Author: transjoymedia

LGBT+ Figures in History #3: Miss Major

Unless otherwise specified all quotes are from Miss Major’s personal website, which you can find here: missmajor.net

For those of you who aren’t aware of her, Miss Major’s website really says it best: “Miss Major is a Black, transgender activist who has fought for over fifty years for her trans/gender nonconforming community.”

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy was born on October 25, 1940 on Chicago’s South Side, where she participated in the drag scene in her youth. I appreciate that she has pointed out that she and her contemporaries were unaware that they were exploring their personal gender identities through drag, as the current vocabulary around gender identity simply did not exist back then.

[Author’s aside: I grew up in a conservative Christian household from the American South, so this explanation resonated with me on a personal level.]

Miss Major came out as a trans woman in the late 1950s, after which she was ostracized and routinely assaulted by her peers. Through the ensuing years Miss Major was on the ground during the Stonewall Riots, and survived both Dannemora Prison and Bellevue Hospital’s “queen tank.”

These experiences continue to inform her “work to uplift transgender women of color, particularly those who have survived incarceration and police brutality.”

Miss Major’s personal and professional accomplishments are next to innumerable, so I will attempt to portray the highlights:

  • She worked directly with people with HIV/AIDS in New York during the early 80s
  • This helped her create and drive the first mobile needle exchange in San Francisco
  • She is the former leader of the TGI Justice Project, which works “to end human rights abuses against transgender, intersex, and gender-variant people, particularly trans women of color in California prisons and detention centers.”
  • She now runs House Of GG, an educational leadership retreat primarily aimed at Black Trans women who live in the Southern U.S., which you can learn more about at their website: houseofgg.org
  • Her recent creative work includes “executive producing the series Trans in Trumpland (now streaming everywhere), and a book on her life’s activism, a collaboration with Toshio Meronek”

No amount of explanation or bullet points can accurately convey the impact that the incomparable Miss Major continues to have on the lives of the most marginalized and brutalized members of our society. She continues this valuable work to this day, including the upcoming publication of her autobiography Miss Major Speaks which you can pre-order from Verso Books.

Facing Disillusionment with Masculinity

I know there are positive aspirational models of masculinity out there. But trans men in particular may feel shut out of the positive aspects of masculinity that many cis men expound as the virtues of being a man. I find the general air of bioessentialism, and justification for the continuation of the racist historical patriarchy found in the approach that certain cis men have towards thinking deeply about masculinity to be a huge turnoff to the whole idea of interrogating my own masculine identity.

All of the people that have been responsible for some of the most heinous acts of cruelty against me and the people around me have been men, and my mother was raised by a woman who genuinely hated men. This unfortunately common combination lead to my mother picking up some aggressively “anti-man” stances. One of which was the idea that if she just brought her dildo into work her staff would respect her more. This idea was seen as a way of dealing with the patriarchy under which she was forced to work, and this idea that if she only had a penis she would “get the respect she deserved” struck her young trans son (me) as being pretty damn simplistic and decidedly anti-masculine. It reeked of her mother’s idea that if only there weren’t men, women would be fine, and free from oppression. Anyone who has observed groups of humans for any length of time knows that inequity, oppression, and manipulation are not the exclusive domain of cis/het/white masculinity, and cis/het/white women are not the worst targets of this inequity, oppression, and abuse. This is not meant to denigrate my mother’s experience of chafing against the effects of the patriarchy, but she still held down a job that put her in the top 1% of earners for our area. And she did struggle to gain respect at work because she was woman, but she also held the same well-paid job at the same company for over a decade and only left at her own choice. This is not the worst way her life could have shaken out, not by far. In fact, it is because of the above that I felt fairly privileged during that time in my childhood. Stability, however excruciating it may be, is a privilege.

I feel the above may be able to be misunderstood as me saying my mother should be grateful for her position in the patriarchy. Please do not take my criticism of my mother’s lack of awareness of her privilege as an endorsement of the structure in which she found herself. I only take umbrage with the manner in which she chose to express her discontent. I found it only led to further mental anguish on her part because focusing your criticism of the patriarchy solely on the basis of biology leads to thinking that one has no means of action against the structure. She felt that because she was born a woman, she only need mimic the “biology of a man” to improve her comfort within the existing structure. Transgender and nonbinary people didn’t seem to factor into my mother’s understanding of the world, despite the fact that she was very much aware of the existence of trans people.

She never challenged the structure itself. She never felt that she was in a position where she could. All of this, while others out here approach the structure, and (unlike my mother) are actively refused the opportunity to thrive within in it. Thusly, they are forced by society to actively work to change the structure. Not because they are in any particularly special position to effect this change, but they are simply left with no choice other than to lie down and die, by their own hand or someone else’s. When your life is on the line, it can be a much harder spur to effective action.

I struggled to accept my own masculinity because I lived in fear of the understanding of masculine identity that I was force fed as a child. My father still looms large in my mind when I think about my childhood, even though I last laid eyes on him in person about 15 years ago. I don’t feel the need to get into the more prurient or heinous details of the abuse my family suffered. I don’t think that’s necessary. Pretty much everyone I know has deeply seeded issues like this with at least one man in their life. This doesn’t bode well for those of us who know themselves to be men.

I think one place to start when thinking about masculinity in general, is to question masculinity as it exists in my life today, rather than reject it on it’s face. I prefer to understand the racist motivations, bourgeois origins, and ableist sentiments of the version of masculinity that is currently accepted as this truly non-existent “norm”. I want to explore how masculine energy can show up in my life in service to my mental health, and development as a person, rather than as a set of standards of appearance and behavior to which I must adhere.

This is vital work in which I encourage everyone to engage. Below is just a sample of some of the questions that you could think over to start off your journey into thinking deeply, and critically about your masculinity and relationship to it.

What are your current ideas of what constitutes “masculinity” and “femininity”?

How do you fit into those ideas right now?

Do you feel a relation to the commonly held ideas of what constitutes “masculinity”? (Meaning do you feel you should be called he/him? Are you sexually attracted to people whom greater society considers to be masculine? Do you want masculinity to show up in your life at all?)

Are the ideas of masculinity and femininity useful to you, and your life?

Ask yourself how have men and masculinity shown up in your life up to this point?

How do you relate to the people that make up that representation?

Is your relationship to them rooted in abuse, fear, and/or manipulation?

Do you currently have any healthy, substantive relations with men/masculine people?

Do you have healthy relationships with masculine people of different generations?

How has religion influenced your view of masculinity?

How has your country or society’s history with racism, and colonialism affected your ideas around masculinity? (i.e. venerating one type of skin color, or body shape over another; promoting conceptualizations of people of color as a set of stereotypes instead of encouraging seeing everyone as humans deserving of understanding, and respect)

Do you feel like your current relationship to masculinity supports your efforts to live your personally held values and beliefs?

What can you change to ensure that your ideas around men and masculine people do not continue to enforce the current status quo? (This could be as simple as consciously being more inclusive in your use of language i.e. using the phrasing “pregnant people”, or as involved as deconstructing the manner in which you argue with your partner and realizing that many of your responses are rooted in the enforced sublimation of all emotion to anger because that’s the only way you have seen men approach intense emotions.)

How can your masculinity be used to better serve those around you and your greater community?

Complement your exploration of masculinity with a better understanding of the effects of the desire to “pass” as cisgender.

About this site

Hi there! My name is J.D., and the spark for what would become TransJoy Media was lit by a particularly bad day. I got to the place where I literally just Googled the phrase “trans joy” because I needed some. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I decided to write myself into some trans joy. The results of this endeavor became one of the cornerstones of this site, which you can read here.

Before my public transition I was unaware of the concept of trans joy, so you could say the name TransJoy Media is really more of an aspiration than a dedication. Through my writing I hope to record some conversations I have with myself and others about growing and maturing as an intellectual, as a creative, and as a trans person in a (sometimes overwhelmingly) cis oriented world.

If you’re interested in having your work featured on the site, please fill out the form on this page.

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