"I think this
is our Denise....."

Discovering Forgotten Scrapbooks of Trans History

"I think this
is our Denise....."

Discovering Forgotten Scrapbooks of Trans History

A Treasure Trove

Among its holdings Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive (LLTA) has five scrapbooks compiled in the 1960s and 1970s by a transwoman named Denise.  We believe Denise was the cover girl for Transvestia, Vol. I, #7, January 1961, the first national, transgender community publication. The scrapbooks constitute a treasure trove of rare, trans-related newspaper and magazine clippings that present an unvarnished account of what both mainstream and sensationalist media of the era saw fit to print about trans-people. It’s a snapshot of how trans-people were represented, analyzed and even exploited during the era when the first national transgender community was being formed.

The scrapbooks were donated to LLTA by Taryn Gundling, who was given them by Denise at a True Selves support group meeting in Highland Park, New Jersey. Taryn describes that encounter below in her article “An Unexpected Gift.” Denise was a member of the nascent, mid-20th century transgender community and her scrapbooks include almost 100 candid photographs of other cross-dressers, photos they would share only with their special friends. Some of these photos also appeared in Transvestia, an early transgender community periodical, where they illustrated autobiographical articles exploring gender identity. And decades later in 2005 many of the same photos appear in Casa Susanna, a photo-essay drawn from the collection of Susanna Valenti, owner of the cross-dressing resort where many of Denise’s photos were taken.

Denise’s scrapbooks have inspired a collaboration between Art Gallery of Ontario, Transgender Archive at University of Victoria, A Gender Variance Who’s Who, Digital Transgender Archive, and LLTA. The result is this site, which connects the resources of all five organizations to present photographs, biographies and autobiographical articles written when the marginalized transgender community was trying to identify and define itself. Links throughout this site will take you to our collaborators’ sites for additional information and deeper insight into these transgender lives. Our goal is to provide intimate details and valuable insights into the lives of mid-20th century transgender women by networking more information than is available at any single archive in the world, virtual or brick-and-motor.

Our Collaborators and Their Resources

A Gender Variance Who’s Who 

A comprehensive site of transgender history, including biographies  of more than 1,400 persons worthy of note.

Art Gallery of Ontario

Home to hundreds of photos from Susanna Valenti’s collection, which served as the basis for the book Casa Susanna.

Digital Transgender Archive

Denise’s complete scrapbooks are included in this massive online archive of historical transgender materials

Transgender Archive at University of Victoria, B.C. 

The world’s largest transgender archive including the entire run of Transvestia, where autobiographical articles by Denise and her friends were first published.

An Unexpected Gift

By Taryn Gundling, PhD

Sometime around 2008, I attended a transgender support group called “True Selves” that met monthly, after hours, in the sparsely adorned lounge of a psychotherapy office located in central New Jersey. It was a relatively early, furtive step on my journey of self-discovery as I ventured progressively further from the comparative safety of my home to the meeting an hour south. Among other revelations, I let it be known that by profession I was an anthropologist, and was flirting with the notion of shifting my research agenda in the direction of the emerging discipline of transgender studies. At the end of a later True Selves meeting an older transwoman named Denise, sporting just a hint of make-up, a cute greying pixie cut and sensible attire, approached me carrying a clear plastic storage bin. I remember her hazel eyes and her soft feminine voice inquiring if I, as an academic, would safeguard the bin’s contents and eventually find an appropriate home for them. I said I would as I quickly perused the scrapbooks and other ephemera contained within.

Read More

Desperately Seeking Denise

By Ms. Bob Davis, LLTA Founder

Casa Susanna from Powerhouse Books.

Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive (LLTA) has six scrapbooks, unique treasures of transgender history, a personal archive of photos and articles lovingly clipped from 1960s and 1970s newspapers, magazines and theater programs. When they were donated to LLTA, all we knew was that they had been compiled by a transvestite named Denise, who considered them her contribution to transgender history. But the scrapbooks were so idiosyncratic, so personalized that they demanded we discover the identity of Our Denise of the Scrapbooks.

Five of Denise’s albums were all clippings, but one album contained over a dozen pages of photographs, snapshots, the kind mid-20th century cross-dressers sent to each other, and, what was more surprising, I recognized these people!  I’d seen their photos before and some more than once.

There are three places I might have seen these people, even these photos.

The first was Casa Susanna, a book of photos from the personal archive of Susanna Valenti, who, with her wife Marie, owned a succession of Catskill Mountain resorts that served as safe spaces for transgender women to vacation in their gender of choice in the 1960s and 1970s. The first was Chevalier d’Eon Resort. The second was Casa Susanna. If I hadn’t seen the photos in Casa Susanna, it might have been in Virginia Prince’s Transvestia, the transgender community’s first national periodical, published from 1960 to 1986. Susanna and Virginia were both movers and shakers in the mid-20th century American transgender community.

The third source was a more anonymous transvestite, Bobbie Thompson, whose personal archive is at the Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive. Photos from Denise’s scrapbooks appearing in Transvestia, as well as Bobbie’s and Susanna’s personal archives, meant that Denise traveled in the same social circles as Susanna, Virginia and Bobbie, social circles that are well-documented in Transvestia. This increased the likelihood that it was possible to learn more about Denise.

Meet Denise and Her Friends

Click On The Drawings To Learn More About These Trans Women

The Trans Women in the Scrapbooks

Anita

Gloria Manning

Genevieve

Joan

Susanna Valenti

Edith Eden

Illustrations by Ms. Robyn Adams

Annette

Cynthia

Lee