Miss Major Griffin-Gracy (born 1940s), often referred to as Miss Major, is an American author, activist, and community organizer for transgender rights. She has participated in activism and community organizing for a range of causes, and served as the first executive director for the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project.

Griffin-Gracy has contributed to oral history collections, including Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, The Stonewall Reader, and The Stonewall Generation: LGBT Elders on Sex, Activism, and Aging. Her memoir, Miss Major Speaks: Conversations with a Black Trans Revolutionary, was released by Verso Books in 2023.

Biography

Chicago

Griffin-Gracy was born in Chicago in the 1940s, and assigned male at birth.[1][2][3] She was raised on the South Side of Chicago, while her father worked for the post office and her mother managed a beauty shop.[4][2] She has said after she came out to her parents around age 12 or 13, they responded by enrolling her in psychiatric treatment and taking her to church.[4][2]

Griffin-Gracy came out in Chicago as trans in the late 1950s, and has described drag balls at the time as places where "You had to keep your eyes open, had to watch your back, but you learned how to deal with that [...] We didn't know at the time that we were questioning our gender. We just knew it felt right."[5] She has also described the influence of Christine Jorgensen, who became well known in the 1950s for having gender-affirming surgery; according to Griffin-Gracy, "After Christine Jorgensen got her sex change, all of a sudden there was a black market of hormones out there," and she was familiar with how to obtain illicit hormones in Chicago.[4]

Griffin-Gracy has said she was expelled from college for having feminine clothes,[3] and she lost her home with her parents after they refused to accept her gender.[4] She has described working as a showgirl at the Jewel Box Revue in Chicago and New York,[2] and how she developed her name to add "Griffin" to honor her mother.[4] She has also discussed how becoming a sex worker provided the steadiest available income.[4][3] She recalls that after an incarceration in a psychiatric facility in lieu of jail in Chicago, she moved to New York.[4]

New York

In a 2014 interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Griffin-Gracy said that after moving to New York City, she found the Stonewall Inn "provided us transwomen with a nice place for social connection" and that few gay bars otherwise allowed entry to trans women at the time.[6] She has said she was a regular patron of the Stonewall, and that she was there on the first night of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion.[6][4] Police raids were common for LGBT bars, and Griffin-Gracy has said, "This one night, though, everybody decided this time we weren't going to leave the bar. And shit just hit the fan."[6]

Griffin-Gracy has described the impact of the death in 1970 of her friend Puppy, a trans woman who was determined by authorities to have died by suicide while Griffin-Gracy strongly suspected she was murdered by a client.[1] She has said, "Puppy’s murder made me aware that we were not safe or untouchable and that if someone does touch us, no one gives a shit. We only have each other. We always knew this, but now we needed to take a step towards doing something about it. [...] We girls decided that whenever we got into a car with someone, another girl would write down as much information as possible. We would try not to just lean into the car window but get a guy to walk outside the car so that everyone could see him, so we all knew who he was if she didn’t come back. That's how it started. Since no one was going to do it for us, we had to do it for ourselves."[1] She has described this as the start of her activism.[7]

Griffin-Gracy has also discussed her years of experience in prison and her experience on parole,[2][4][6] including after Stonewall, when she received a five-year sentence following a robbery arrest.[8] She has described Frank "Big Black" Smith, a leader of the Attica Correctional Facility riots of 1971, as a mentor, after meeting him while incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility at Dannemora.[4][2] She says he encouraged her to learn about African-American history and politics,[4] organizing,[2] and the prison industrial complex.[3] She has recalled being released from prison around 1974.[4]

Over twenty years, Griffin-Gracy also experienced homelessness, received welfare, and mostly found hormones through the black market.[1]

California

Griffin-Gracy began work in community services after moving to San Diego in 1978.[6] She worked at a food bank and then in direct community services for trans women.[6] Her work expanded into home health care during the AIDS epidemic in the United States.[6] In the 1990s, Griffin-Gracy moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, and worked with multiple HIV/AIDS organizations, including the City of Refuge in San Francisco and the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center.[6][4]

In 2004, Griffin-Gracy began working at the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP),[1] shortly after it was founded by Alex Lee.[9] She became the executive director of the organization, which is focused on providing support services to transgender, gender variant, and intersex people in prison.[1][4][10] Her work included visiting trans women and men in California prisons to help coordinate access to legal and social services, and testimony at the California State Assembly and United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva about human rights violations in prisons.[1][11]

While she was the executive director, she gave an interview to Jayden Donahue that was published in Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, and described in a review by Arlen Katen in the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice as "bluntly and powerfully stat[ing] that being trans* is an extension of the prison-industrial complex; even if not all trans* people end up in prison, their gender identities are constantly policed through other social and state mechanisms."[12]

In an interview with Jessica Stern published in a 2011 Scholar and Feminist Online article, Griffin-Gracy described a sense of exclusion from the broader LGBT movement, described by Stern as for "herself and others, especially transgender people who are low-income, people of color, or have criminal records."[1] In 2013, she was part of a campaign to revise wording on a Stonewall commemorative plaque; she advocated for "inclusive language to honor the sacrifice we as trans women displayed by taking back our power."[13] In 2014, when she was honored as a community grand marshal for the San Francisco Pride Parade, she said, "We're finally getting some recognition. I'm proud it finally happened and I'm alive to see it because a lot of my girlfriends haven't made it this far. I'm trying to get as many girls as possible together at the parade so people can see we're a force to be reckoned with; we're not going anywhere."[6]

Arkansas

Griffin-Gracy moved to Little Rock, Arkansas after visiting the city for a screening of MAJOR!, the 2015 documentary about her.[3] She developed a property she initially called the House of GG into an informal retreat center for trans people.[3][2] The property includes a guest house, pool, hot tub, merry-go-round, various gardens, and over 80 palm trees.[3][2] In 2023, she renamed the property to Tilifi, an acronym for Telling It Like It Fuckin' Is.[2]

Documentaries

A documentary titled Major! was released in 2015 and portrays Griffin-Gracy's role as an activist and mentor in the transgender community since the 1960s.[14][15][16]

Griffin-Gracy was also the subject of the 2016 film Personal Things, by Tourmaline.[17] She is an executive producer for the 2021 docu-series Trans in Trumpland.[7]

Miss Major Speaks

In May 2023, Verso Books published Miss Major Speaks: Conversations with a Black Trans Revolutionary, a memoir composed of interviews with Griffin-Gracy by journalist Toshio Meronek. Meronek is Griffin-Gracy's former assistant and also wrote a biographical overview of her for the book.[18][19] In the memoir Griffin-Gracy reflects on her early life, education, experience as a sex worker, the 1969 Stonewall rebellion,[18] incarcerations, knowing Frank "Big Black" Smith as a mentor, and her years of activism and community organizing, including during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, as well as her work as the director of the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP).[2][19][18]

In a review for Gender & Development, Haley McEwen writes, "Beyond an opportunity to learn about the life of a leader and elder in the Black transgender community through vivid personal accounts of activism and survival, listening to Miss Major speak is to subvert systems that have worked to erase and silence Black transgender women throughout history and in present reality."[20] According to Vic Parsons in Huck, "Miss Major has herself has been a crucial source of hope and support to many trans people. [...] In some ways, this book is a new version of the community building and emotional support that is Miss Major’s life’s work."[21]

Selected works

Honors and awards

Personal life

Griffin-Gracy has five sons. Her eldest son was born in 1978, and she later adopted three more sons.[4] In January 2021, Griffin-Gracy and her partner announced the birth of their son.[32]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Stern, Jessica. "This is What Pride Looks Like: Miss Major and the Violence, Poverty, and Incarceration of Low-Income Transgender Women". Scholar and Feminist Online. Barnard Center for Research on Women. Fall 2011/Spring 2012 (10.1–10.2). Archived from the original on September 4, 2014. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Levin, Sam (June 23, 2023). "'Get off our backs and let us live': Miss Major is still fighting for trans rights after 50 years of resistance". The Guardian. Retrieved June 23, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Grear, Daniel (March 27, 2023). "Miss Major Griffin-Gracy: A Black trans trailblazer's unlikely path to Little Rock". Arkansas Times. Retrieved June 23, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Wong, Julia Carrie (July 22, 2015). "Miss Major: The Bay Area's Trans Formative Matriarch". SF Weekly. Archived from the original on March 12, 2017. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  5. ^ Stryker, Susan (2008). Transgender history. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0786741366. Archived from the original on June 24, 2016. Retrieved October 12, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Owen, Elliot (June 26, 2014). "Life of activism shaped trans woman's compassion". Bay Area Reporter. BAR, Inc. Archived from the original on January 20, 2016. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  7. ^ a b Masters, Jeffrey (February 23, 2021). "What Trans Elder Miss Major Griffin-Gracy Wants You to Know". The Advocate. Retrieved June 25, 2023.
  8. ^ Asmelash, Leah (June 1, 2023). "Celebrate Pride Month with these trailblazing LGBTQ figures". CNN. Retrieved July 8, 2023.
  9. ^ Donahue, Jayden (2011). "Making it Happen, Mama: A Conversation with Miss Major". In Stanley, Eric A.; Smith, Nat (eds.). Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex. Oakland, CA: AK Press. pp. 302, 304. ISBN 978-1849350709. LCCN 2014497053. OCLC 669754832.
  10. ^ "TGI Justice Staff and Leadership". TGI Justice. Archived from the original on March 27, 2017. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  11. ^ Richie, Andrea J. (2012). "LIVING THE LEGACY OF RHONDA COPELON" (PDF). CUNY Law Review. 15: 258. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 23, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  12. ^ Katen, Arlyn (Summer 2013). "Book Review: Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex". Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice. 28 (2): 313. doi:10.15779/Z387P8TC6H.
  13. ^ Brydum, Sunnivie (October 24, 2013). "Does the Stonewall Commemorative Plaque Erase Trans People's Role in Riots?". Advocate.com. Here Media Inc. Archived from the original on September 11, 2014. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  14. ^ "MAJOR! celebrates trans 'mama' Miss Major Griffin-Gracy". CBC Radio. June 3, 2016. Archived from the original on December 20, 2016. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  15. ^ Nichols, James (February 10, 2013). "'MAJOR!' Filmmakers Annalise Ophelian And StormMiguel Florez Discuss Transgender Documentary". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on September 11, 2014. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  16. ^ King, Jamilah. "Activists Work to Finish Film About Transgender Elder Miss Major". ColorLines.com. ColorLines Press. Archived from the original on September 11, 2014. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  17. ^ Zukin, Meg (July 2, 2020). "'Salacia' Filmmaker Tourmaline on Spotlighting Black Trans Lives and the LGBT Journey to Mainstream Recognition". Variety. Retrieved June 25, 2023.
  18. ^ a b c Sanders, Wren (May 11, 2023). ""Stonewall Never Happened:" Miss Major on the Broken Promise of Our Movement's Most Famous Uprising". Them. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
  19. ^ a b Ware, Syrus Marcus (June 1, 2023). "Miss Major—legendary activist, elder and Stonewall veteran—tells her story". Xtra Magazine. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
  20. ^ McEwen, Haley (January 2, 2023). "Miss Major Speaks: The Life and Legacy of a Black Trans Revolutionary: by Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Toshio Meronek". Gender & Development. 31 (1): 302–304. doi:10.1080/13552074.2023.2167771. S2CID 258845118.
  21. ^ Parsons, Vic (June 5, 2023). "'You've got to fight for what you want:' Miss Major on the future of Trans liberation". Huck. Retrieved July 7, 2023.
  22. ^ Reviews of Captive Genders
  23. ^ Tichacek, Judi (July 22, 2015). "Book review: The Right Side of History, by Adrian Brooks". Rainbow Round Table Book and Media Reviews. American Library Association. Retrieved June 25, 2023.
  24. ^ Reviews of Trap Door
    • Lee, Christopher Joseph (May 4, 2018). "Trap door: trans cultural production and the politics of visibility". Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. 28 (2): 175–178. doi:10.1080/0740770X.2018.1473988. S2CID 158055793. In "Cautious Living: Black Trans Women and the Politics of Documentation," a conversation between journalist Toshio Meronek, Stonewall veteran Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and trans activist CeCe McDonald, Major puts the "transgender tipping point" into succinct and unsettling perspective.
    • Everhart, Avery Rose (July 1, 2018). "Transgender Representation and the Violence of Visibility: A Review of Trap Door". Resources for Gender & Women's Studies: A Feminist Review. 39 (3/4): 10–12 – via Academic Search Complete. Both this roundtable and the conversation between Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, CeCe McDonald, and Toshio Meronek in "Cautious Living: Black Trans Women and the Politics of Documentation" reveal the collection's strong abolitionist leanings and show how the politics of visibility shape the lives of trans people — particularly trans women of color.
    • Keegan, Cáel M. (2019). "Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility ed. by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton". JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. 58 (4): 183–186. doi:10.1353/cj.2019.0052. S2CID 201371715.
  25. ^ Reviews of The Stonewall Reader
    • Gambone, Philip (July 2019). "The Riots: Before, During, and After". The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. 26 (4) – via Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). In the wake of the riots, the question soon became a matter of how to maintain the energy and focus. "What do we do to keep this going?" asked Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a trans woman, in an interview. As we now know, the momentum did keep going.
    • R. A. H. (August 2019). "The Stonewall Reader". AudioFile. 28 (2) – via MasterFILE Complete. Even more striking are the interviews featuring the real voices of notable figures such as Sylvia Rivera and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who memorably declares that "history is one big lie."
  26. ^ Reviews of The Stonewall Generation
    • "THE STONEWALL GENERATION". Kirkus Reviews. July 1, 2020. Retrieved June 25, 2023.
    • Cart, Michael (August 1, 2020). "The Stonewall Generation: LGBTQ Elders on Sex, Activism & Aging". Booklist. 116 (22) – via Academic Search Complete. It was not only rights those involved were fighting for, though; Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a trans woman now 79 and a participant in the riots, remembers, "We were fighting for our survival."
    • English, Sara J. (May 19, 2021). "The Stonewall Generation: LGBTQ Elders on Sex, Activism, & Aging". Journal of Gerontological Social Work. 64 (4): 430–431. doi:10.1080/01634372.2020.1851841. S2CID 227077913.
    • Forsyth-Vail, Gail (2021). "The Stonewall Generation: LGBTQ Elders on Sex, Activism, and Aging". Journal of Unitarian Universalist History. 44: 177–180. ISSN 1550-0195 – via America: History and Life with Full Text. The resistance to harassment that began as what Black transgender activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy called a fight for survival empowered a whole generation to work to make things better.
  27. ^ Reviews of Miss Major Speaks
  28. ^ "Prime Timers: A New Age for Activism". Advocate.com. Here Media Inc. August 27, 2013. Archived from the original on September 4, 2014. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  29. ^ Laird, Cynthia. "News Briefs: API gala honors trans advocate, drag diva". Bay Area Reporter. BAR, Inc. Archived from the original on September 4, 2014. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  30. ^ Laird, Cynthia (October 23, 2019). "News Briefs: Crawford, Miss Major receive Acey Awards". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved June 23, 2023.
  31. ^ "A Salute to Amazing LGBTQ+ Women of 2021". The Advocate. Retrieved June 25, 2023.
  32. ^ Baume, Matt (January 20, 2021). "Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and Partner Announce Birth of First Child". Them. Retrieved July 20, 2021.

External links