The Long Arc of History

I’d very much recommend reading this story on “Casa Susanna”, about a private crossdressing resort operated by lady-by-night Tito Valentini and her wife in the Catskills (southeast New York state) during the 1960s.

The broad strokes are that because camera technology was limited at the time, they brought on a photographer (also with a girl persona) who shot and developed many of the club’s photos. The photographer was of limited means, so a patron (also with a girl persona) bought her a camera and equipment, but stipulated as a condition that she (the patron) get a duplicate copy of each photo, which she later collated into albums. Those were discarded and eventually ended up on the flea market circuit, and were purchased by an antiques dealer, who was inspired by them to create a modestly successful play based on the resort and its gender bending attendees.

Old photo from Casa Susanna

A scene from the Casa Susanna archive.

(It's mildly amusing to note that the propensity of crossdressers to take photos of themselves sure hasn't changed – swap modern cameras into this picture and it could be a scene out of Diva Las Vegas or Wildside 2019.)

The tale of Casa Susanna reminded me of how little insight we have into the day-to-day affairs of people for any of the thousands of years worth of human history. Even the 1960s – really not long ago at all – are surprisingly opaque despite widespread literacy and the existence of photography. If those albums had made it to the trash instead of the flea market, the overwhelming chances are that none of us would have seen any photos from this little niche in history or read its story. Other photos from it probably exist, but are disorganized and not likely to be digitized.

Now, 1960 was 60 years ago. It’s impossible to put an exact age on human civilization, but we start to see its first beginnings around 3000 BCE, with cities and innovations like the wheel, mathematics, and writing. By 650 BCE (roughly the beginnings of Ancient Greece), we start to see civilizations alike enough to our own that western society borrows a lot of their ideas – democracy, for example.

So that’s thousands of years, and given that changes in human physiology over that time have been minimal, there’s a good chance that we had crossdressers through all of it.

Which serves to remind me that – holy shit – we are lucky to be alive, and even luckier to be alive in the 2020s. Not only is society at large more tolerant of transgender identity now than anytime before on the long arc of human history, but we have easy access to $40 lacefront wigs that look better than real hair (at least for the first couple weeks ;), women’s fast fashion, discrete online ordering, and even a plethora of CD-specific products that can take your girl game to the next level.

Another old photo from Casa Susanna

And those are just the most modern of modern inventions. There’s also the ones we wouldn’t even think about – running water for showers, electricity for lighting, shaving razors, hygiene products. Imagine being born into Caesar’s Rome right around 0 BCE and realizing that you’re kind of jealous of your wife’s toga, but with no tools at your disposal (or even in existence really) to make that work. And Rome had aqueducts and public baths – go back a few more centuries and you’re in an even worse spot. The horror.

It really puts things in perspective. People love to call 2020 the worst year in the history of the human race, but spend four seconds to think about that, and yeah … it’s not.

October 23, 2020 (4 years ago) by Frey·ja