Vern Bullough, R.I.P.
Too many people I love are dying. If you follow my bloggamy, you know I came dangerously close myself about a month ago, and I’m still working my way out of death’s dark woods. Shortly before, my friend Dabney Zorthian died. Then Scott had a sudden heart attack and left us. Now, I’ve just learned that while I was in the hospital, my dear friend and mentor, renowned sexologist Dr. Vern Bullough, passed away. Vern had told me a few months ago that he had inoperable cancer and wouldn’t last much longer, so I’m not surprised. But the pain of losing him is still strong.
Many people, especially in the fields of sexology and sex history, feel the same way. “We have lost the most important historian of our field,” said Eli Coleman, a past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, who directs the human sexuality program at the University of Minnesota medical school. “It would be very hard to find somebody that had so extensively studied so many areas within sexuality,” Coleman added. “Vern was all over the field — not in a superficial way but in a very deep way.”
Vern had an encyclopedic knowledge of sex and wrote groundbreaking books on a variety of subjects, such as homosexuality, prostitution, transgenderism and crossdressing. Titles included “The History of Prostitution” (1964), “The Subordinate Sex” (1973), “Sexual Variance in Society and History” (1976), “An Annotated Bibliography of Homosexuality” (1976), “Homosexuality: A History” (1979), “Cross-Dressing, Sex and Gender” (1993), “Science in the Bedroom” (1994), “American Sexuality: An Encyclopedia” (1994) and “How I Got into Sex” (1997). Among his many accolades is the Alfred Kinsey Award for distinguished sex research. He was a widely respected scholar and professor at several universities, and he always tried to help others with his connections. Vern got me my lecture gig at USC in which I speak to undergrads on the subjects of Bonobos and Fetishes. Now another branch of USC, the General Hospital ER, saved my life, even as Vern lost his.
Vern’s life was packed with awesome accomplishments. But my personal memories are of his visits to my show, both as a fascinating featured guest (“Learn with Vern”), and as an active enthusiastic member of the audience. I remember watching him and his second wife Gwen, a retired English professor, one Eros Day as they intently observed Big D (Eros) and Leila Swan (Aphrodite) making heavenly love on my bed, Big D in his angel wings, Leila squirting like a fountain. Was this a unique opportunity for eye-witness sex research for Vern? Or an aphrodisiac that would inspire a night of hot love between him and Gwen later on? Probably a bit of both. Vern was always ready to learn.
The last time I saw him was at my salon with Dr. Betty Dodson (who sent me word of his passing). He did look older than his 77 years that night, but his boyish enthusiasm for the evening’s discussion and activities was vital as ever, later writing me that he’d “enjoyed himself very much.” I’m glad I didn’t know that was the last time I’d see him, or I would have cried all night.
Thank you, Vern, for all of your tremendous pioneering work in sexology, sex history and sexual freedom. Thank you for reaching out to me several years ago, supporting my work and becoming my friend. Your work lives on in schools and libraries, and in the laws you fought for that let more and more people live their sexual lives in peace. Your love lives on in our hearts.
My own heart is broken over losing you, Scott and Dabney. But I better Krazy-Glue it back together and get back to work on my own recovery. I miss you, but I’m nowhere near ready to join you.