Miss Major is a new documentary project that intends to tell the story of transgender political activist, community organizer, and beloved matriarch in the trans women of color community, Miss Major Griffin-Garcy.
Major has worked for over 40 years on the behalf of the interests of her community, fighting for the rights and recognition of trans women of color across the United States, as well as internationally.
Her advocacy work as led to the development of a vast network of people either directly touched by her work and support, or personally invested in continuing her struggle.
As the executive director of Transgender Variant Intersex Justice, TGI Justice, Major works with the trans community in the fight against incarceration, police violence, racism and poverty.
The documentary is a collaborative project between filmmakers Annalise Ophelian, whose last film, Diagnosing Difference made the rounds of LGBTQ film festivals, and StormMiguel Florez, of Bad Flower Productions, which provides support services to queer and trans artists.
Working with a community board made up of mostly trans women of color, and supplying transcripts of interviews for those involved with the project, they approach the art of documentary filmmaking with a new vision – one in which the subject being studied has equal input in the way in which the story is told.
“We’re trying to be mindful that, particularly trans women of color, are deprived of agency and rarely get to tell their own story,” Ophelian told 429Magazine.
“People are giving you their stories, they’re giving you their truth, so you better be sure that you’re telling that truth accurately and authentically,” she continued.
The story being told in this documentary is centered around the life and work of Miss Major and by virtue of her work and community involvement, it will also tackle the issues and struggles of trans women of color, especially around incarceration and police violence—a problem faced by many in her community.
“Trans women are four times more likely to be incarcerated than the next likely group, which is black men,” Ophelian shared. “They’re incarcerated for crimes that have to do with their survival, and for things that folks outside of the prison industrial complex don’t have to deal with.”
“There’s a stereotype that trans women are more likely to be engaged in sex work and in criminal activity,” Ophelian said. “You can’t walk to the corner store without someone pulling over because they assume you’re working.”
That stereotype leads to a higher chance of incarceration because of the problem of visibility—police officers are more likely to pull you over or question you if they believe you are engaging in illegal activity, and you are more likely to be visible in public space if you are poor, of color, or trans.
“Trans women, and especially trans women of color have multiple points of vulnerability – a lot of that has to do with socio-economic status and class,” she continued.
The experience of trans women in prison has become a hot topic as of late, with the depiction of a trans woman (played by Laverne Cox) in Netflix’s hit show “Orange is the New Black” creating an awareness of the incarcerated trans persons’ experience, and the extensive news coverage of political activist Chelsea Manning, who came out as trans after her conviction in an effort to secure access to much needed medical support.
This documentary which follows the life and times of Miss Major, features the voices of many within her community who have been touched by their experience with Major, and who have gone on to become noted political activists and organizers in their own right.
“We’ve interviewed so many trans women who call her mama, who she’s a mother to, or who she’s a grandmother to…her family that she’s built is spread out all over the country.”
Major has been present at many major events in the politicization of the LGBTQ identity—from the Stonewall Inn to the rise of AIDS—Major supported many in moving through both the difficult struggles and the joyous celebration that has been part of building awareness for the LGBTQ community.
“Her life intersects so many cultural historical moments… if you talk to Miss Major, she won’t bring up Stonewall, it’s just not that interesting to her, but she was there,” Ophelian said.
“She was in Attica a few months after the [Attica Prison Riot] uprising, she was instrumental in revolutionizing the way that mobile outreach happened for trans women who are incarcerated in Southern California, she was there during the rise of aids in the community.”
Major’s work is about forging connection through mutual struggle and support—of providing a helping hand to those in need, and then inspiring others to do the same.
“Major’s legacy is different. She’s the person who picked people up, checked them into a hotel, gave them a meal, let them stay with her while they were getting clean,” Ophelian said.
“You can’t grant write around that, you can’t fundraise around that, but the number of people that she’s influenced and that then have gone on and played that role in other peoples’ lives is tremendous.”
In a video shot during Miss Major’s talk with the Audre Lorde Project, a community organizing center for LGBTQ people in the New York City area, a glimpse of Major’s message and contribution to her community can be seen—a small hint of what a documentary about her life will be like.
“It’s not so much what you do for yourself that matters,” Major says in the video.
“It’s what you do for others.”