74 Years of Strength: Miss Major interview

Miss Major is warm, sharp and candid about her decades of strength and struggle for the respect of her communities. She speaks to The Skinny ahead of her appearance at this month's Arika

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 05 Oct 2016

This month sees the eighth Arika from 21-23 October. As always, they will bring amazing speakers and contributors to Tramway during the weekend-long programme. Among the long and exciting list of invitees, there is 75-year-old Miss Major who is in the position of being one of the most important figures of the last 100 years, as well as among the foremost trans rights activists still living and working today.

As one of the many trans women whose majority presence was decisive to the worldchanging outcome of Stonewall, Miss Major speaks out passionately and frequently against the historical trend to write out the trans presence at that time. “Some of the gay and lesbian community appreciate us and work with us. The majority, no. In every major gay area I’ve been in, the gay guys still point at transgender girls and say, ‘Look at that, how disgusting.’ How dare they. If not for us, those motherfuckers would still be in a closet somewhere if Stonewall hadn’t happened. They need to wake up!”

Though variously erased from dominant accounts of progress, her work now spans the continents and half a century. She speaks with warmth, sensitivity and sharpness about the kinds of encouraging or troubling developments she’s witnessed. “Here in the United States, right now laws are popping up to put us in our place, keep us where they can keep their thumb on us, and chase us back into the closet. I’m sorry, when most of my girls came out of the closet, those bitches turned around and burned the house down. So there’s no closet to chase me back into. You’re gonna have to deal with me because I have nowhere else to go. I’m going to fight for the ground I’m standing on.”

As well as questioning hegemonic narratives that sideline the decisive influence of trans communities for gay and lesbian rights, and vocally raising awareness of current dangerous legislation, she frequently contextualises and questions the present (so-called) banner moments. “The majority of people don’t care what happens to us as a people. They never have, and the fact that they do care about the celebrities… and don’t forget Caitlyn Jenner. A lot of us did the same thing and we had to struggle and fight, be beaten to get to the point of at least having some modicum of respect. I don’t have 100 million dollars sitting there while I buy a dress for 25 thousand dollars while girls are sleeping under a bridge somewhere.”

While Major’s recognition has grown in parallel with digital culture, she’s ambivalent about the effect of virtual encounters between people. When people “get all this information and jump to their own conclusion, they don’t have the opportunity to see the build up of years of abuses that led to that one event that everyone talks about. No one discusses what got it to that point.”

Most recently, she’s been the subject of the documentary Miss Major, an account of her years of struggle, and many decades of activism. As the film circulates worldwide, she has been travelling with it to talk alongside screenings. Thinking of some of the more promising potentials of easier international communications, she considers these moments, when “people get an opportunity to touch me, see I'm a real person.” She calls these moments “blessings.” “The girls that have read or heard about me get to see me and I get to hug them, and listen to them. I’m not there to teach them anything, I’m here to listen to what they’re going through.”

Miss Major and CeCe McDonald in conversation with Eric A Stanley, 22 Oct, 8.40pm, Tramway; part of Arika 8, 21-23 Oct