Thanks to a greater visibility of trans authors, actors and activists, more and more people are finding the courage to live their own truth. Mainstream media is rife with examples of trans men and women speaking out about their journey, their experiences and their hopes for the future.
Much of the focus is on younger people as the up and coming generation of trans activists. But there’s an entire community of older people who have either been quietly living under the radar or hiding their true selves. These people have now found they are able to live openly and honestly – some for the first time ever in their life.
In an effort to give these voices a platform photographer Jess Dugan has released her latest project, To Survive on This Shore. Dugan worked with social worker Vanessa Fabbre, traveling across the country to interview and photograph older trans and gender-nonconforming people from all walks of life.
The project has given people a chance to prove it’s never too late to make the choice to live authentically. The project not only helps older trans and nonconforming people, it also offers inspiration to younger generations. Many young trans people have never seen images of older trans people and they often feel as though that makes their own future feel even more uncertain. Being able to see older trans and non-binary people who are happy, confident and willing to be a part of such public projects proves there is true happiness that comes from living honestly.
Dugan also notes that part of her inspiration for the book was the abundance of bad news when it comes to mainstream stories about trans or non-binary people. “I worried their stories were at risk of being lost or forgotten, and I wanted to record and preserve them,” Dugan said, and she has reason to worry. Older people and the elderly are some of the most marginalized people in the country. They’re often overlooked and underrepresented in the media. While they are often overlooked now, the truth is that many of them helped to quietly change minds, open hearts and pave the way for greater acceptance.
“With this project, I wanted to create representations of many different ways of living and aging as a trans person,” Dugan went on, “I also wanted to record the history of people who, in many cases, paved the road for the world we live in now.”
The fact of the matter is that trans and non-binary people have always existed. At various points in history there have been some cultures that make room for these people in their mainstream cultural norms. Navajo culture recognized dual genders as do some sects of native Hawaiian culture while modern day Indian and Taiwan cultures continue to acknowledge and even celebrate gender fluidity) But in the West – and especially in the United States – the gender roles have a history of being much more rigid. That has effectively erased trans and non-binary people from history, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.
To Survive on This Shore is a project that adds to the history of our nation and our culture. By sharing their stories these people share their strength, their insight and their accomplishments. They offer a unique point of view often having lived through extremes in terms of cultural attitudes and social mores.
The project became a book which was released in August of 2018 and is now available through Amazon.