PHOTOS: Transgender Elders Show Us the Meaning of Survival

In the many years that Jess T. Dugan, a Boston-based trans photographer, has spent capturing images of gender-variant people, she says she's consistently noticed a striking absence in both art and social sciences: imagery of older trans folks.

"And," Dugan explains further on her website, "those [representations] that do exist are often one-dimensional." So Dugan set out to fill this gap, teaming up with social work researcher Vanessa Fabbre since fall 2013 to develop the evocative photo project, "To Survive on This Shore." In the recently released collection, diverse trans elders ages 50 to 86 are pictured at home or in meaningful spaces, gazing unapologetically into the camera, as if asking the viewer to look deeper into their unique context and life story.

Thankfully, Dugan and Fabbre have done just that, adding fascinating interviews that provide historical context and give insight into how age, class, race, gender, occupation, location, and other aspects of identity interweave within an individual's lived experiences, as well as show that gender transition has no age limits.

As Grace, a 56-year-old trans woman from Boston, recounts, "I still see myself as on a journey. 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, or they called me a queen. In the '90s I was transgender. In the 2000s I was a woman, and now I'm just Grace.'"

Check out a selection of images from the project below, and for more from Dugan look for her upcoming photography book Every Breath We Drew.

Photo Credit: Jess T. Dugan

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Alexis, 64, Chicago

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Ben, 64, Northampton, Mass.

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Bobbi, 83, Detroit

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Charley, 53, Richmond, Va.

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Chris, 52, Boston

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Connor, 61, San Diego

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David, 63, Hull, Mass.

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Ellen, 60, and Meredith, 63, San Diego

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Grace, 56, Boston

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Helena, 63, Chicago

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Louis, 54, Springfield, Mass.

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Michelle-Marie, 62, Williamsburg, Va.

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Mickey, 60, Chicago

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Rachel, 86, St. Louis

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Raine, 50, Bellingham, Wash.

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Reid, 59, Portland, Ore.

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Renee, 68, Chicago


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Tasha, 65, Birmingham, Ala.

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Tony, 67, San Diego