To Survive On This Shore: A Series That Beautifully Captures Older Trans People And Gender Non-conforming Adults


Posted by Vandana Likhmania

Artwork by Harpreet
bisexual, he/him

“When I received an award a few years ago at a conference I said, “In the ’60s they called me a sissy. In the ’70s they called me a faggot. In the ’80s I was a queen. In the ’90s I was transgender. In the 2000s I was a woman, and now I’m just Grace.” says 56 year old Grace from Boston, MA

The leading contemporary voices in the LGBTQ community have always been that of the youth. Whilst we’re a part of the struggle to make ourselves heard and visible, what we have come to ignore are the stories of survivors of the community. It is important to shed light on the older generation in the spectrum, as a source of hope for what life can look like, once liberated and free, no longer anchored down by society. Photographer Jess T. Dugan along with Vanessa Fabbre have managed to capture that on their journey across the United States for over five years with their compilation ‘To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults.‘, a series also recently published as a book by Kehrar Verlag.

“My roommate warned me. She said, “Let me get this straight. You want to be a middle aged, black woman. Oh yeah? Really?” And I said, “Yeah.  Look out world. Here I come.” Helena, 63, Chicago, IL”

Dugan wanted to highlight the many different ways of living and ageing as a trans person. Most of these stories had lived only in memories until now and to let them be forgotten would have been an act of violence just as worse. “Prior to starting this project, I heard from several younger trans people that they had never seen images of older transgender people and that they had no roadmap for what their life might look like going forward,” she said in an interview. “I wanted to create this project for them, as well as to record and validate the experiences of older transgender people, many of whom are directly responsible for the world we live in today.

“I remember my therapist asking me, “What kind of a woman do you want to be after you transition?” And she made me go home and think about it, and I went back and I said, “I don’t have to think about that. I’ve always been that woman. It’s only now the outside matches.” Michelle-Marie, 62, Williamsburg, VA

The duo travelled across states to seek individuals marked by intersections of gender, race, age, ethnicity, and socio-economic and geographical status. The resulting voices span over a period of ninety years and give an insight into their struggles and experiences of living life as a stigmatised minority. While recounting differences that exist amongst the queer community, each of them shared a different story of transition including a few who did not feel the need to transform at all. The fine lines on their faces and the greying hair in each of the portraits are a raw reflection of life and an example of how it is possible to live on one’s own terms which is a power like no other. The way the light hits their face is a reminder of how struggle for what is right is never futile and the glory they hold in their eyes was worth the fight. And it becomes possible to see a myriad of colours, more than what a rainbow can hold, in their freckled and tattooed skins, their smiles and painted fingernails, thigh high boots, and wedding rings.


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