A few days ago, a new hashtag appeared: #BlackTransLivesMatter. These four words contain a broader message and shed light on a part of the community of people of color that has a 1/12 chance of being murdered for who they are, and that is yet sometimes even forgotten by its own people.
The BlackLivesMatter movement has been fought for quite some time right now, and the screening on Thursday evening at Cinema Victoria reflected that topic in an incredibly moving way. Presented by SFG in cooperation with PATRIU, MAJOR!, a documentary from the USA by Annalise Ophelian, follows the story of Gracy Major, a 73-year-old transgender woman of color who has been fighting for trans rights for over fourty years.
Until 2015, Gracy, or „Miss Major“, as she is called often, was the leader of the Transgender, Gendervariant and Intersex Justice Program – short TGIJP – an NGO that fights for the rights and wellbeing of imprisoned transgender women. The conditions these women have to live in are inhumane and can even be classified as torture. Haunting descriptions by fellow inmates paint a picture of horror: „Once these doors shut, it’s open season in there.“ Trans women are ridiculed and abused, they get shaved bald, they do not receive the medication they need, and they get continuously raped. Once they complain about that, they usually end up in solitary confinement „for their own protection“, sometimes even for months. The descriptions of that place by actual victims just make it real – it’s cold, it’s wet, you get one blanket, and you constantly hear screaming and crying from the other cells.
After these women get out of prison, they often fail to get a legal job and then have to turn to illegal labour such as prostitution or drug dealing. Even if they have never been imprisoned, one in five trans women experience homelessness at some point in their life. A lot of these women describe that they wouldn’t have made it without TGIJP and Major taking them in and caring for them like a mother. „We’ve become a surrogate family to a lot of people“, they say. „She relates and she understands and she just accepts.“ The women’s description of Major giving them hope and putting them through are as genuine as can be.
One of the reasons Major can relate so much is because as a trans black woman in the early 60’s, she has not had an easy history herself. Her mother kept on hoping that it would just be phase, and her sister burned all of the pictures she had of her youth, shortly before commiting suicide.
Her transition really started to take off when she met a drag queen named Katie, who showed her how to put on make-up. After being expelled from college for wearing make-up, Major moved to NYC and got involved in several drag shows. And of course, of course, she took part in the Stonewall riot. Just like so many other transgendered people. And yet – there is no trans person at the Stonewall memorial.
Major herself served some time in prison before returning to NYC where she has a child. It is impossible not to hear the unconditional love and affection in her voice when she talks about her son. And he knew that as well. „I was the most loved kid ever… I am blessed.“
Miss Major has inspired countless women, saved countless lives and has made the world a safer place for a lot of people. She faces every challenge with grace and dignity. „No matter what she was faced with… she came out on top.“
In the end, Major happily rides a bus on a pride parade, an image that is still burned in my head. After the lights in the cinema went on, I was speechless for a few minutes, confused to be back in the real world and overwhelmed by everything I had just seen, learned and experienced. Rarely have I seen a documentation as raw, as gripping and most importantly as heartwarming and hopeful as MAJOR!. The affection the women’s voices when they tell their stories and talk about Miss Major could not have been more real. And I am still unsure about how I feel. Enlightened, a bit ashamed to be so uneducated about transgender issues, but most of all inspired from the bottom of my heart. This is a documentary that will stay with you for a long time after you leave the cinema.
Transgender issues lack recognition even within the LGBTQ+ community. But black lives matter. Trans lives matter.
And when the documentation ends with several trans women saying „I’m still fucking here“, how can you not believe with all of your heart that black trans lives matter?