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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The search is on for that “bigger closet”

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I have recently spent a decent amount of time looking into support groups in my area… or I should say anything within a 250 mile radius, because there simply isn’t anything close to me. There are “ghosts” of organizations that I have discovered while surfing the internet, but they all have led to disappointing dead ends.

Web searches frequently find what appear to be promising results, but when clicked lead to a “page not found” or some grossly outdated information that leads one to believe the group hasn’t been active for quite awhile. One link was so old it led to a Geocities page, and the Geocities web network has been defunct for well over 5 years or so.

I am willing to travel a bit if the group/organization is good. In fact, I kind of prefer it be a decent distance from my closet so that I don’t potentially run into anyone who knows me. It would be horrifying to run into someone who could cause me to be outed, but I guess they would be in a similar situation if I ran into them at a cross-dressing support group.

Still, I have yet to find any potential groups or organizations at this point, but am determined to explore the regional options fully before admitting defeat. I still have plenty of time to continue the search.

I had been discussing my lack of fruitful results to date with Samantha, who wondered why I needed a support group at all. Her point was that I am not in distress or suffering any real issues related to my cross-dressing, so what exactly do I need “support” with? This spawned much deeper conversation as I began to go down that rabbit hole… what was a really looking for?

Initially I have been simply looking for someplace to go when going out as Valerie. Sort of like a half-way house” to assist my transition to a more substantial existence outside my closet. This would be the the next or “bigger closet” as Kirsty and Ruth have described many times. Maybe not ideal for everyone, but a significant growth step for my closeted existence to date.

I will likely be going out next fall by myself, which is already a nerve-racking thought. Having a safe & sympathetic destination arranged would be extremely comforting. I suppose I could go to a trans* friendly gay bar, but I’m not sure that would be a good idea for someone not experienced in going out and trying to blend in, and I certainly wouldn’t want to have to contend with the idea of any sexual overtones. An organized support group just seems like the ideal next step.

So the conversation continued with the occasional person popping into the chat to say they either loved their support group or to describe some less than satisfying experiences. I recognize I may or may not find an ideal group but still need to have the experience first hand, regardless of how positive or negative others experiences may have been. Most of the others agreed that their experiences shouldn’t stop me from trying to find a good option and encouraged me to do so.

But it was during the conversation that I think I really realized what it was I am truly seeking… if I push aside all the excuses and insecurities… I think I just want someone to talk to.

I love chatting online with Samantha and the other girls. I love posting on some of the forums I have visited over the years and reading the many opinions in the discussions. I love exchanging emails with the people I have with come to know from various sources. I love the friends and acquaintances I have made through So Very Deep. But even with all the interactions, conversations, sympathies, common experiences, and shared stories… I just would like to talk face to face with someone like me, or at least someone who understands and accepts me.

I want a chance to be myself, dress like myself, and talk to other people in person. I don’t know why this is such a big deal to me, except that 1st person interaction is the one thing being in the closet does not allow for. My wife and I have have discussed my cross-dressing, and bless her for trying to be accommodating, but it’s just not her thing. I am just tired of being silent in real life.

I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know if it will be satisfying or severely disappointing. At this point I don’t even know if I will find a group, but I know I have to seek it out and at least cross this bridge to see what is on the other side.

Maybe I make some friends. Maybe I can grow with the group and eventually help it to grow bigger. Maybe it is a complete waste of time. All I know is that “maybe” and “what-ifs” are words frequently used by the restrained, bound, and yes… closeted. They are words Valerie uses frequently and I hate that. It is time for a “bigger closet”.

-ValS

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