I’m Still Fucking Here: Radical love, hope and strength in Ms. Major! (2016)

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Julia Readett reviews Major! at the Queer Screen Festival:

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Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde said, “Each time you love, love as deeply as if it were forever.” Her vision for Black feminism was defined by radical love that is enduring, healing and accommodating of difference and emotion. Black Transwoman activist, Ms. Major Griffin Gracey embodies and lives this vision in all aspects of her life. She is a mother, daughter, grandmother and aunty to so many women in her community because she has dedicated her life to caring for Transwomen of Colour’s safety and wellbeing.

Ms. Major! provides a complex insight into the life of an individual who has dedicated herself to combatting the struggles faced by Transwomen of Colour in the U.S. As it reveals, Transwomen of colour are the most incarcerated and at-risk community in America and throughout the world today. In the words of Ms. Major, Transwomen of colour are the “last bastion of people who you can violate and get away with.” Due to intense social stigma and the culture of violence that surround Black women and trans and gender variant people, Transwomen of Colour are subject to mass-incarceration, police brutality, homelessness, poverty conditions, inaccess to health care and timely health treatment as well as being invisibilised by society and the broader Queer movement. When reflecting on her involvement with Stonewall, Ms. Major discusses the way in which Trans and Gender Variant women of colour such as herself, Marcia Johnston and Sylvia Rivera have been written out of history through a process of white-washing their contributions to Queer struggle.

This documentary celebrates and preserves an essential and ongoing chapter in this struggle. It is an essential documentary tracing the life of a person who has used radical love and care, as well as anger and loss, to support Transwomen of Colour in every aspect of her life. This documentary is essential viewing for all individuals, but especially anyone who considers themselves allies and members of the Queer community. When accepting the namesake of a Queer community centre in New York, Ms. Major says, “If anyone says, ‘I’m here for the GLBT… No no no, motherfucker, T comes first.” Transgender women, and specifically transgender women of colour, face insurmountable stigma and violence and Ms. Major’s life are an essential reminder their needs and safety must be at the forefront of our movement.

Ms. Major asked herself, “What would happen if I used my life as an instrument for social change?”  Her early politicization occurred when she was incarcerated at Sing Sing jail in the 1970s and experience sexual assault, abuse and debasement at the hands of inmates and guards. Her work became informed by the Black movement to dismantle mass-incarceration, which lead to the birth of the organisation, Transgender, Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, an organisation that reaches out and assists transgender peoples who have been disproportionately incarcerated and denied basic citizen rights. She also worked as a health service provider, taking AIDS tests and support materials to Trans women on the streets of New York, using her humour and loving presence to de-stigmatise HIV AIDS and bring awareness to an issue that devastated the Queer community throughout the 80s and 90s.

However, this movie is not homework or some kind of “Hail Mary” for non-Transwomen of Colour to endure. Ms. Major is an incredibly fun and uplifting documentary to watch because you see what is possible through love, hope and humour.  A pastiche of hand-held camera, phone camera and documentary-style interviews creates an unapologetic and vibrant collection of stories from Transwomen of colour, each as hilarious as they are powerful.

With over 50 Transwomen of Colour reported dead in the two-year making of the film, Ms. Major exposes the way in which this community are violently erased from society for being who they are. Ms. Major’s vision for change is to create a safe space for Transwomen of Colour to be unapologetically who they are, and take power in the strength of living your life in a society who seeks to deny your existence. Wrapped in gorgeous, colourful prints, beautiful wigs and an infectious smile, Ms. Major makes her presence clear. “I’m still fucking here” is the chant of her people. “I’m still fucking here” says Ms. Major as she continues to light the way for justice for transwomen of colour everywhere.

The Queer Screen Festival runs from 20-25th September. For more information see: http://queerscreen.org.au/queer-screen-film-fest-2016/

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