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Casa Susanna: The Story of the First Trans Network in the United States, 1959-1968

Isabelle Bonnet

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Thames & Hudson
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In the 1950s and '60s, an underground network of transgender women, gender nonconforming people, and men who dressed as women found refuge at a modest house in the Catskills, New York. Known as Casa Susanna, the house provided a safe place to express their true selves and live for a few days as they had always dreamed--dressed as and living as women without fear of being incarcerated or institutionalized for their self-expression.

Casa Susanna opens up that now-lost world. The photographs--mostly discovered by chance in a New York flea market in 2004--chronicle the experiences of these women in states of relaxation, experimentation, connection, and joy. All of this was made possible by Susanna Valenti who--on her own journey toward womanhood--created Casa Susanna, a protected space where others could do the same. Supplementing the images, excerpts from the magazine Transvestia record a different kind of space where those who had been outcast by a rigidly binary society could connect.

The people who came to Casa Susanna found a space where they could explore and celebrate their own and each other's femininity, as they could not elsewhere. Their creations are also a reminder that there were, and still are, many ways to explore the boundaries of gender.