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To survive on this shore: photographer captures the lives of older trans people

Molly Rose Pike March 4, 2015
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Photographer Jess Dugan took the series of photographs because she felt older transgender people lacked representation.

‘To survive on this shore’ is a project by photographer Jess Dugan who wanted to represent older trans people and the complexities of ageing as a trans person.

All the subjects in the project are over the age of 50. Dugan interviewed each subject about their life experiences and how they feel now as an older trans person.

Helena, 63, from Chicago

Helena, 63, from Chicago, said: “I feel very isolated. I don’t feel whole. There’s still that hole in my middle, the stomach is not filled, I’m not fed completely.”

Dugan said: “Photographs and words are both powerful narrative tools. Especially in combination, they have the power to tell meaningful stories, elicit empathy, and promote social change. Our aim in combining these two forms of narrative is to tell more of the subject’s story than the photograph could on its own, encouraging a deeper and more meaningful engagement on the part of the viewer.”

Dugan created the project with Vanessa Fabbre, a social worker, to make the project personally and socially relevant.

Bobbi, 83, from Detroit

Bobbi, 83, from Detroit, said: “I think people talk in either/or terms, right? Before transition and after but to me it’s really development. I feel it’s been a remarkable thing to have happened to a person. I’m proud of both lives. I’m proud of both me’s.”

Dugan wanted to “complicate” the ways older trans people are perceived in the arts. Every subject featured in the project identifies somewhere along the transgender spectrum but there is “no single narrative that captures the varied paths that lead to gender discovery or transition”.

Chris, 52, from Boston

Chris, 52, from Boston, said: “I was always a fish out of water in terms of my gender presentation. So in a huge way, my transition has been like nirvana for it to get all aligned with me, and then have the world treat me well while I’m aligned has been amazing.”

Dugan said the aim of the project was “to provide visibility to a community that is often overlooked, both because of their age as well as their gender, and to encourage empathy, understanding, and dialogue.”

The rest of the photographs can be found on the project’s website.

Related topics: Trans

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