Isn’t being a girl, simply put, our single most important desire and it’s not better expressed than in these photos from Casa Susanna. Casa Susanna was a getaway for cross-dressers in the 1950s and 1960s in Hunter, New York. At a time when gender norms allowed for little to no flexibility, this safe haven allowed men to explore their gender fluidity and express their femininity. These rare and glamorous photos below reveal the gender fluidity of cross-dressers when exploring your gender wasn’t done outside safe spaces.
Tito Valenti, who often went by the name of Susanna, founded the house, along with his wife Marie, who ran a wig store on Fifth Avenue. The pair hosted a variety of men, some who brought wives and girlfriends along with them, others who left their significant others at home. In the safe space of Casa Susanna, men donned a variety of mid-century costumes associated with femininity: the housewife, the femme fatale, the blushing schoolgirl. I wish there was such a place today like Casa Susanna where I could go and express all those feelings of femininity that are me.
I’ve written of Casa Susanna before but what caught my attention in this Huffpost article was, as noted by the Los Angeles Times, “The photos are notable because they are not garish or bawdy. These are not drag queens, simply men enjoying the freedom to explore sides of themselves normally locked up tight.” Isn’t that what we all want?
The images even inspired a play by Harvey Fierstein titled “Casa Valentina,” which in turn prompted more thought on the inner lives of these photographic subjects. “Their dressing isn’t so they can be with other girls and play bridge,” Fierstein explained. “Their dressing is to lose the male role. ‘I don’t have to take the car in. I’m freed from having all the answers. I’m freed from being the breadwinner.’ It’s to take on the female — they call it ‘the girl within.’ It’s to become this idealized female.” It’s being a girl.
“The most interesting thing I learned in all of this,” Fierstein continued, “and what really became fascinating to me, is that there is no ‘normal’ to heterosexual… It’s all, as Kinsey said, a ‘sliding scale.’”
This striking set of photos reveals a forgotten world, full of card games and home cooked meals and makeup tutorials. The “Casa Susanna: A Photographic Archive from the Collection of Robert Swope and Michel Hurst“ series went to auction recently at Wright’s New York Gallery. Take a journey of Casa Susanna with the images below and see Huffposts’s coverage of the Casa Susanna book here.
Sister House is fortunate to have an original copy of Casa Susanna. All the photos have been digitized and are available under the Photo Wall in the Lounge. Sister House is all about femininity so explore our many articles in the Lounge about being a girl. You need to be a member of Sister House to see the photos. Not a member, easy, just sign up here. And if normal is important to you, then read about our Stylish Crossdressers. girls that personify the many everyday normal looks of women.