Miss Major Griffin Gracy is a trans elder and activist and among other things, was present at the Stonewall Inn Riots in 1969. She’s a community leader who has worked tirelessly over the decades to support other trans girls/women and the LGBTQ community, especially those who are or have been incarcerated, and helped spark the modern trans movement.
Miss Major was born in 1940 and grew up in Chicago. Early on in her life, she became involved in drag balls in Chicago and came out in her teens. After being kicked out by her family, Miss Major made her way to New York City and was a part of the Stonewall Inn Riots in June of 1969. She spoke about the riots to the Huffington Post a couple years ago, saying in particular:
And the aftermath of that ― there was a sense of pride that stood up for ourselves and we fought back. That they didn’t just roll over us like one of those concrete things that smooths the roads. We actually stood up and it was empowering.
Recently, Scarlett Johansson made news after it came out that she will be playing a trans character in an upcoming movie. This is the second controversial casting news that Johansson has been a part of in the last couple of years (the first being her role in the 2017 film Ghost In The Shell, where she played a character that had been an Asian woman in the book the movie was based on).
And while this isn’t the first time that Johansson has been at the center of a casting controversy, this also isn’t the first time that a cisgender actor will be playing a trans character. Matt Bomer, Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne, and Hilary Swank are just some of the most notable actors to do so. But just because it’s been done before (and with some critical acclaim), doesn’t mean it’s right.
Today (June 22nd, 2018) is the 14th annual Trans Day of Action, a day organized by TransJustice, a political subgroup of The Audre Lorde Project in New York City, to demand safe access in public and private spaces for trans and gender nonconforming folks and to honor all the victories made in the trans movement over the last year. The NYC event is happening today, 4pm-7pm at Christopher Street Pier (Pier 45 on Manhattan’s West Side).
Being publicly and openly trans and/or gender nonconforming is a tough thing to do, even in this day and age. I wish it weren’t, as being trans/gender nonconforming is just one part of a person and is an incredibly valid part of someone’s identity and experience. Even in feminist spaces like the recent Women’s Marches, it can be tough for trans and gender nonconforming folks.
So what do I mean with I say it’s hard for trans and gender nonconforming folks? It’s true that we’ve come a long way over the years and decades and it definitely feels like there are more trans people in the public eye. Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Caitlyn Jenner, and Gavin Grimm are just some of the people that have (for better or for worse) brought trans issues to the forefront of many conversations. And over the years, there have been many legislative and legal wins for trans folks around the United States.
But sadly, even with all the wins and with more folks understanding what the term/label ‘transgender’ even means, many trans and gender nonconforming folks still face many issues and obstacles for simply being their authentic selves.
Sylvia Rivera is often most known for being just one of many that were present at the Stonewall Inn Riots in June of 1969 but her life and work encompasses so much more than that night. Rivera, now an icon for many LGBTQ+ folks, was born in the Bronx in 1951 as Ray Rivera and had a turbulent childhood. At just eleven years old, Rivera was on her own, homeless, and hustling on the streets trying to survive. Despite all the hardships she faced for her gender and presentation (as the 1960s/70s were very unforgiving towards gender nonconformity in any sense), Rivera was often very open about being transgender/a drag queen and was a long-time activist for LGBTQ+ rights.
During its initial release and promotion, I wrote about Roland Emmerich’s 2015 film Stonewall and about how the film was essentially not representative of what happened during the 1969 Stonewall Riots. I wasn’t the only one to critique the film before even seeing it – the hashtag #NotMyStonewall brought up a variety of criticisms for the film and of the decision to center a cis, white gay man rather than the real life people who were present.
And for over a year, I forgot about the film. It didn’t seem to really do that well, getting only 10% from Rotten Tomatoes, and despite being friends with a large amount of LGBTQ+ folks, I honestly don’t really know anyone who actually went to see it. But a few weeks ago, I was staying at a place that didn’t have internet and because the one video rental place in town was having a special deal of renting five videos for the price of three, I decided to finally see what Stonewall (2015) was all about.
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.
There seems to be a weird trend where someone is called out on a mistake only for them to issue a non-apology that takes none of the blame. Making mistakes is inevitable – as humans, we’re flawed and messy. The repeating of the same mistakes and not owning up to them is what I personally have trouble with.
It can be hard to admit you’re wrong and even harder for your actions to reflect that. Our society’s obsession and subsequent intense pressure towards success and perfection makes owning up to mistake damn near impossible but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Mistakes can often offer an incredible opportunity to learn and grow more.
All of this comes in the wake of yet another cis man being cast as a trans woman in a film. In this case, Matt Bomer was cast as a trans woman in a new movie called Anything and Mark Ruffalo offered a non-apology for it. I could go on about the implications of casting men to play trans women in Hollywood – like how it sends the dangerous message that trans women are really just men or how it takes away what little roles trans actors have to portray trans characters. This is an incredibly important conversation but there are significantly smarter people with significantly better insight that have been talking about this and I’ll let them take the ropes on it.
This Friday is the 12th annual Trans Day of Action! This yearly event is a protest organized by the Audre Lorde Project in New York City to call for several different demands and in some part, remember that Pride is rooted in a police riot started by trans women of color.
Pride is still really important – it allows for a celebration of a community that’s regularly erased, discriminated against, and violently beaten. But it’s started to grow more into a corporate party that, like many other things, over represents white cis gay men and where police and banks often outnumber many trans community groups in several major city celebrations. Trans Day of Action puts trans people of color back to the front and center.
States like North Carolina have been making waves over the past few weeks with different pieces of legislation that are inherently discriminatory in nature – many of them focus on discriminating against LGBTQ folks in the name of religious freedom and public safety. The North Carolina bill comes as a response to the Charlotte City Council’s recently expanded ordinance that would allow for trans people of the city to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. The bill does a whole lot more though – as Camila Domonoske explains:
The new [state] law establishes a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance that explicitly supersedes any local nondiscrimination measures. The statewide protections cover race, religion, color, national origin and biological sex — but not sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill does so much more as well. Among other things, it essentially supersedes literally any local government ordinance – from non-discrimination policies to minimum wage increases. So not only does this impact LGBTQ folks in the state but also makes any sort of citywide minimum wage increase nearly impossible and thus impacts low income and working class folks as well.