What does it mean to be part of a civil rights moment for a particular community? It’s a time when the historical oppression communities such as black people or women turns to a discussion of human rights wherein societies, governments, and institutions must change to accommodate and reflect their humanity. For transgender people, it is also a time of shifting from hidden and invisible to visible and celebrated.
Part of that visibility shift is society’s realization that transgender people have been there all along, part of our families, workplaces, and neighborhoods. If we are still in the process today of recognizing transgender people’s contributions and humanity, part of that is simply a numbers game: not everyone has met or seen or interacted with many transgender people (or aware that they have).
Books like To Survive on This Shore, from Kehrer Verlag publishing, are important contributors towards changing that through art and visibility.
Photographer Jess T. Dugan and social worker Vanessa Fabbre created To Survive on this Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Older Adults. Traveling for years throughout America, from coast to coast, from villages to big cities, they sought out everyday transgender people to photograph, interview, and create a document of their lives. In particular, the book focuses on older transgender people who may not have a role in the trendy reality and drama shows that feature young trans people.
These are artistically stunning portraits of an under-visible group within an under-visible group, bringing our attention and awareness to the humanity of transgender people aged fifty to ninety.
To celebrate the release of this amazing book of more than eighty portraits in words and photographs, there is an accompanying art exhibition in St. Louis at projects+gallery.
The cover photo is a gorgeous portrait of a woman in a fur coat. Gloria, of Chicago, is well known for running a charm school, where she mentored other trans women on “how to be a lady.”
Grace Sterling Stowell, one of the book’s subjects, sums up the past half century journey of society to trans civil rights:
“In the 1960s, they called me a sissy; in the 1970s, they called me a faggot; in the 1980s, I was a queen; in the 1990s, I was transgender and in the 2000s, I was a woman… Now, I’m just Grace.”