By complete chance, I saw the documentary Major! recently and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the past few months. A small part of my experience was also learning that a local nonprofit movie theater does a queer movie series and being surrounded in large part by other LGBT and queer folks. But being able to learn about and celebrate Miss Major was really the best part.
The documentary is in large part about Miss Major Griffin Gracy and her story as a black trans woman, veteran of the Stonewall Riots, a survivor of Attica State Prison, former sex worker, and community leader/activist. Her work at the Transgender Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), for example, has supported trans women who are currently in jail and prison or who are formerly incarcerated. There are interviews from Miss Major herself and the community around her about her life and work and there’s so much love and support in this film.
But it’s more than just a biographical film. As the film’s own synopsis states perfectly:
It’s an investigation into critical issues of how the Prison Industrial Complex represents a wide-spread and systematic civil rights violation, as well as a historical portrait of diverse LGBT communities, told with love and humor, and personalized through the lens of a vibrant and charismatic woman. Through first-person narration and innovative visual storytelling, MAJOR! seeks to create a living, breathing history of a community’s struggle and resilience, as seen and experienced by those who lived it. (source)
For me, there was another underlying message in the documentary to honor those we’ve lost but fight like hell for the living and support the most marginalized people in our community. In the face of near constant violence and harassment, trans people (and especially trans women of color) keep surviving and it’s important that we support each other so that trans people can not only survive but thrive as who they are.
Due to so many factors, being able to grow up with fellow LGBT and queer folks is often impossible for many people. It’s not a community many are often born into or grow up around and for many people, coming out can be an isolating and lonely endeavor. And because of things like the awful and delayed response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and the continued and often fatal homophobic and transphobic violence, there’s a part of the LGBT and queer community that’s missing. Many of the key people involved in the Stonewall Riots, like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson, are no longer with us and no longer able to tell their own stories.
So having and supporting people like Miss Major, who was at the riot in 1969 and still doing amazing work, is vital and telling their stories is just as important. Those behind the documentary and the community around her are raising funds to help Miss Major survive in her retirement. If you can, I definitely recommend not only seeing the film but donating to Miss Major’s retirement and donating to TGIJP.