New Mills is a town in Derbyshire, about 16 miles from Manchester, close to the border with Cheshire. It is set in an area of spectacular natural beauty, standing high above a natural rocky gorge known as The Torrs, where the River Sett joins the River Goyt.
Eight of us travelled to the town. We made our way up the steep hill to the “Pride of the Peaks” pub. This was a good choice as the food was fantastic – proper home cooked food served in very generous portions and at reasonable prices.
Then we took a short walk to the New Mills Heritage and Information Centre housed in several rooms on the ground floor of a converted building in Rock Mill Lane.
The Centre was established in 1989 and has over 12,000 visitors a year. It includes the Museum, an Information Centre, a shop and a small café and generates income by selling publications, maps, trails, sundries, and light refreshments.
Volunteer staff are on duty to service the shop, provide information, deal with or pass on enquiries and supervise the displays. There was a friendly and helpful atmosphere and it was well worth a visit.
We then looked for the Butterfly Cafe which had been highly recommended (think it may be closed), but instead we went to the Clockwork Café which had some delicious homemade cakes.
New Mills is quite a small town but we didn’t spot actor Tony Audenshaw (Bob Hope in the television soap Emmerdale) who lives there.
Local activists inspire on International Day For Older Person’s and get BBC coverage
A group of local activists who have been featured in a special new film created by the Talking About My Generation team, commissioned by Greater Manchester Older People’s Network (GMOPN), took part in a living library event on Friday morning , 1 October.
The activists were available to ‘borrow’ like a book for a chat about what they’ve been doing in their community, helping to inspire others.
The new film shows how people of all ages across Greater Manchester are uniting in the fight against climate change, breaking the myth that older generations don’t care.
It highlights the inter-generational activists in action; from green transport and litter picking to protesting and growing your own food in communities across all boroughs.
The event attracted the BBC who featured the activists and part of the campaign film on the North West Tonight programme on Friday evening.
Elaine Unegbu, Chair of Greater Manchester Older People’s Network Steering Group, said: “We wanted to share a positive message about how important it is for the generations to come together to tackle big issues like climate change.
This is not about young versus old, it’s about all of us doing our bit, as individuals and in our communities. We can all do something and so many people are playing their part already and enjoying themselves in the process. Climate change is a serious business but you can still have fun and make a difference at the same time. We need to celebrate what people are already doing and inspire others to do the same. Ageism tries to divide generations – but the fight against climate change is uniting them.”
Drag Queen Bingo
To celebrate The International Day of Older People, a group of us went to Manchester Central Library to be entertained by Angel Delight with Drag Queen Bingo.
We had an afternoon of sparkling fun, including a bit of a dance to some cheesy pop music, stand up bingo, bongo bingo and singalongs. Walter won a “Drag Queen Bingo” game
If you missed the event you can still find your drag name. Match your intitals and discover your very own alter-ego!
Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States. It has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora, and is celebrated in October.
As we look forward to celebrating Black History Month this October, Robert, a member of Out In The City, tells us his story:
When I arrived in the UK (the Mother Country) in the mid 1970’s I had no idea that I would face racism and prejudice almost on a daily basis. Having come from Jamaica where the island’s motto is “Out of Many, One People” and having grown up with cousins who were black, white and all the shades in between and having gone to school with Chinese, Indian, European and other ethnicities whose parents or grandparents had made their home in Jamaica, it really was a shock to the system.
I was a 21-year old mixed race man and came here to study, with a view of settling down as my great uncle on my father’s side had been an Admiral in the British Navy. My father is white Jamaican of French and British heritage and my mother is mixed race, the offspring of a black father and a half Irish, half Scottish mother.
So perhaps now I could see why my dad’s side of the family had always come across as having an air of superiority. They sometimes looked down on the darker skinned side of the family but as my father explained this was something inherent from the old Colonial days. My dad tells me that when he told his parents he had proposed to my mother, they sat him down on the veranda and said, “Three questions!” “Is she coloured?” “Do her parents have money?” “Is there any lunacy in the family?”
One of my first experiences of being made to feel different was one Saturday morning in Birmingham, when I went to a mate’s house to go to a football match and his mother answered the door and then shouted up to my mate Dave, “There’s a coloured lad at the door for you”. Why the adjective? She could have just said, “There is a lad at the door”. A similar incident occurred when I was looking for digs at college. The man who phoned round on my behalf repeated the same mantra with every call: “He is coloured”. So what? I thought. I soon discovered that at that time some white people thought that young people like me would be cooking highly spiced foreign muck, playing reggae music full blast and cussing them in Patois English.
There are so many situations over the years where I have had to stand tall and just stay composed but one incident that sticks in my memory is during my first year of teaching and travelling home on the school bus. The driver suddenly stopped the bus and wiped the floor with me because I had followed the instructions of the Head teacher and asked the pupils to calm down and stay in their seats. This man abused me in front of the students by saying that it was his bus, he was in charge and how dare I give orders on his bus. It was quite obvious it was to do with me being a black teacher as in those days there weren’t many of us in the profession like there is today.
Those early years of teaching were far from easy as the stereotype mentality of some parents and visitors to the different school’s I taught in was quite embarrassing. On numerous occasions I was mistaken for the caretaker or some kind of “handyman” so when I said I was a teacher, you could see the surprise on the person’s face as if to say: shouldn’t you have a broom in your hand? I saw myself repeatedly passed over for promotion and even though I was almost a straight “A” student and was awarded a distinction for my Teaching Practices, I was scrutinised much more than my white colleagues. When my students did well in exams, no one mentioned good teaching, as their success was because they were bright and capable. When they failed it wasn’t due to their laziness or that they hadn’t applied themselves, no it was down to bad teaching. It was my fault!
I had a break from teaching and went to work as Cabin Crew for a few years and it was noticeable on how few occasions I got to work at the front in Business Class. I can only assume that these Cabin Crew managers / Pursers did not feel that a slightly older man of colour should be serving in this particular cabin on the aircraft. Yet in Training School we were told that we must work in all cabins on a regular basis.
I guess some Sociologist’s might call this a type of “Hidden Apartheid”. When I was given an award one month, for having the most letters of commendation from passengers on my flights by my Fleet Manager, one crew member was heard to remark “I bet he has his friends on his flights and gets them to write in to praise him”.
Looking at the funnier side of things, I remember a teacher at one school stating that she was sick of people stereotyping her as since she came from Wales everyone seemed to think her father was a Coal Miner and he was called Taffy.
Then I looked at her and said now you know how I feel as people seem to think because I’m from Jamaica my father was a bus driver and my mother a Hospital Orderly because those were the predominant roles that West Indian immigrants took on arrival in the UK. So when she enquired what jobs my parents did and I mentioned that my dad was an Electrical Engineer with his own company and that my mother was a trained Pharmacist with her own business, she seemed surprised!
Another funny incident was in my early days of teaching and I was walking around with my son in the hall at the end of a Parents Evening as my partner had come to collect me. A child in my class came up to me, had a good look at my child whose skin and features are more Caucasian and enquired, “Is he quarter cast?” No, I replied, he is fully cast because he belongs to the human race. “Oh”, he said looking rather puzzled and ran off.
When I separated from my wife and went on to the gay scene I was horrified at the language I heard in pubs and clubs. The “N” word was still quite often heard but of course I am talking about the late 1980’s. Who say’s gay people can’t be racist? I remember on one occasion thinking I had met a really nice guy at the bar as we bought drinks, chatted and laughed and then only to be told, “Oh, I have never been to bed with anyone coloured before but mind you I didn’t think your skin would be so soft or you would be so intelligent and you do smell nice”. “By the way, I hope you don’t live in Moss Side.” Needless to say, I made a hasty retreat out of that joint.
I can say that I am proud of my mixed race heritage whether it’s on my maternal grandfather’s side who was the grandson of a slave or indeed on my father’s side where there is supposedly some aristocracy as his great grandfather was the Count of Fosse. We need to remember that racism has been around for a long time. My father told me the story of his uncle who went to Scotland to lecture at Edinburgh University in the early 1900’s and when they heard he was from Jamaica, the students waiting in the hall started chanting “bring on the monkey” before he even got to the podium. Of course they were quite shocked to see a white man and not what they had imagined in their feeble cockroach brains. Apparently, my ancestor had a wicked sense of humour and his opening words were: “Well; now you’ve seen a white monkey!”
I can honestly say that I am happy with my station in life and I am pleased to say that none of the above has scarred me in any way. I feel there are times when you just have to shrug these racist incidents off and even laugh at yourself as perhaps we can all be a little too PC. Then, there are other times when you have to stand up and be counted and make a lot of noise, show your teeth and don’t let people trample all over you.
I believe things are getting somewhat better in the United Kingdom but racism is still alive and kicking. Our politicians need to step up to the plate and lead by example especially those in senior positions. We also need schools to practice what they preach and not just pay lip service to racism. The Anglican and Catholic Churches need to speak up and stand up for those from foreign lands. They seem to forget that Jesus was a black man and a foreigner himself and yet so many Priest’s and Bishop’s pretend not to see what is going on and pass by on the other side! In the football world it is obvious that there is still a far way to go judging by the recent spate of racist tweets aimed at our black football players.
To my black brothers and sisters I would like to say that if you are ever challenged as to why you are here and not back in your own country always remember the words of my Sociologist Lecturer at University. He used to say, “tell them, you are here because they were there”. In other words when you think how our colonies in the West Indies, Africa and Asia were plundered and the profits from slavery, sugar and various minerals were used to build many of these big buildings we see today in Bristol, Liverpool, London and other cities, then we have every right to be here! In closing, perhaps a day will come when we will feel that there is no need to have a “Black History Month” but I dare say this is a long way off. Schools need to start teaching black history and not just British and European history. It’s not just the black children who need to know more about their roots and their ancestry but children of other races should also know too, so as to avoid perpetuating further stereotype views in the future. Perhaps some of us are too embarrassed to talk about slavery and wish to forget that it ever happened. It is important to remember the words of Malcolm X, “Our history did not begin in chains”.
Statue of Anne Lister, TV’s Gentleman Jack, unveiled in Halifax
Suranne Jones, who played 19th-century diarist regarded as the first modern lesbian, says she hopes the artwork will be an inspiration.
A bronze statue of the 19th-century diarist Anne Lister, known as Gentleman Jack, has been installed in Halifax, the West Yorkshire town where she lived.
The artwork was unveiled on 26 September by Suranne Jones, who starred as Lister in the recent BBC One drama Gentleman Jack, and Sally Wainwright, the award-winning creator of the show.
Lister, who is sometimes described as the first modern lesbian, is known for her extensive diaries detailing her life as a landowner and entrepreneur, her travels across Europe and her relationship with Ann Walker, to whom she was notionally married.
The £25,000 installation called Contemplation and created by sculptor Diane Lawrenson, is now on permanent display at the Grade I-listed Piece Hall.
Jones said it was important that Lister was visible to the mainstream. “[In Gentlemen Jack] She has to gender-shift, in a way, and is hiding in plain sight. She is constantly facing challenges every single day of how people look at her and view her. And now in 2021 she’s sat here in the middle of the Piece Hall, where everyone comes to have their family days out. I think that’s what’s important about this specific piece of art.”
She said she was “fiercely proud” of the show and that she was part of Lister’s story.
“To be able to be on the BBC at nine o’clock on a Sunday night, with this character in full glory, has been amazing, and also fans have welcomed me as a straight actor to play Anne Lister and I enjoy being an ally – I enjoy the responsibility.
It’s one of the hardest roles I’ve had to play, because the language is really tough and I’m in almost every scene. I’m fiercely proud of what we’ve created here. It just speaks to visibility that there’s Shibden Hall [Lister’s family home in Halifax, which is open to the public] and now this beautiful statue, which is just glorious. I’m just very proud to be part of it.”
Series two of Gentleman Jack wraps this week. Filming was disrupted several times due to the pandemic, the death of Jones’s father, and the birth of co-star Sophie Rundle’s baby.
Wainwright has spent years transcribing some of the diaries’ estimated five million words written in secret code detailing Lister’s liaisons with other women, as well as portraying the network of relationships between women of the gentry and aristocracy in early 19th-century Halifax.
She said the life sized statue “captured a lot” of Lister’s character. “I think it’s really sensitive but robust, and I love the way it’s deconstructed, where it’s just slightly abstract. It’s kind of rough and ready but it’s really alive.”
She added: “I hope [local people] will talk about Anne Lister, about who she was and why she’s important. I hope they’ll see this image of her, which is a very intelligent, very athletic woman, and it will inspire them. But I have no doubt people will put top hats and red noses on her at Christmas, they’ll be sitting on her and putting their arms round her and all sorts.”
Gay Times ends print magazine after nearly 50 years
Gay Times, one of the world’s longest-running print magazine for the LGBT+ community, has ceased printing, but will continue as a digital publication.
The UK-based magazine was first published in 1984, but its predecessors date as far back as 1975. During that time it’s been a vital resource for LGBT+ people in periods of misinformation and violent rhetoric, from the early days of the Gay Liberation Front through to the repeal of Section 28.
Over the decades hundreds of icons have graced its cover, including David Bowie, Elton John, Dusty Springfield and George Michael.
The magazine had been in print every month since its launch until 2020, when it moved to a quarterly publication, but is now going purely digital to reflect a decline in offline readers. Just two per cent of its readers consume the print magazine.
Gay Times says that the decision to cease the physical magazine had been planned for some time and says that it also considered the environmental impact of printing issues.
“Any print magazine production demands significant natural resources, so this was one of the main factors in the decision.” Although you won’t be seeing the familiar cover on magazine shelves anymore, Gay Times magazine will continue as a digital publication with 12 issues a year.
On Thursday, 23 September, twelve members of Out In The City, went on a “mystery trip”.
We met in the centre of Manchester but the end of our visit was kept secret. We took a bus to the university area and our first stop was at “The Turing Tap”, a pub dedicated to Alan Turing. They serve a wide range of food and drink. The pub is just a few minutes walk from the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Manchester Museum, and is just round the corner from the Pankhurst Centre (the home of Emmeline Pankhurst and the birthplace of the suffragette movement). The group did not know where we were going. However, once I had given the clue that we were heading “North and South” to “Cranford”, Walter guessed that our destination was Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. Those are two of her books.
84 Plymouth Grove, now known as Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, is a writer’s house museum in Manchester. The Grade II* listed neoclassical villa was the residence of William and Elizabeth Gaskell from 1850 till their deaths in 1884 and 1865 respectively.
The house itself was granted listed building status in 1952, partly due to its association with the Gaskells. This granted it protection from demolition, however, 84 Plymouth Grove slowly descended into a state of disrepair due to neglect.
The Manchester Historic Buildings Trust commenced a restoration project in 2009, aiming to see the building returned to its state as the Gaskells left it. By 2011, the Trust had finished the exterior, which included structural repairs and removing the pink paint that had coated the house for several years. On completion of the £2.5 million restoration, the building was reopened to the public on 5 October 2014.
Charlotte Brontë, who visited the house three times between 1851 and 1854, described it as “a large, cheerful, airy house, quite out of Manchester smoke”. On one occasion, the meek Brontë even hid behind the curtains in Gaskells’ drawing room as she was too shy to meet the other guests.
Visitors to the house during Elizabeth Gaskell’s lifetime included Charles Dickens, who, on one occasion in 1852, made an impromptu visit to the house, along with his wife at 10.00am, much to the dismay of Elizabeth, who mentioned it to be “far too early”, John Ruskin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, American writer Charles Eliot Norton and conductor Charles Hallé.
The house has twenty rooms and there is now a café in the basement (previously the accommodation for the domestic staff including a cook, several maids, a handyman for outdoor work, as well as a washerwoman and a seamstress). In 1850 the rent was considered as very expensive at £150 per annum. William Gaskell was a member of Portico Library and also the Reverend at Cross Street Chapel.
In 1990, the United Nations General Assembly designated 1 October as The International Day of Older Persons.
Did you know?
The composition of the world population has changed dramatically in recent decades. Between 1950 and 2010, life expectancy worldwide rose from 46 to 68 years.
Over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050 and 80% of them will be living in low- and middle-income countries.
Prevalence figures based on a survey of 83,034 people in 57 countries found one in every two people held moderately or highly ageist attitudes (i.e. stereotypes and prejudice).
Activists set to tell their stories at living library event
A living library event is being held on Friday, 1 October – to mark the launch of a new campaign that breaks stereotypes on what an activist looks like and showcase how generations are working together to tackle climate change.
The ‘This Is What An Activist Looks Like’ campaign launch coincides with the International Day of Older Persons and the living library event will give people the opportunity to talk to activists from all walks of life to be inspired to make a change in their communities.
All are welcome to the free drop-in event, which is being held at Manchester Central Library between 2.00pm – 3.30pm. The afternoon will also premiere a new campaign video that features eight activists – young and old – uniting in the fight against climate change.
A living library event allows visitors to browse the ‘bookcases’ and choose the ‘story’ they want to listen to, pull up a pew, and have a conversation with their chosen activist, who will be all set to share their personal stories about their activism to inspire all generations to act.
Among the ‘books’ will be community activist Dorretta Maynard from Trafford, who has spent most of her life volunteering in her community.
She said: “I’m a woman who stands up for her rights, who is calm, approachable and always has open arms. I want to help the next generation rise.”
Chris Barnes from Salford has turned a patch of wasteland in Salford into a blooming community garden, not only to act as a space for people to get together but also to grow their own produce.
The campaign has been commissioned by Greater Manchester Older People’s Network (GMOPN) and supported by the Talking About My Generation team.
We hope to see you there!
The Derek Jarman Pocket Park will also launch on 1 October at Manchester Art Gallery, ahead of the Derek Jarman Protest! exhibition opening on 1 December.
23 September is Bi Visibility Day. Bi people are often the forgotten part of the LGBT+ community. Their experiences are commonly assumed to be the same as lesbian and gay experiences, and their identities are frequently made invisible or dismissed as something that doesn’t exist, by people both inside and outside of this community.
They face a number of negative stereotypes, the primary ones being that they’re greedy, manipulative, incapable of monogamy and unable to make their minds up – the last of which is the same as saying who they are isn’t real.
The assumptions about bi people are also gendered. Bi women are more likely to be viewed as ‘actually straight’, their sexual orientation merely a performance to attract straight men, whereas bi men are frequently seen as going through a ‘phase’ on the way to coming out as gay.
Added to the above is also the problem of media representation. Depictions of bi identities are still extremely rare on screen, and when they do feature, they often fall into the usual pervasive negative stereotypes. In fact, the general public are as likely to have seen negative portrayals of bi public figures as they are to have seen something positive.
The challenges bi people face, often unshared by lesbian and gay peers, can also have a huge impact on their lives and frequently mean they feel unable to be themselves, even among their friends and family.
Research by Stonewall published last month showed that almost half of bi men (46 per cent) and a quarter of bi women (26 per cent) aren’t open about their sexual orientation to anyone in their family, compared to 10 per cent of gay men and just five per cent of lesbians.
This means a huge proportion of bi people are facing the harmful effects of biphobia in their daily lives – the stereotypes, the invisibility, the lack of belief that bi people exist – without the benefit of support, reassurance and acceptance. This is why we need Bi Visibility Day. It’s an opportunity to celebrate diverse bi identities, raise the voices of bi people, and call for positive change.
Inspirational Manchester LGBT+ choir up for major award
A LGBT+ choir in Manchester has been nominated for a prestigious award from the National Lottery.
The Sunday Boys was formed in 2016 as a way for low voice singers to sing, perform and meet like-minded people with shared interests in the city.
The group, which has quickly become an important voice for the LGBT+ community, has beaten off stiff competition from more than 1,500 organisations to reach the public voting stage in this year’s National Lottery Awards.
They are now one of 17 shortlisted groups vying for a £3,000 cash prize and, of course, the iconic National Lottery Awards trophy for ‘Project of the Year’.
Michael Betteridge, Artistic Director of The Sunday Boys, said the shortlisting had been the culmination of a difficult last year which had only further highlighted the significance of the group.
“The Sunday Boys were created to give Manchester an inclusive LGBT+ choir for people to learn how to sing great music, perform and of course make friends,” Michael says.
“It’s amazing to see the impact the group has on not only its members, but the people we perform to as well.”
The group, which recently performed at Manchester Pride’s candlelight vigil, regularly perform around the country and meet up every Sunday at their base in Ancoats to rehearse.
Michael adds: “Pre-Covid we were performing around the country and it was such a privilege to work with guest workshop leaders, rehearsing to help the choir focus and improve whilst taking great pride in supporting other artists.
“We are really proud of the work we’ve done in the local LGBT+ community and the funding received from the National Lottery has been pivotal to our success, especially during the pandemic.
“Regardless of the outcome, it’s been incredible to be recognised for everything that we do – it’s a real honour and we really hope people will get behind us for the vote and beyond!”
Jonathan Tuchner, from the National Lottery, added: “The Sunday Boys have done some fantastic work within the LGBT+ community and they thoroughly deserve to be in the finals of the National Lottery Awards Project of the Year 2021.”
You can vote for The Sunday Boys here. Voting runs until 5.00pm on 4 October.
Too Desi Too Queer
Wednesday 29 September 2021 at 6.30pm at HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester M15 4FN
Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival is proud to return with its super-hit Too Desi Too Queer programme, a dynamic and thought-provoking selection of recent LGBTQIA+ short films exploring the lives, experiences and well-being of South Asian LGBTQIA+ communities in the Subcontinent and diaspora.
The films screening as part of the Manchester Indian Film Festival will be:
Stray Dogs Come out at Night (11 minutes / Punjabi with English subtitles) Iqbal, a ‘maalishwala‘ by profession, cannot come to terms with his illness. He convinces his uncle to take a day trip to the beach, desperate for respite. The Arabian sea beckons.
Wig (26 minutes / Hindi with English subtitles) Arkita believes herself to be modern, liberal and most importantly independent. An unprecedented encounter with a transgender sex worker questions her beliefs.
Compartment (5 mins) A closeted young man’s inner desires are unleashed after a chance encounter with an effeminate person.
Ekaant (6 mins / Marathi with English subtitles) Manasi, a poet, and Sudha, a housewife, are deeply in love with each other but the restrictions of their society has put chains around their relationship.
I Know Her (3 mins) In the afterglow of a seemingly fated hookup, two women realise that perhaps they have a little too much in common.
Vaidya (23 mins / Hindi and English with partial English subtitles) After a chance encounter while on holiday, Kabir and Vaidya’s whirlwind romance is brought crashing down when Kabir has to return home.
Timeline of LGBT History in Manchester
We have added a timeline of notable events in the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community in Manchester here.
If there are any additions or amendments please contact us here.
The Portico Library on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street in Manchester, is an independent subscription library designed in the Greek Revival style by Thomas Harrison of Chester and built between 1802 and 1806. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a Grade II* listed building and has been described as “the most refined little building in Manchester”.
The library was established as a result of a meeting of Manchester businessmen in 1802 which resolved to found an “institute uniting the advantages of a newsroom and a library”.
The library’s notable members include John Dalton, Reverend William Gaskell, Sir Robert Peel and more recently Eric Cantona.
Out In The City members met at Piccadilly Gardens Bus Station and took the short walk to the library.
We had booked the café area for the afternoon and enjoyed tomato and basil soup and various sandwiches followed by tea or coffee with biscuits in the library’s tranquil interior.
We were able to view the books on display and the current exhibition – Refloresta! – a groundbreaking installation of immersive sculptural and textile works by world-renowned Brazilian artist Maria Nepomuceno. Maria’s brightly-coloured artworks bring the vibrancy of the natural world alongside natural history books and archive materials from the Library’s 19th-century collection.
Casa Susanna, a 1960s resort where cross-dressing was safe
In the 1960s, Casa Susanna was a haven for cross-dressers, away from a world that didn’t understand the peace that came from trading in masculine clothing for bouffant hairdos and simple day dresses.
Many guests were heterosexual men who identified as transvestites, a term often considered derogatory today. Later in life, some would identify as trans women.
Photos taken at the Catskills resort were displayed at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) as part of an exhibition, Outsiders: American Photography and Film 1950s-1980s, which features snapshots of people on the perceived margins of society, from musicians and bike gangs to cross-dressers.
In 2003, collectors Robert Swope and Michel Hurst found a box of photo albums and loose snapshots of 1960s cross-dressers, taken in a bucolic country setting, in a cardboard box at a New York City flea market. “I was electrified. I realised instantly that these photographs were extraordinary and something that no one, outside of the group, was ever meant to see,” Swope says. A business card was attached: “Susanna Valenti. Spanish Dancing and Female Impersonation.”
Swope and Hurst published the photos in a book in 2005, and the AGO acquired the collection last year. The photos mostly showed life at two resorts in upstate New York that catered to the cross-dressing community back in the 1960s: Chevalier d’Eon and Casa Susanna, both run by Susanna Valenti and wife Marie. Some pictures had notes scrawled on the back — “Do you like my hair like this or like that?”
That the photos escaped the dustbin of history is “wonderful” to think about, says Sophie Hackett, the AGO’s associate curator of photography. “They are an amazing record of trans community in the becoming,” she says. “They are typical snapshots on the one hand — there they are on the front porch, there they are at a picnic, or at the diving board. But then you kind of realise how exceptional they are as well, just for the subject matter alone.”
Virginia Prince, far left in the photo, was a pioneer in the trans movement. A guest at Chevalier d’Eon for the first time in 1961, she wrote about it in Transvestia magazine, hoping to reach out to the fearful: “Here we were, 15 otherwise normal active men living and dressing like women, and very happy and comfortable we were too. It wasn’t a ‘show,’ a special ‘situation’ or even a ‘party’. We were like any bunch of women who had gone on a weekend trip to some resort.”
Swope, one of the collectors who found the photos, was touched by the courage of the people they portrayed, who risked their families and livelihoods if anyone found out. “These photos are not pictures of drag queens exaggerating femininity but men who longed to experience what it would be like to be a woman,” he says. The resort was not just for the Zsa Zsa Gabors and Marilyn Monroes, Prince wrote in her 1961 article. “The cost is nominal; the value in acceptance, sociability, freedom of expression, conviviality and satisfaction is tremendous.”
Many of the photos in the AGO’s collection are attributed to “Unknown American.” There are several linked to Andrea Susan. Michael Gilbert, a York University professor who researches gender theory, says his late friend, who cross-dressed as Andrea Susan, took photos at the resort and developed them on site in a darkroom, because of the paranoia and fear that would come from handing them over to a stranger.
“You can almost feel their pleasure at being who they are,” says Gilbert, noting how it felt the first time he went to a gender diversity conference, dressed in a skirt and top, and walked outside in 1995. “I had to sit down on the bench and breathe deeply to keep from bursting into tears. Then of course, the next question is why can’t I do this whenever I want to? Who does it hurt? It doesn’t hurt anybody, and that’s the sadness.”
Susanna Valenti, the co-owner of the resort, wrote an advice column for Transvestia magazine. In 1969, she wrote that she had lost the “fabulous thrill” of the two identities and was going to live as Susanna full-time. It was one of her final columns, after which “we lose track of Susanna altogether,” curator Sophie Hackett says. The AGO suspects this collection was hers — perhaps something she tossed out or, if she died, something that was taken to a flea market.
Virginia Prince founded Transvestia magazine in 1960, and was prosecuted in 1961 for distributing obscene materials in the mail. In the late 1960s, she began living as a woman full-time. Michael Gilbert, the York professor and a lifelong cross-dresser who has the alter ego of Miqqi Alicia, calls her “the grandmother of us all.” Prince was very encouraging to others, but as she got older, she became very opinionated and alienated some people, he says. “In those days she was the only game in town.” Prince died in 2009.
In 1966, Darrell Raynor published A Year Among the Girls, which describes Raynor’s time at the inn. “If there was a place where transvestite friendships were made and sealed it was at this resort,” Raynor wrote.
“He shared an apartment with two other men, neither of whom has any suspicion of his transvestism,” Raynor wrote. “I was curious how he could share an apartment and get away with it. He explained that he kept his feminine clothing in a locked bureau. He slept in satin nightgowns, kept his bedroom locked, and managed to attend to his special laundering without anyone ever spotting it.”
Katherine Cummings is a transgender rights advocate from Australia. She visited Casa Susanna as a 28-year-old student, then living in Toronto. Like several of the cross-dressing community who went to the resort, she later had gender-confirming surgery. In an article for Polare magazine, she called it “the first place where I could walk around openly in daylight, confident that anyone I met could be engaged in conversation without the need for subterfuge about my underlying sex.”
Gloria was a Midwestern steel magnate who owned a Polaroid camera, a prized possession because “the results are instantaneous and transvestites cannot wait one minute longer than necessary to be shown just how beautiful they are,” Cummings writes in Katherine’s Diary. “The other reason for their popularity is the need to hide one’s oddness from the world.”