Casa Susanna

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By now, most of you know some of the main things that make Valerie South tick. Unless you are new to So Very Deep, everyone knows that 1) I am a cross-dresser 2) I love 1950’s fashions and vintage items, and 3) I constantly search for (and collect) vintage/1950’s photographs and images of women and clothes… many that I feature in my posts.

When you combine all of these things and add in the power of the internet, it’s no surprise that I regularly happen upon references to ‘Casa Susanna’. I decided that it was time that I further immortalize the Casa in my blog, and introduce everyone to the support group I was meant to be a part of, but somehow missed by about 60 years.

In the 1950s through the early 1960’s, Casa Susanna became one of the first retreats for transvestites. It was located in Hunter, New York, which can be found in the Catskill mountains of New York state. Located on a 150 acre property, Casa Susanna consisted of a main house, surrounded by several bungalows/cabins. These bungalows were originally let out to summer vacationers (think Dirty Dancing maybe?) and occasionally to some hunters and other groups in the off-season. As the location began to lose favor with those summer patrons, that is when the “ladies” began to visit most weekends.

In an era when gender roles were extremely narrowly defined, Casa Susanna provided many cross-dressers and trans* persons a safe place to escape to. A place rarely found in the time period, that allowed them to express themselves without the negative pressures of 1950’s/60’s mentality. I love the time period, but as we know there was little to no tolerance for any flexibility in the gender binary.

Casa Susanna was run by one Susanna Valenti, who’s wife coincidentally ran a wig store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. It was through the store that the ladies began to find each other and eventually found their way to Casa Susanna. Others found Casa Susanna through a home-made magazine called “Transvestia”, which was founded and mainly written by one of the initial visitors to Casa Susanna, known as Virginia. Susanna reportedly also contributed articles to “Transvestia”.

Besides Susanna Valenti ( a court translator) and her wife Maria (wig store owner) , we now know the main group of regular visitors to Casa Susanna included a professional pilot (Felicity), a businessman (Cynthia), an accountant (Gail), a librarian and editor (Sandy), a pharmacologist (Virginia – founder of “Transvestia”), and a newspaper publisher (Fiona).

Casa Susanna largely stayed a secret for years, and after shutting down in the early 60’s remained hush-hush, with the former members keeping knowledge of Casa Susanna to themselves. Then, sometime in the early 2000’s, an antiques dealer named Robert Swope came upon a box at a flea market in Manhattan. The box was full of pictures taken of the ladies at Casa Susanna and he ended up publishing them in a book around 2005.

Much of the inside story of Casa Susanna remains secretive, but after the publishing of the book of photos, several former members came forward to tell some stories. Most remained anonymous, but told similar of similar experiences… just being able to dress up and do normal things such a cooking, playing games, and sitting around talking with others of similar mindsets.

I may not have all the facts perfectly straight, as the photos are much easier to come by than the history and story of Casa Susanna. I keep looking deeper for more details because I am fascinated by the entire existence of Casa Susanna and the ladies who visited during its heyday. I will leave you with some of the images to peruse. I can’t help but feel that I missed out on this experience. Sometime in the future I may find myself traveling through the Catskills, dressed as Valerie, just to pay homage to these ladies.

Enjoy…

-ValS

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Hello, can we talk?

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In a very recent post, I mentioned that my wife and daughter had come across a young man that they clearly thought had to be a cross-dresser. I also mentioned that I fought the urge to go in and see for myself.

I’m not sure what I would have said or done, if anything, if I would have gone in to look at these “obvious long and pink fingernails”. If I would have said to him/her something along the lines of “I love your nails”, how would she have reacted? Would she have said thanks? Would she have gone into some detail? Would she have ignored the comment? Would she (he?) have been offended?

Truth is none of us knew why this individual had long pink fingernails. Maybe he lost a bet and his girlfriend put him up to it. Maybe he was test subject for his sister that was in cosmetology school. Far fetched? Absolutely, but the point is one can’t just assume she was a cross-dresser. Now that I am a couple weeks removed, I’m glad I didn’t go in and gawk or make a comment I may have later regretted.

But how should the CD/TG/TG etiquette play out in a situation where we come across what we think is a kindred spirit? Since in 99% of the cases, the individual will be just trying to blend in, should we just continue on as if we are unaware there is anything other than a woman there? Clearly I wouldn’t want to make anyone more self conscious or out them. On the surface, this seems like the best option to me.

Would it make a difference if we are both dressed as women? Does that make it less threatening than if a “guy” approached them and let them know they are also transgendered? Again, I think that person would just be like “yeah, great, now get the hell away from me!”

On the other hand, having another person with you may make you less noticeable. Especially if the other person is a guy and treating you like the woman you are presenting as. Maybe not.

I like talking to other cross-dressers and TG people (obviously). If I were dressed in public, trying to blend in, and someone approached me to talk about cross-dressing, I wouldn’t truly know what their motivation to approach me is. Are they a kindred spirit and just wanting to talk? Are they curious and just checking out the situation? Are they amused and hoping to get a selfie with the queen to post of Facebook? As closeted as I am, I would probably assume the worst and remove myself from the situation.

Then there is the possibility that what I think is a kindred spirit is in fact a GG (genetic or genuine girl). How embarrassing for the both of us! How insulting to her!! Oh sorry, I thought you were a cross-dresser and not a woman. That individual would likely have already had similar comments hurled at her, and I would have just then sunk her to a new low in self esteem.

Nope, no way, can’t do it. The more I ramble, the more I am convincing myself that there is no good way to approach this or reasonable outcome that could occur. Best to just smile in a friendly way, and go about your business.

There should be a way to ID each other out in the world without too much difficulty. That way you could participate if you wanted or not if you were uncomfortable. Sort of the secret “handshake” mentality. Displaying the sign would be a way to publicly say “I’m one of us lucky ones” and the normal folk would be oblivious to its meaning. But in the end, the secret would get leaked, and everyone one would know that anyone displaying such a sign was a cross-dresser, and thus defeat the purpose.

So my wife and daughter saw what they thought was a cross-dresser. The mere mention of it kept my mind wondering for several hours at the possibilities of what the true situation was. I also kept thinking that it would be nice to look at my hands on the steering wheel and see some long pink fingernails (actually red would preferred, of course) and I was a bit jealous. No, I was a lot jealous. Maybe one day soon… 😉

-ValS