54, Minneapolis, MN, 2016

Jess T. Dugan
American, born 1986
Andrea, 54, Minneapolis, MN, 2016
Pigment print
Gift of the artist

Listen to the Artist Speak About the Work

I think all of us are in some state of transition, no matter who you are, but particularly if you are a trans person. Overcoming the social challenges of being trans can sometimes be even more challenging than overcoming the physical struggles. Nobody knows what’s going on between your legs except for the people who you want to know, and so what people are really dealing with is how you present, how you act, and how you are in the world. That’s where people experience a lot of the pushback for being trans, in those daily interactions. It was certainly a challenge for me.I’ve always been politically-minded. I was concerned with broader social justice issues, particularly as they relate to African American people, but I was not necessarily activated around LGBT issues until they became even more personal. But once I came out, I started getting involved with activism because I was trying to build support for my own journey. I’m thinking to myself, “I’m coming out. I need people who are going to be supportive of me, and so in order for me to gain that support I need to give support.” This process helped me understand a lot of issues that trans people face, and that’s when my activism really took off. It was an immediate response of self-preservation. And, to a large extent, it is still why I want to create a better world, because I’ve got to live in this world and now I have grandchildren who need to live in this world.

Another important aspect of my journey is being bisexual and being trans. I actually hid my bisexual identity for a long time after I came out. I thought, “You know, if I’m going to be a good trans person I have to be heterosexual.” Everybody assumes that I’m going to be with a man. Otherwise, why would I transition and do all of this stuff if I’m going to continue to date women, right? So, coming out about my sexuality in the African American community was the most dramatic coming out. There’s this saying, “strictly dickly,” that’s what you should be about. You know, finding a man, but some of these guys are full of shit. They want to hang out at two o’clock in the morning and not be seen with you in the daytime and then they are the main people out here actually murdering trans women because they still can’t deal with their own internal attraction to beautiful trans-identified women. It’s so caught up in the patriarchal, machismo kind of thing.

What advice would I give to young people? Go to school. Understand yourself. Be authentic with yourself. And love yourself. Try to be a productive, contributing member of our society. And guess what? That comes back to you. Get engaged in politics, if for no other reason than your own survival. That’s what we have to do at this point in time. I can appreciate that some people just don’t want to be on the front lines, but support those of us who are, because that’s what’s going to get us our liberation.