To Survive on This Shore

Selections from the South

Monica, 62, Baltimore, Maryland, 2016, photo by Jess T. Dugan.

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To Survive on This Shore

Selections from the South

by Jess T. Dugan, VanessaFabbre
Southern Cultures, Vol. 25, No. 2: Inside/Outside

"I know the next relationship that I go into, that person's going to be damn lucky. Because I've got my shit together. I've got my game on."

Representations of older transgender people are nearly absent from our culture and those that do exist are often one-dimensional. For more than five years, we traveled throughout the United States creating To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults, which culminated in a fine art exhibition and book about the lives of older transgender Americans. Here, we share portraits and interview excerpts with participants from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., to highlight the ways in which transgender people are aging in the South. Our participants’ experiences reflect the complex intersections of gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and geographic place. Their narratives of growing older illuminate a diversity of lived experience, varied approaches to aging, and, in many cases, they also point to contradictions in southern culture. While the South is often characterized as promoting exclusionary norms and policies toward gender and sexual minorities, it also celebrates southern affinity and local familial and community ties in ways that promote support for some trans people. In this regard, many of the participants in this project shared experiences of both social marginalization and receiving love and support from their families and communities. We hope these portraits and narratives provide a nuanced and complex view into the struggles and joys of growing older as a transgender person in the South, and inspire reflection on what it means to live authentically in later life.

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