by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday September 18, 2016


For over four decades, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy has been an advocate for trans rights and trans equality, especially in the area of our country's deeply broken, for-profit "correctional" institutions.

Miss Major herself was an inmate at Attica during the uprising at that prison in 1971; she was also a participant at the Stonewall Riots two years earlier. She has seen, from close up, multiple angles of the question of anti-trans attitudes, laws, and policies. Now in her 70s, Miss Major hasn't slowed down in her activism; she was co-Grand Marshal, along with Janet Mock, in the 2014 Pride Parade in San Francisco.

Filmmaker Annalise Ophelian covers this historical ground in interviews with Miss Major, her friends, family, and colleagues, and also by including archival footage. What emerges is a picture of leadership -- determined, undaunted, educated through experience but unshakable in her core beliefs. Miss Major is also a joyful presence, and her unchanging message to all whom she counsels and takes under her wing is simply that they are worthy of respect and their lives have meaning.

Hers is a point of view that is sadly, shockingly less than widespread. The Ophelian's documentary covers the ways in which trans people are criminalized and, once in the clutches of the prison-industrial complex, systematically humiliated and abused. Trans women are often locked up with male inmates, where they are targeted for physical and sexual abuse; they are raped not only by fellow inmates, but also by corrections officers. (One survivor of such abuses sued the sheriff's office that employed a deputy that raped her and, as part of her settlement, arranged to provide sensitivity training to law enforcement officers.)

Compare the historical lessons of this film to the ongoing persecution of trans people -- the recent passage of shockingly anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina is but one example -- and Miss Major's own summary seems indisputable: She calls the killing and neglect of trans people "a societal killing spree." A list of the trans women murdered just during the time it took for the film to be produced fills the screen with three columns of names. It's a sobering moment.

Miss Major's support and encouragement has helped many trans people survive and prosper, but it's her words of advice to the cisgendered viewer that serve as a take-away for many who will see this film: "Spend a mile in my shoes? Fuck my shoes. Wear my dress, my wig, my hair, my perfume."


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.