Casa Susanna was an alluring utopia. It was the first trans network in the US, born out of the need to find a safe haven to be oneself. The record of this hidden community has now been published in a new book from Thames & Hudson.
The book is well-crafted and researched and includes an array of never-before-seen photographs. These images weave a narrative of profound significance, chronicling the untold stories of men embracing women’s attire, gender-nonconforming individuals, and transwomen during the transformative decades of the 1950s and ’60s.
This archive is a poignant time capsule of America’s inaugural trans network; the photographs transcend mere visual documentation, offering a glimpse into the lives of those who sought refuge within the walls of Casa Susanna. This clandestine haven was nestled in the Catskills in upper-state New York. It emerged as a haven for those daring to express their authentic selves amid the oppressive norms of a conservative era.
Susanna Valenti, a visionary on her journey towards womanhood, plays a central role in this narrative. Her struggles against societal prejudices and personal tribulations culminated in the creation of Casa Susanna, a space where others could traverse a similar path of self-discovery and acceptance.
The photographs are a testament to resilience, strength, and the audacity to defy societal norms and provide an intimate window into the transformative power of this unique haven.
The heart of “Casa Susanna” lies in these visual narratives—moments frozen in time, capturing states of ease, experimentation, connection, and sheer joy. Each image evokes a powerful sense of celebration for those who dared to explore and celebrate their femininity.
Accompanying these visuals are excerpts from the magazine “Transvestia,” an additional layer to this multifaceted narrative. These snippets capture the voices of those marginalised by a rigidly binary society, finding solace in the unconventional space of connection fostered by Casa Susanna.
“Casa Susanna” beautifully encapsulates a bygone era where individuals, ostracised by the rigid confines of a binary society, discovered a refuge for exploring and celebrating their femininity.
The images resonate with the spirit of experimentation and self-discovery, serving as a potent reminder that, even in the face of societal constraints, myriad ways exist to navigate and redefine gender boundaries.
Beyond being a historical account, the narrative spun by “Casa Susanna” is a nod to the indomitable human spirit’s quest for authenticity. It prompts readers to reflect on the transformative power of spaces like Casa Susanna, where individuals, constrained by societal norms, found the courage to embark on uncharted territories in exploring identity and gender expression. On every page, “Casa Susanna” stands as a testament to the enduring power of resilience, acceptance, and the pursuit of genuine selfhood.
Susanna Valenti was an important figure in the story of Casa Susanna. Susanna’s name, according to her birth record, is Tito (Humberto) Arriagada, born in Santiago, Chile in 1917. Susanna was a trans woman and a pioneer in creating a haven for transgender individuals during a time when societal norms were particularly rigid regarding gender expression.
Susanna Valenti and her wife Marie established Casa Susanna in the 1950s. It was a retreat located in the Catskills, New York, where transgender women, gender-nonconforming individuals, and men who embraced feminine attire could gather and express themselves without fear of persecution or judgment. The house provided a sanctuary for individuals to temporarily escape the societal expectations and norms of the 1950s and ’60s.
Susanna’s journey towards womanhood and her struggles against societal prejudices played a crucial role in establishing Casa Susanna. She created a space where others could explore their identities freely, fostering a sense of community and acceptance.
While not much is known about Susanna Valenti’s life beyond her involvement with Casa Susanna, her contribution to creating a haven for gender nonconforming individuals and transwomen is a significant part of the history of LGBTQ+ rights and the exploration of gender identity in the mid-20th century. The legacy of Casa Susanna lives on through the photographs and stories that capture the spirit of those who found solace within its walls. – PCR Artlyst © 2024