To Survive On This Shore – A Compelling Visual Documentary of the Older Trans Community

13.03.2020 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

All images are Courtesy of the Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

Cover Image: Hank, 76, and Samm, 67, North Little Rock, AR, 2015

Over the past five years photographer Jess T Dugan and social worker & professor Vanessa Fabbre traveled throughout the United States in documentation of the stories and imagery of transgender and gender nonconforming older adults in the country. Traveling from coast to coast , the duo sought out subjects whose experiences of life exist in the intersections of gender identity, age , race , ethnicity , sexuality, socioeconomic background &  geographic location. The result of their venture, a moving body of work giving voice & visibility to an underrepresented group of older individuals with a wide variety of narratives spanning throughout the last ninety years, offering a historical record of transgender experiences & activism in the USA in the form of a book and several exhibitions. 

“So many trans-related stories in the media are about people being murdered orare about discrimination of some kind. With this project, I wanted to create representations of many different ways of living and aging as a trans person. I also wanted to record the history of people who, in many cases, paved the road for the world we live in now. I worried their stories were at risk of being lost or forgotten, and I wanted to record and preserve them,” explained Jess T. Dungan.

“For me, part of the inspiration for this project also came from thinking about the limits of knowledge dissemination in the social sciences, especially in terms of our ability to engage in broader cultural forces and public discourse. I saw the potential to make an impact beyond academia by creating this project together, ” added professor Fabbre.

Each story, each image captured and included in the photo series, shines a brighter light on stories that have been long overlooked, and in many ways creates blooms of hope and validation for onlooking generations of trans individuals.

Dee Dee Ngozi, 55, Atlanta, GA, 2016

“This coming into my real, real fullness of knowing why I was different is because I was expressing my spirit to this world. And I didn’t know how God felt about it, but I believe in God and I have a deep spiritual background and I talk with the Holy Spirit constantly who’s taken me from the Lower West Side doing sex work to being at the White House.” – Dee Dee Ngozi .

Sky, 64, and Mike, 55, Palm Springs, CA, 2017

One of the hardest things in terms of transitioning was the difference in personal space. When I was perceived as female, there wasn’t a lot of touching. Women don’t get into each other’s space. When two women are attracted to each other they don’t immediately put their hands on the other woman’s body. It’s not considered appropriate. Whereas the way men cruise, there’s about two seconds of eye contact, and then an approach, and either hands on your chest or hands in your crotch or some other type of immediate physical contact.I started out with a lot of insecurity in terms of my body, insecure about myself, and it has taken time to build confidence.” – Mike

Duchess Milan, 69, Los Angeles, CA, 2017

“I just know I’m me. I don’t think in terms of names and forms and all that. It doesn’t matter.I’m just myself and that’s who I am.I am at peace with myself. It is the most wonderful feeling in the world because you’re never in a hurry to get somewhere, you know, to prove to anyone that you’re who you know you are. I know who I am, and what other people think about me is none of my business. So that’s who I am. I identify as the Duchess.

I knew that I might lose family, that people might reject me. But I weighed that, and I thought,“If I lose everything and everybody, but I keep me, that’s all that matters. That’s all that matters, because I’m not going to live a life that I’m not happy in, for other people.Why?It doesn’t make any sense.”So I put my money down and took my chances. My family accepted me. They came to accept me, and I’ve had kids around me, I’ve gone to all the weddings, all the funerals, and it’s a situation that everybody just thinks of me as who I am. It’s not even an issue anymore. “Oh, you mean her? Oh, that’s just Auntie.” – Duchess Milan

David, 63, Hull, MA, 2015

“When I was five years old,I found my older brother’s first communion suit. It was a very cool looking suit, white and double-breasted, and it fit me perfectly. I wouldn’t take it off.I wore it everyday. Day in and day out, until my parents got so tired of seeing it on me, they turned it into a Halloween costume as a way to get rid of it.When I was older,I played in this little rock band and one time whenI was over at my friend’s house I heard his mother mention a story about a person named Christine Jorgenson who had “changed sex.”I couldn’t keep my mind on practice after that!I wanted to find out more about this person, but you couldn’t Google it, of course, and so it took me months to find it. I was finally able to piece together that this was a person who knew their gender and went somewhere and there were people who could help.” – David

SueZie, 51, and Cheryl, 55, Valrico, FL, 2015

When we got married, I never imagined that someday my husband would become my wife,” Cheryle said. “Right from the start, SueZie confided that she identified as female on the inside, but transition never appeared to be an option. But, I never had a problem with her wearing lingerie. You know, it’s just clothes. I fell in love with the person inside, and what’s on the outside is more about what they feel comfortable with.”

For more information on the ongoing exhibition and book purchases visit To Survive on This Shore.

Tags: , , , , ,

Join the mailing list

Search

  • Identifying a comfortable and trendy dog cloth is turning out to be difficult, as more and more cute dog clothes are venturing in the global market on regular basis.