Casa Susanna: Photographs From a 1950s Transvestite Hideaway

Casa Susanna: Photographs From a 1950s Transvestite Hideaway

“I never stopped to think what a heterosexual transvestite was,” admitted Tony award-winning writer and actor Harvey Fierstein in a recent, wide-ranging discussion with LightBox about his new play, Casa Valentina, and the powerful real-life photos that inspired it.

Based on the story of Casa Susanna – a little-known refuge for heterosexual transvestites in the 1950s and early 1960s in the Catskills, New York – Casa Valentina tells a very Fiersteinian tale of people searching out their true selves against a backdrop of both unconditional fellowship and stark intolerance.

His research led him to the writings of the house matriarch, Susanna Valenti, also known as Tito, who ran the resort and wrote essays for Tranvestia, a magazine published from 1960-1980 and aimed at cross-dressing men who defined themselves then as “sexually normal” (as opposed to homosexual)

The images seen here were discovered about a decade ago at a Manhattan flea market by an antiques dealer, Robert Swope, and the collection was later published in the book, Casa Susanna (powerHouse, 2005). Today, the photographs are all that remain of Susanna – once called the Chevalier d’Eon, after an 18th-century crossdresser and spy.

The photos document the secret lives of men dressing as women and who are, perhaps, in flight from conforming to roles traditionally considered “manly – breadwinning for their families, making repairs around the house – even if just for a weekend.

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