Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith
Dry Your Eyes Princess is a clever biographical collaboration of some of Britain’s most inspirational individuals. They’ll probably disagree that they’re inspirational, but all of them have made brave choices, and help to promote the possibility of what could be normal in the future.
The participants are described as “trans*”, and are, for the most part, proud military veterans. This exhibition is a celebration, but it also can’t help dragging up sore memories, and these are woven into the final images by Stephen King’s digital photography. The photographs tell stories of individuals’ adventure through life, and of specific pivotal moments that defined their very being. They are a collaboration between King, Dr Emma Vickers and the stories she gathered, and lead their viewer through questions.
Speaking to Abi, it was quite apparent she didn’t necessarily want to associate with LGB rights, simply with the T, which has been left far behind, especially in the military, where it might just about be ok to be gay, or to be a woman, on paper, but where they are at a severe disadvantage due to the opportunities given to them. Transgender, in terms of the military, and in society, is still a confusing and unclear word. It is far behind LGB as far as it is understood, and as far as it is accepted.
The recent, Who Dares Wins, show, aired on Channel 4 was, if you’ll think back to the adverts, made up entirely of straight men. This was not the fault of Channel 4, but reportedly a decision taken by the military not to allow women to misunderstand their chances of joining such elite ranks: despite the clear ability to do so displayed earlier this year by U.S. soldiers Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver – two female American military fighters who graduated from the gruelling Ranger School. In a sense, this exhibition is a further promotion of that message; that being female doesn’t hinder the possibilities of physical achievement, and it isn’t defined by physical stature.
Some of the stories affected me hugely, and while it is a small exhibition, it is worth going to see for the chance to read these stories, and try to relate to them in some way. Growing up through an all boy’s school system, I’ve certainly been told to man up, and am no stranger to “dry your eyes princess,” being scowled at me in younger years. It is this that keeps our gender views so solidified from birth, but as these women share with Dr Emma Vickers in their stories, it is, conversely, this that pushed them in the other direction; that gave them a point to relate to.
It is lovely to see such a variety of reactions to military service as well. Not the standard pride of Britain photographs we always see. These photographs display people who are not afraid to speak their mind. In some cases their memories are very positive, and they found great contentment in their service. Some are proud of their achievements, of how brave they had been. Some found every aspect of it disgusting. And some simply entered into the military as a form of self-correction. What ties them together is their decision, regardless of how highly they regard their service, to actively change and question their gender, and display their true selves. Something that even the most assured man can’t do during military service.