Among its holdings Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive (LLTA) has six 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, a hub that 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 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.