Hen is the gender neutral pronoun in Swedish (alongside masculine “han” and feminine “hon”), and similarly to ‘them, them’ in English, it serves the purpose of going beyond a binary way of thinking and identifies transgender and non-binary people.
Hen is also the title of the latest project by fashion and documentary London-born photographer Bex Day, and features 40 subjects who are over the age of 40, following the common thread of loneliness and discovery.
Day started this project over three years ago with the aim of raising awareness on the societal restrictions older transgender people face in their daily life: ‘I noticed that there was a lack of older transgender individuals in the media and wanted to give them a voice and a legacy’, she explains.
Day highlights the fact that there is not enough understanding of ‘ the struggles that the older transgender community had to go through at a time when it was far less accepted to be transgender.’ By encountering people through meet-ups and online forums and travelling all over the country, Day had the opportunity to build a sense of trust with each individual and expand the project.
According to Day, ‘A large part of the motivation behind Hen was precisely to highlight the power of such intergenerational social dynamics, which have the potential to unify a diverse range of experiences and challenges’.
Storytelling and freedom of expression are central to Hen, where each portrait is accompanied with a biographical text. The project offers also an interesting meditation on space related to identity, with some of the images capturing subjects in more domestic and homely spaces (Irene above).
For others (Annabelle and Dan above), Bex asked them to take her to a ‘meaningful place they visit regularly’: a beach in Wales for Annabelle and a peaceful glade in Wanstead Flats for Dan. The portraits capture the essence of the subjects in a raw and unfiltered way, making me delve deep into their journeys.
Meditating on Dan’s story is also illuminating as he registers the difference between ‘a chronological age and a transitioning age’: on that, Day captured both experiences of people who transitioned some time ago and of people who transitioned later in life, like Irene Heath (cover photo).
Irene was brought up in a time when trans people were considered invisible, realising the significant shift caused by the internet: ‘I didn’t even know other trans people existed until the internet came into existence. So I had a lot of fear in me when I decided to come out after I retired, and it took me several years to get rid of it.’, she recollects.
Next, the story of Melody, a trans woman featured in Hen (above) highlights the importance of allyship, saying that cis-gender people ‘should be proud to be seen with and be friends with trans women, as our integration in society depends on it’.
On a different note, Angela highlighted memories of her childhood, and the pivotal role of the dress-up box: ‘When I was little, I was happy to wear the skirt in the dressing up box and play the Mother Role. As a teenager I often tried to pretend I could look like a girl, but in those days the idea that there were actually people who had doubts about their gender just wasn’t conceivable’, she says.
To coincide with the exhibition, Bex has also co-directed a film with Luke Sullivan to raise more awareness about the series and its message. “The film allowed me to give a voice to some of the participants involved and show their talents and create a deeper sense of intimacy and understanding about the participants,” she says.
Hen, curated by Sandrine Servent, Mina Raven and co-curated by William Esdale, will be on display at Herrick Gallery, London, until April 7, 2019.