Interview with Gregg Sullivan

Gregg Sullivan was interviewed by Alison Kennedy on November 1, 2007.

Gregg Sullivan was almost seventy-three years old at the time of the interview. She grew up in Troy, North Carolina, with her parents and brother, and currently lives in Burlington, North Carolina with her husband, John Sullivan. She has three children and five grandchildren. Gregg attended college at Wake Forest and later completed a degree in Philosophy at Elon University. She received her graduate degree from University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Gregg has worked with men in prison, worked with adults in federal programs, worked at Elon University, and served as the associate director of the Methodist student center.  She has frequently spoken to high school and college-aged men and women about sexuality.

On Family

Gregg greatly admired her mother.  This is apparent in the description she provides of her:

My mother was one of the first fifty women lawyers in North Carolina, and practiced law until she had children. But this was back in the twenties and thirties, and in a small town women didn’t have that kind of profession. When she had my brother, she gave up law, which was really a shame because she was good at it and she loved it. She taught school. She taught senior English in high school for forty years, and also drama and public speaking. I think she was the smartest woman I have ever known. I really do believe that. She was absolutely amazing.

Listen to the audio of Gregg’s response about her family.

On breaking traditional gender roles

Gregg mentioned that her father called her an “oddball” when she was a child. When asked why he considered her odd, Gregg responded:

Well, I was never a very good girl. I still don’t know, obviously, how to put on makeup or do my hair. I like digging in the yard, and when I was younger and more physically able, I backpacked, I canoed. I really liked hanging out with men better than women because I thought they were more funny, could do things that were more fun. I love football. I like sports a lot. And my mother was like that. My mother would go to high school football games. Of course she taught all the boys, so she’d run up and down the sidelines yelling for the players, and I would be so embarrassed because I would think, “Why aren’t you at home listening to soap operas on the radio fixing my supper like any normal mother?” But as I got older I thought, “This is wonderful that I have a mother like this.”

Listen to the audio of Gregg’s response about gender.

On motherhood and identity

Gregg explains that being a mother is not what defines her :

Mother really turned us loose when we hit college. She said that you have to learn to hold people close with open arms and that if your children can’t leave home you have not been a good parent. She was always who she was. She was my mother, but she was Nita Winn, and I knew that. That was important to her. And I am Gregg Sullivan, and my definition does not come from being a mother, or a wife, or a grandmother. That’s a part of who I am, but that’s not my core. At my core I am just me. I don’t mean that in a selfish way. I think that’s important. I would say that to you or to any young person. Don’t lose who you are. You don’t owe that to anyone, and it’s a disservice.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Gregg’s thoughts on motherhood.

On Work

For many years, Gregg spoke to high school and college-aged individuals about sexuality. When asked to explain how she became interested in speaking about sexuality, Gregg responded:

Well when I was growing up, my mother was very liberal and very broad-minded and very before her time. But even she – nice people didn’t talk about sex. They had “the talk.” If you were a girl when you started having your periods the commentary was, “Nice girls don’t,” and “Girls are responsible. All boys try, and so it’s up to you to keep that under control.” And then she would mumble something about sex being sacred and holy and her face was colored red as that table, and I would think, “If it’s so sacred and holy, how come you’re looking like that?” So what we learned was just really swapping ignorance on the street corners with our friends who were as stupid as we were. I knew that that wasn’t right. I knew that there were better ways to deal with that.

Listen to the audio about Gregg’s work.

On the South

Gregg loves the South while still being aware of the burdens that it carries. Here, she discusses what she terms the South’s “terrible wounds.”

I’ve always thought that the South is an area that gives you great gifts and also carries with it terrible wounds. Our racial history was awful. There’s no way to make that all right. It wasn’t all right. It was just terrible. My folks were as unprejudiced as any people I’ve ever known, but the culture itself was a terrible culture in that sense. I think that we’re just now beginning to come to terms with the Civil War. I don’t know how to talk about that. If you’ve ever seen Ken Burns’ PBS thing on the Civil War, that explains a lot about the South, I think. The Union Army did to the South what we’re doing to Iraq. They just bombed us. I mean, they didn’t have bombs but they just…I think for a long time that was very raw, and then when people from other areas started coming here, that it was hard for us to accept that graciously.

Listen to the audio of Gregg’s thoughts about the South.

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