Susanna Valenti of Casa Susanna fame wrote regularly for Virginia Prince's Transvestia. Her take on the state of crossdressing in the early 1960s still rings true 55 years later. The following is her "Susanna Says..." column from a 1962 issue of Transvestia. I think you will find it as interesting as I did.
Little by little our little world of perfume, jewelry and fashion seems to spring open new doors towards sociability and experience-sharing events. And like so many other human endeavors, it shows up the good and bad, the strength and frailty of its members.
I have often been asked, "how do you 'weed out' curiosity seekers, fakes and otherwise undesirable elements from the stand-point of our group." In other words, how do I know that the person who writes or simply shows up at my apartment is the real thing and not a "plant" who might conceivably be harmful to the rest of the group.
If I said outright that I have learned to rely a great deal on my feminine intuition, I would certainly be accused of putting on airs of superiority. If I said that I can "smell" a fake a mile away, there would be those who would shake their heads and say that I consider myself a privileged character and that I am indulging in wishful thinking. The truth is that there is a bit of instinct at play in this "weeding out" process, plus the conclusions you instinctively learn to draw from having met many dozens of girls.
So far, I have not been wrong in my judgement. Almost everyone I've met and consented in introducing to the rest of the girls has turned out to be the real thing. This does not mean to imply that I have not had attempts made by fakes to enter the circle.
This happened just a few nights ago.
My twin brother and his wife had just arrived home after a long working day. They had barely sat down to relax when the door bell rang. A chap, well dressed stands at the door and says, "May I see Susanna Valenti?"
My twin brother without hesitation extends his hand and says,, "I'm Susanna, please come in." I spoke through him from that moment on. I apologized for not being properly dressed and led him to our living room, There we sat.
He was not nervous, but seemed to be a bit uncomfortable... How did you find out about Susanna?... A magazine I bought on 42nd St... What issue?... I don't remember... there's a a blonde in a garden-like on the cover... That's number 14. Any other issues?... No... I assume you are one of us... Well, yes... Do you indulge often?... Not too often... I assume you want to find out about the resort... Yes, where is it?... In the Catskill Mountains about 130 miles from New York... And what goes on there?... We are ourselves, quietly, peacefully, in a friendly atmosphere. Impromptu advice when needed, impromptu entertainment. Nothing planned, just freedom in privacy...
Do you have girls there?... Ourselves, of course, and occasionally wives or understanding girlfriends... I see... Tell me, do you have a wardrobe?... Not too much... What for instance?... Well, just a few items... Do you have any preferences, style, color, materials?... Well, not particularly... I see, and how are you fixed for hair?... I have something, but tell me, where is this place?... I told you, in the mountains. It's a 3-hour ride from New York. Do you drive?... Yes... Do you think you'll have the chance to visit the place?... I guess so... Do you have any makeup problems?... Not particularly... What eye-shadow do you prefer?... Well... How do you handle the padding problem?... Well... And by the way, what size dress do you take?... I don't know...
When did you get started, I mean when did you first find out about yourself?... What do you mean?... I mean the feeling, the realization... I don't exactly know, but tell me, are there many TV's in New York?... Yes... How do you go about meeting them?... Well, you've met me. The others will come later... if you are a TV. If not, forget it. If you are fishing for names and phone numbers you've come to the wrong place. Anonymity is our motto. I never ask a TV his real name, occupation or address. I don't want to know, I'm not interested. If they want to call me, they have my phone number and address. I don't contact them. They contact me. I'm not interested one bit in their male personalities... it's the hidden girl we all want to know and meet. Don't you agree?... Yes, I guess so...
Well, my friend... now you've met me... you are most welcome to drop in... if there's any advice you need, I'll be glad to help: shopping, makeup, you know... Anything else?... No, I don't think so... I guess I'd better be going... Nice meeting you... bye... bye.
And there, my friends was a fake if I ever saw one. He gave all the wrong answers, His reactions were not those of a TV. Whatever his purpose was in calling, it most certainly was not transvestism. Even the most shy TV will perk up when you lead the conversation toward frocks and makeup; there's a gleam in his eyes that no fake can possibly imitate.
So you weed them out. You know that those you've accepted are sister souls. But the weeding does not stop there. Not all of the girls meet the basic standards for the group.
What are the standards? And who are you, Susanna Valenti, to set up standards?
I don't set them up arbitrarily, my friends. They are simply the basic tenets of human behaviour that come into play when you are in the company of others. You can be a real TV, but that alone does not make you a nice person to be with. You can even be the quiet type, but still be friendly, show interest in others, forget a bit about yourself... don't drive everybody crazy by repeating ad nauseum your "fabulous" adventures.
Be helpful without being condescending. Don't set yourself up as a perfect example that should be imitated by everybody else. This is especially important when you are talking to a girl who has just come out of her locked room. She's naturally timid, even the thought of being seen by others is still rather horrifying... it is your duty to go easy, respect whatever physical or social or family limitations she must endure and don't try to force your pattern onto others. Be delicate and tactful. Don't pull out a notebook after a few minutes of conversation on your first meeting and request name, address, phone number and occupation. That's none of your TV business!!!
If, as it often happens, after a few meetings, you find that you consider each other good friends and you do need a place to mail a picture or perhaps a note, ask tactfully if she has any address you could write to and if there's any name you could address the letter to. There are many TV's who just don't want to take the chance of having their name and address in somebody else's little notebook. It might fall into the wrong hands even if the owner is sincere and means no harm. So, respect that
desire for anonymity and don't persist. Anyway, who cares about the fellow! He's usually a pretty common and rather boring entity. It's the girl within that's fun to know.
Those TV's who are more active should be extremely tactful and not try to push new and inexperienced ones onto adventures (going out, I mean) without adequate practice, or supervision. A TV should, above all be realistic. Most of the time, the gorgeous image of our own selves within our own minds is far from being so gorgeous. There is a great deal of self-deception that must be checked before it's too late. Personally I have been at fault along these lines quite often. After a few successful trips into the outer world, I thought that I was as safe as Marilyn Monroe in a studio set. Perhaps, I have mellowed with time or perhaps, I've taken a better look in the mirror, but my daytime outings have entirely ceased. Only evenings or nighttime. Not until and if, I go through electrolysis, will I carelessly defy the sunshine unless I'm in the privacy of the resort.
After observing dozens of girls in action, I've come to the conclusion that the thing that must be watched most carefully is the walk. It is not enough to think that just by shortening your step you've solved the problem. No indeed. High heels will shorten it automatically, anyway... There's more than that... A woman walks from the hips and does not give the initial impetus for the step from the knee as men do. Just observe carefully the women you see walking on the street and you'll confirm this fact. Men propel themselves along using their shoulders... women don't. The arm movement while walking is also a dead giveaway in many cases.
But coming back to the matter of behavior in a group, it is heartbreaking to see a girl making a pest of herself with the rest of the group. The type that grabs a lipstick without asking permission from the owner... the kind who wants to be the center of attraction at all times... or the kind who never has a gracious, kind compliment for others and still expects everybody to flatter her every minute of the day. To say nothing of those who find refreshments purchased by others and simply monopolizes the container and the contents without even a pretense of a "may I?"
These girls weed themselves right out of the group before they know what's happened. Nobody likes them and the circle doors begin to close. Then, mysteriously Susanna is going to be terribly busy... any meetings in prospect? No, my dear... nothing for the time being... I would like to come to the resort this weekend... Gee, I'm sorry, we are having other people there this time. I wouldn't advise you to come... And so it goes. No more invitations to stay overnight in NY, etc... and out she goes.
To like to dress is not enough. I've just re-read all of the above and it certainly sounds catty. But it isn't. It's just a friendly bit of advice to the new girls (and to some of the old ones).
Irene, Giselle & Fiona... what a beautiful trio of Canadian sweetness! People you like almost on sight. It was a lovely weekend with them at the resort. Roberta was the life of the party... wonderful sense of humor that helped break the ice for the shy, new ones...Louise from Maine, quiet and nice... a real lady. So was Robin, who walks about as if she were floating on a cloud of radiant happiness. Elaine, finally we met after many letters and phone calls. The kind you instinctively know is going to be a wonderful friend.
And then, the old timers... no need to flatter them because they know I'm a liar... Lee stunning as usual... Dorothea, good company, a good mixer... sometimes I think she pioneered in the "invention of transvestism"... looks much better now that she lost many, many pounds... Bea from the Carolinas on the other hand could do with a few more pounds... she'a got good taste and carries out her part with a tremendous eagerness for perfection. Buff, just as gorgeous as usual... please, smile more often dear... you look too serious... and Gail... well, this ia the end of the article... sorry I can't find words to flatter her and finally our best wishes to Edith... she has just taken the most interesting trip of her life and is living a real dream... good luck.
|Wearing Guess by Marciano.|
|Gayle Channing, professional femulator, circa 1964|