The joys, traumas and fears of a long transgender life

Only in recent years has society begun to talk about what it means to be transgender. There are transgender celebrities now and transgender characters on television. It’s not just gay or straight anymore.

But what about the transgender individuals who grew up in a different time, before there was broader acceptance of a full gender spectrum?

That’s what photographer Jess T. Dugan and Professor Vanessa Fabbre set out to discover when they began documenting aging members of the transgender population, in words and photographs.

They met Gloria in Chicago: ”I made it to 70, and a lot of them won’t make it, they won’t make it at all. Because most of them die from drugs, from sexual disease or they’re murdered" (Naughton, 2018).

They found Dee Dee Ngozi, 55, in Atlanta: “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” (Naughton, 2018).

And there was Bobbi, 83, in Detroit: “I think people talk in either/or terms, right? Before transition and after. But to me, it’s really development. I’m proud of both lives. I’m proud of both mes, if you see what I’m saying” (Naughton, 2018).

The result is a collection of striking photographs and compelling quotes that are now catalogued online and in print, in a book titled “To Survive on This Shore.”

The team behind the collection want it to serve as a visual record of the joys, traumas, fears and hopes of the transgender community.

“We were looking back at 45 years of advocacy and education and life experience,” Dugan told the New York Times. “And I really wanted to capture that because I think sometimes our collective history is lost. We wanted to create a more broad and complex portrait of what it looks like to be an older transgender person” (Naughton, 2018).

Featured Content

Explore Dugan and Fabre's work as presented in the New York Times: A Visual Record of the Joys, Fears, and Hopes of Transgender People

View the complete collection of words and photographs: To Survive On This Shore


Dugan, J.T. & Fabbre, V. (2018). To survive on this shore: Photographs and interviews with transgender and gender nonconforming older adults.

Naughton, J. (2018, August 20). A visual record of the joys, fears and hopes of older transgender people. New York Times.

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.

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