GWS Lecturer – Sé Sullivan


  • Cal State University, East Bay (Queer Conference – March 2nd, 2019)
  • Mills College April 17th, 2019
  • Keynote and exhibition on April 5th at the Transverse Conference at CSU Stanislaus


While privately, one might prefer to modify society’s attitudes towards cross-gender behavior, in the consultation room with an unhappy youngster, one feels far more optimistic about modifying the behavior of that one child than the entire of society.

– Green, Newman & Stoller, 1972, p.217
Box 16 Memo 9/6/1963 Robert Stoller Collection UCLA

(Ab) NORMAL & (Un) NATURAL: Performing Identity &Engendering Resistance

In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Genderin the United States began to be constructed and defined within the Medical Industrial Complex as essentially binary: male and female. Across the country gender research clinics started popping up at universities such as Johns Hopkins and University of California, Los Angeles. Their aims were both diagnostic and corrective; they sought to understand the parameters of “normal and natural,” and fix those who didn’t fit. This intimate exhibition examines this construction ofGender through the story of one child’s experience at UCLA’s Gender Research Clinic and their resistance to the enforced practices of conversion therapy.

Dr. Sé Sullivan began this project as an autoethnographic exploration that developed into their Ph.D thesis  in the Social and Cultural Anthropology at CIIS. During their research they made a ground-breaking discovery: In the restricted boxes of the Robert Stoller Papers at UCLA was the 1970 file that included a transcribed 68-page oral interrogation of Sé as an eight-year-old being seen at the school’s Gender Identity Research Clinic (1963-1994). “This file, file number 24,” Sé writes, “is a historical document and record of mybody as a site of data collection.”

This exhibition is constructed around printed portions of that transcript, providing viewers with first hand access to the process of collecting data to formulate a pathology for Gender Dysphoria. The exhibition also includes those sections of transcript as an audio experience, illuminating the assumptions under which they defined the parameters of normalcy, the speculative nature of their diagnostic process, and the violence—lived and implied—of their corrective therapies. Placed in front of—positioned to interrupt the linear presentation of the transcript—is a selection of four photographs drawn from Sé’s life that tell a story of resistance.

In this exhibit, Sé examines both the cultural practice of storytelling and the academic aim of recognizing counter narratives. Their scholarship is grounded in contemporary trans and queer theory, critical race theory, and women of color frameworks for analysis.


Sé Sullivan is currently an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley and Mills College. Sé—also a journeyperson carpenter, and performance artist—received their PhD from California Institute of Integral Studies. A self-identified Genderidentity non-participant, a survivor of the UCLA Gender Identity Research Clinic (1963-1994), and a big old QUEER, their56-year front-row seat to both the development of–and the resistance to–binary heteronormative gender birth assignments that inform their academic scholarship help shape the conversations involved in the deconstruction of a medicalized construction of Gender.