While the growing visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community is something to celebrate, older trans and gender nonconforming people have continued to remain underrepresented within this conversation. That said, one duo is now trying to help change that via a new photo exhibition dedicated to spotlighting these community elders, with particular focus on their stories and the complexities of their intersectional identities.
Dubbed To Survive on This Shore, the project is the result Jess T. Dugan's five years of traveling around the country to photograph people from all walks of life. Alongside social worker and Washington University in St. Louis assistant professor, Vanessa Fabbre — who facilitated the interviews that accompany these portraits — the collection seeks to document and showcase the narratives of older trans and gender nonconforming adults spanning socioeconomic class, race, age, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity and geographic location.
According to Dugan, To Survive on This Shore is meant to tackle the "idea of invisibility versus visibility" through "representations of many different ways of living and aging as a trans person" as a way of creating a "greater awareness of understanding about the issues" this part of community faces.
"There are certain struggles that come from someone feeling that their authentic self is not being seen, yet there is a different kind of struggle when their authentic self becomes more visible in society. That tension has been really prevalent throughout many of the stories," Dugan said, before later adding that the series stemmed from a desire 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," Dugan went on to say. "And I wanted to record and preserve them."
Equally as important though is the exhibition's desire to showcase the nuances of these elders' individual experiences by representing different facets of growing older as trans and gender nonconforming adults, including the beauty, difficulties and joy they experience. Notably though, To Survive on This Shore is also obviously concerned with exploring the question of how race and class can sometimes affect them "to a greater degree than their trans identity." And this is of particular importance seeing as how Dugan and Fabbre found was that "socioeconomic class proved to be especially significant," since it clearly "affected each person's access to healthcare, employment and housing, all of which impacted people's lives in a way that was literally life-or death," especially when it comes to survival sex work.
After all, as Dugan added, "When people talk about 'the trans community' as one cohesive group, that characterization overlooks how different each person's experience can be depending on the other intersecting aspects of their identities." All of which means that part of fighting this misperception is showing society-at-large that trans and gender nonconforming adults are individuals with a myriad of life experiences, much more complicated than a singular "struggle."
To Survive on This Shore runs from June 19, 2021 - January 2, 2022 at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY. Learn more about the exhibition, here.
Photos courtesy of Jess T. Dugan / Barrett Barrera Projects