September 2015

Dry Your Eyes Princess - Photographs by Stephen King


Dry Your Eyes Princess is a photography project by Stephen King in 2015. King has photographed trans* military veterans from across the UK, exploring the intersection between gender identity and military service. This project is the first of its kind examining trans* veterans’ experience of service in the British Armed forces. “Dry Your Eyes Princess” is a derogatory term unofficially used within the Armed Forces to deride personnel and in doing so, encourage them to toughen up. 

King has collaborated with trans* veterans from across the UK who have been involved in research with Dr Emma Vickers, a historian based at Liverpool John Moores University. Vickers interviewed 20 trans* veterans about their experiences of life before, during and after military service. King collaborated with the participants to analyse and reinterpret Vickers’ research based on their oral testimonies. He constructs images which are reflective of their pinnacle moments. This process leads to a portrait that is not based upon the physicality of identity but that is based on the social and cognitive landscapes surrounding the interviewees’ experiences.

In the UK the ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* personnel in the British Armed Forces was lifted in 1999. Before then, and due to limited understandings of gender identity, officials tended to conflate gender identity and sexual identity and many of the trans* personnel who were discharged were accused of being gay. One of the similarities between almost all of Vickers’ interviewees is that they joined the services as a form of therapy in the hope that the hyper-masculinity of the forces would rid them of the discomfort that they felt with their gender identity.

The image attached is of Dawn. Dawn transitioned in later life after a period in the British Army where she served in Northern Ireland. She was searching for a masculine environment in order to suppress her conflicted ideas about her gender identity. Dawn made sure she excelled during her time in service, something she termed as ‘a form of camouflage’. She would always run to make sure her fitness was beyond that of other recruits. She was dressing in secret and would hide women’s tights in the toes of her running shoes. During an inspection the tights were discovered. Thinking quickly she explained that the tights where used to store her muddy running shoes so the rest of her kit wouldn't get dirty. She was commended for her idea, and everyone else in her section soon started to use tights for the same purpose.

Selected images will be exhibited throughout November as part of Homotopia in Liverpool and Outburst in Belfast.

This project has been funded by Arts Council England

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