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07 September 2013

Vern Leroy Bullough (1928 – 2006). Historian and sexologist.

Original February 2008. Revised September 2013. 

Vern Bullough was born and raised in Salt Lake City.  He and his high-school sweetheart, Bonnie Uckerman (1927 - 1996), left the Mormon Church as teenagers in protest against its then exclusion of black people.  Bonnie's mother left her family to live with a woman, Berry Berryman.  Vern found this fascinating and asked many questions and met their gay and lesbian friends.  Vern and Bonnie married in 1947, and had two children. 

After being in the US Army, Vern did a BA in history at the University of Utah and an MA and PhD in 1954 at Chicago University, using GI Bill Benefits. He specialized in the Middle Ages and did a dissertation on medical education.  He was hired the same year to teach at Youngstown University in Ohio. 

In 1959 he became a professor of history at San Fernando Valley State College  (which later became California State University at Northridge), and Bonnie, already a nurse, completed a PhD in Sociology.  Shortly afterwards Vern became associated with Virginia Prince.   He also became involved with the homophile organization, ONE, Inc and became head of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

Vern and Bonnie became friends with Prince and visited Virginia and his wife Doreen at home.  They attended the second meeting of the Hose and Heel Club in 1960.  Having published several articles and books on the early history of medicine and nursing, Vern felt that he could look at sex, and published The History of Prostitution in 1964.  Working with ONE, Inc, where he came to know Harry Hay, Jim Kepner and Don Slater, Vern was successful in getting the San Fernando Valley chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to adopt a policy of protection of homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals.  He was chairman when the local ACLU was very involved in the struggle to desegregate Los Angeles City schools.

In 1965 ONE, Inc split into two competing factions, and Vern Bullough was one of only two people who were able to maintain working relationships with both sides.  In 1966 the national ACLU adopted a national policy re homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals based on Bullough's draft.

He rode in an early gay parade in Hollywood in 1966 that Slater organized to demand that gays be drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Bullough opposed the war but supported gays' rights to serve in the military.  That same year Vern was able to visit West Asia on a Fulbright scholarship.   However the trip was marred when his son David was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Jerusalem.  The Bulloughs subsequently adopted three children of different races, two of whom are gay.

Vern allied himself with gay causes, and was a founder of gay caucuses in the American Historical Association and the American Sociological Association. He was a charter member of the original Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), which was founded in Los Angeles.  He established the Vern and Bonnie Bullough Collection on Sex and Gender, housed at the campus' Oviatt Library.  He “halfway encouraged” John Brown to do transsexual surgery, as he admits with chagrin. In 1974 Vern and Bonnie organized a conference in Los Angeles under the auspices of the Institute for the Study of Human Resources (ISHR, associated with ONE and sponsored by Reed Erickson) which brought together Virginia Prince, Christine Jorgensen, Zelda Suplee, Laud Humphries, Christopher Isherwood and Evelyn Hooker.  The same year he and Bonnie published, The Subordinate Sex, 1974. This was his first book sponsored by the millionaire trans man Reed Erickson, and the one in which he made the claim that Islam is a sex-positive religion.

In 1976 Vern Bullough, Dorr Legg and other members of ONE, Inc finally published their An Annotated Bibliography of Homosexuality: In Two Volumes, which also contained the largest bibliography of transvestite and transsexual material available at that time.  His Sexual Variance  of the same year was again sponsored by Reed Erickson.  It contains many examples of gay and transgendered behavior showing that it differs across time and between cultures.

Bonnie progressed from sociology instructor to professor of nursing, chair of primary care and coordinator of the graduate nursing program.

In 1979 Virginia Prince gave a talk at Northridge and Vern introduced her to his colleague, Richard Docter.  Vern published his Homosexuality, a History, the final book sponsored by Reed Erickson.  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. For some reason, even at the price of damaging the logic of his book, he chose not to mention at all any of 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. This was the first sign that he was censoring the existence of gay/androphilic trans women.

Later that year Vern and Bonnie Bullough moved to the State University of New York at Buffalo where Vern was dean of natural and social sciences, and Bonnie was dean of nursing.  In 1981 Vern earned a Batchelor of Science in Nursing from California State University, Long Beach, and proudly put his Registered Nurse license number on his CV.    In 1992 he was honored by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and was their chairman 1995-6.  He was also on the editorial board of Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia

In 1993 Vern and Bonnie Bullough returned to Los Angeles after their retirement. Vern again taught at Northridge as an adjunct professor until 2003. That year Vern and Bonnie published Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender, specifically on trans people and their doctors. In the chapter “Transsexualism” they discuss (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, incidentally, 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 a previous paragraph are still apparently unknown to the Bulloughs, as are the extra people who were in the news in the additional 14 years. Of those mentioned, 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.  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.

Bonnie Bullough died in 1996, just before the publication of the anthology Gender Blending edited by herself, Vern and James Elias.  Vern quickly re-married.

In 2004 Vern encouraged Richard Docter to write and publish his biography of Virginia Prince and provided a Preface.
Helen Boyd asked Bullough to comment on rumors that he must be a cross-dresser because of his strong interests in the transgender community. Others assumed that he was gay and were disappointed to learn that he was an avowed heterosexual.
"If I was everything I wrote books about, I would probably be a very screwed-up person," he said, mentioning his works on sadomasochism, pedophilia, masturbation and other forms of sexual expression. I consider myself a sex researcher, and I will admit to having a strong interest in the way people sexually express themselves."
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: "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 trans person with a male partner!!!

Bullough died later in 2006, of cancer.  He was 77.  

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Apparently Bullough was uncomfortable with transsexuals or transvestites who have male partners. This would explain 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.  However this is odd in that he worked so well with gay organizations as well as with Virginia Prince.  He is even critical of Prince for proclaiming that transvestites are necessarily heterosexual.  And yet the omission is plainly there in his books.  I suspect somehow the influence of Prince, who apparently also had input into the non-presence of gay transvestites in Harry Benjamin's book and scale. 


Photo of Bullough, Prince, and Docter from Docter's book.
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 modified 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?
---------
  • 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.  "In Memory of Bonnie Bullough".  The Journal of Sex Research, 33,3, 1996: 179-181.   
  • Vern L. Bullough, Bonnie Bullough & James Elias (ed). Gender Blending. Amherst NY: Prometheus Books 1997. 
  • Raj Ayyar.  "America's Foremost Historian of Sexuality: Vern L. Bullough, RN, PhD ".  Gay Today, 01/01/03.  http://gaytoday.com/interview/010103in.asp.
  • Vern L. Bullough. “Preface” in Richard F Docter. From Man to Woman: The Transgender Journey of Virginia Prince. Docter Press xiv, 149 pp 2004. 
  • Helen Boyd.  "Five Questions With… Vern Bullough".  en|Gender, November 16, 2005.   www.myhusbandbetty.com/2005/11/16/five-questions-with-vern-bullough.
  • J. Ari Kane-Demaios (Ariadne Kane) & Vern L. Bullough (eds) Crossing Sexual Boundaries: Transgender Journeys, Uncharted Paths Prometheus Books, 365 pp, 2006. 
  • Elaine Woo.  "Vern Bullough, 77; Prolific Author Was Scholar of Sex History".  Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2006.  http://articles.latimes.com/2006/jul/02/local/me-bullough2.
  • Wayne Dynes.  "Vern Bullough, 1928 - 2006".  Dyneslines, July 02, 2006.   http://dyneslines.blogspot.ca/2006/07/vern-bullough-1928-2006.html.
  • Jeremy Pearce.  "Vern Leroy Bullough, 77, Noted Medical Historian, Dies" The New York Times, July 3, 2006.  www.nytimes.com/2006/07/03/us/03bullough.html.
  • www.vernbullough.com
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