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PHOTOS: Transgender Elders Show Us the Meaning of Survival

PHOTOS: Transgender Elders Show Us the Meaning of Survival


A new must-see photo project, 'To Survive on This Shore,' offers moving portraits of a nearly invisible group: transgender elders.

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

Trans-elders01_0 Alexis, 64, Chicago

Trans-elders02_0 Ben, 64, Northampton, Mass.

Trans-elders03_0 Bobbi, 83, Detroit

Trans-elders04_0 Charley, 53, Richmond, Va.

Trans-elders05_0 Chris, 52, Boston

Trans-elders06_0 Connor, 61, San Diego

Trans-elders07_0 David, 63, Hull, Mass.

Trans-elders08_0 Ellen, 60, and Meredith, 63, San Diego

Trans-elders09_0 Grace, 56, Boston

Trans-elders10_0 Helena, 63, Chicago

Trans-elders11_0 Louis, 54, Springfield, Mass.

Trans-elders12_0 Michelle-Marie, 62, Williamsburg, Va.

Trans-elders13_0 Mickey, 60, Chicago

Trans-elders14_0 Rachel, 86, St. Louis

Trans-elders15_0 Raine, 50, Bellingham, Wash.

Trans-elders16_0 Reid, 59, Portland, Ore.

Trans-elders17_0 Renee, 68, Chicago

Trans-elders19_0 Tasha, 65, Birmingham, Ala.

Trans-elders20_0 Tony, 67, San Diego

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