American Experience: Casa Susanna

Tuesday, June 27 at 8 p.m.

In the 1950s and ’60s, an underground network of transgender women and cross-dressing men found refuge at a house in the Catskills region of New York. Known as Casa Susanna, the house provided a safe place to express their true selves.

Using a rich trove of color photos of Casa Susanna’s guests, archival footage and personal remembrances, the film introduces us to Diana and Kate, two people whose lives were forever changed at Casa Susanna. We join them as they travel back to the now-abandoned site and share their memories of a time when people like them, from all over the country, came to a place where they were free to dress and live as women from morning to night. They found each other and the refuge of Casa Susanna through word-of-mouth and Transvestia, a magazine for and by the trans and cross-dressing community. 

The film also recounts the forgotten life of Susanna Valenti, the courageous woman who ran the house. From her enlistment in the army as a man to her marriage to Marie, an eccentric older Italian woman, Susanna led a life that, even today, many would find hard to imagine. Like Susanna, many who came to the Catskills house had ordinary jobs, were in heterosexual marriages and had fathered children. 

The film is a moving look inside a secret world where the persecuted found freedom and acceptance.

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