MAJOR! is a documentary film exploring the life and campaigns of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a formerly incarcerated Black transgender elder and activist who has been fighting for the rights of trans women of color for over 40 years.”

The above description and few additional details from Miss Major’s Wikipedia Bio were all I knew about Major Griffin-Gracy a few weeks ago when I accepted an invitation to attend film’s premiere at the 2015 Transgender Film Festival in San Francisco.

It’s not that I didn’t know the statistics.

I did.

From the advocacy of Janet Mock, I learned about the increased risk of violence faced by transwomen of color and through the incarceration of CeCe McDonald, I learned about their disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system. I’ve seen the graphs and charts, but Major! explores these issues through story; tracing the harrowing yet exuberant life of an irreverent, irrepressible and utterly disarming woman who has built family and community for transgender women in and out of prison.


TGI Justice

Miss Major’s TGI Justice Project works to create “a united family in the struggle for survival and freedom… working in collaboration with others to forge a culture of resistance and resilience to strengthen us for the fight against imprisonment, police violence, racism, poverty, and societal pressures.”

The staff and volunteers at TGI Justice visit prisoners, write letters, do research and advocate for their sisters behind bars. It is a noble work. It matters.

What I experienced watching this film is akin to the religious conviction of a lapsed evangelical during a barn-burning sermon. I was deeply affected and ultimately shamed by how little I have done for others. in my life. As I witnessed Major’s struggles and losses, I became acutely aware that for too long, I have excused my inaction by wrapping myself up in grief.

I am too sad, too anxious, too broken to do the work that must be done is an easy out, but for how long? At what point do the injustices of this world demand that I snap out of it?

One of the most powerful moments of the night was Miss Major’s defiant battle cry; I am still fucking here. At the film’s close, familiar and unfamiliar transgender women appeared on-screen, echoing this refrain. It was evidence of the resilience of the human spirit in a society and its systems which seek to destroy. And yet, there are so many who are not still here.

The empty seat beside me was glaring and I wept throughout the 8-minute standing ovation. Leaving the theater, I felt the full weight of having been a useless ally – mostly in theory and woefully out of practice. My daughter is gone, but I am still fucking here and I should damn well be putting that grief to work in her name.

For such inspiration and a renewed fire in your belly, I highly recommend checking out MAJOR!, when and where you can find it.

MANY THANKS to AJ Russo, who squired away tickets for J., Mouse and I to attend the event.

Visit the MAJOR! doc’s website:

Find out more about the work TGI Justice does here:





(from the atchives – 2011) The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1998 in response to the murder of Rita Hester but for the last several years it has brought another woman to my mind.She is greatly missed and though I did not know her well, I knew enough to understand what manner of loss had befallen us all when she was taken.

We are in the office kitchen. She has arrived in tall shoes, with pink ribbons twined in her hair. We are forever trading nods and pleasantries, this beautiful girl and I. Still, I’m not even sure that she knows my name. I know a few of hers. The one she uses on good days, the kind of days you wake and wind ribbons in your hair, and the one she uses on bad days, when the mean reds hit and it takes all the strength you have to clutch a pillow in one hand and a telephone in the other. “Tell him it’s Pumpkin.” she’d whisper into the receiver.

And I suppose she wouldn’t mind me telling you this now. What she’d mind, I suspect, is that there were no fireworks when she went, no moments of silence, no flags at half mast. We were nothing to one another, Pumpkin and I. Little more than nods and smiles, phone calls transfered and a “hey you, how goes it?” in the stairwell. Still I couldn’t help but see in her what I have so often seen in myself, that ability to dress up sorrow with bravery. Put together and put on. She did it better but I’ve done it longer. That’s all. So if you see her, tell her that there were fireworks and more moments of silence than she could have expected. It’s the god-awful truth.

When Ashlie died, one of the phone calls I made was to her teacher, a former Army drill sergeant who manages to teach the students that no other teacher in town can manage. When I told him that Ash was gone, his first thought was that there was violence involved. To say that she died “by her own hand” is little consolation we agreed, but in light of the statistical alternatives, it is somehow a blessing.

Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo and Rita Hester are not anomalies. Nor are they the norm. But every year, on this day, Remembering Our Dead is one way to fight the bigotry and lack of understanding which results in the kinds of brutality that no one should ever face. On this day and every day, educating yourself and those around you, refusing to engage in the casual, “soft” bigotries of our current culture (Ann Coulter’s adam’s apple jokes, lazy sitcom man-in-a-dress plotlines, Chaz Bono gawking)   and instead establishing your position as an ally can go a long way to changing public perception and ultimately, saving lives.  Like THIS


Yesterday, while wandering through the wonders of the internet(s), I came upon an essay by Stephen Ira which was (specifics aside) a critique of media portrayals of trans people. The article gnawed at me all day and by this morning, once I was able to untangle my internal response, I realized I feared that in writing and sharing our story, I am furthering that narrative.

“This construction of the emotionally tortured transsexual does another important job: it normalizes trans suffering. Much of the emotional suffering that trans people have to deal with is a result of cissexism.  Lack of access to medical care, disrespect from family and peers, and constant media reminders that trans bodies are worthless and require frequent monitoring/destroying.  But if cis people create the impression through media that suffering is trans people’s natural state, they can erase the real cause of trans suffering: cissexism.”

I am acutely aware that I come to this with my own privilege and I struggle to walk a fine line, speaking about though not for my child and the trans people in our life. I write about doctors, psychiatric professionals and school administrators, those who who were helpful (the few) and those who weren't (the many). I write about family and friends, those who rose to the occasion with unexpected acceptance, and those who could only see her as some kind of Other, whether a soon-to-be victim of violence, a mentally unstable child or a slave to sinful things. I write about her friendships with older trans women and about the emerging generation of trans people we knew, living lives full of hope and promise.

As I wrote two years ago in a sharp-tongued memo, I do not believe that Ashlie's gender brought about her death. In this way the narrative of “The Boy Suit” is perhaps false, but the larger story, the one I wake up every day intent on pounding out piece by piece, is one that I hope addresses in some ways, the cissexism that Ashlie and those like her face.

Despite the desire to remain an ally to the trans community, the fear nags at me that perhaps I am doing more damage than good.  No defense of my work should undermine the experiences, ideas and reality of the very people I seek to support. It is a fine line and I suspect that I will continue the struggle to find myself on the right side of it.