pp, 2006.