Miss Major Speaks on Panel in Rural Vermont (Watch)
To watch the full event, click here.
(I recommend watching -- there’s more to experience beyond this article.)
The scheduled programming begins near the 26:40 mark.
APRIL 6TH, 2018
On a Friday afternoon, a mix of friends and strangers from Dartmouth drove to 118 Elliot (a community center). We were on our way to listen to Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a Black trans woman who has fought for liberation on many fronts. It was an enjoyable ride -- even with springtime snow flurries.
[For more about Miss Major and her work: check out this interview by Raquel Willis]
When we arrived, Brattleboro seemed eerily settled to me.
It could be because academia encourages people to fetishize stress, so calm is a state I’m regularly relearning.
It could also be because (paraphrasing a joke with a friend) the town looked like the origin story of white gentrifiers.
(I think the answer is both.)
I was happy with the company I had, though. Thoughtful people abounded.
When I walked around the space to view Art From Behind Bars -- an exhibit featuring work from formerly and currently incarcerated people -- fellow attendees caught my eye on purpose and smiled. An elder person who was handling the camera (I believe her name was Mai) greeted me, hugged me, and spoke to me more than once. Mai spoke about her life before Vermont -- in Vietnam -- and her years as a teacher. She gave me advice: that I should tend to my health as I do the work I choose. “That’s all I’ve got,” she remarked, laughing, as she returned to her own work. Coincidentally, later that evening, our featured speaker would advise: “In taking care of other people, you’ve gotta take care of you too… It’s a matter of making sure that you sustain yourself in the work that you’re doing.”
When most guests had roamed and returned to their chairs, Miss Major was escorted to her seat at the front of the room. Her arrival was greeted with awe and applause. Her presence was felt, and she was feeling herself. She sported a black cane, a flowing black-and-white-striped cardigan, and an ombred, silver wig, which she flipped with flourish. She has the same humor and openness in-person as she has in MAJOR!, a documentary about her life and cares.
Local organizers HB Lozito, Alex Fischer, and Shela Linton took time before the panel to recognize the groups that brought Miss Major to Brattleboro -- namely Green Mountain Crossroads (an LGBTQ organization) and The Root Social Justice Center (a racial-justice organization). They also highlighted the difficulty and importance of sustaining activism in rural areas, which perpetual city-dwellers like me often don’t consider. Among the difficulties of rural activism is a lack of funding fueled by the misconception that all impactful social work is metropolitan.
Entanglements of oppression and social isolation recurred in conversations between panelists.
Miss Major, who has lived in large cities for most of her life, explained that she moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to create more support for trans people in the South. She recalled stories of Southern trans women who’ve had to “go to larger cities… so they can get an opportunity to live their lives fully, to be the best person that they can be.” She brings more of this opportunity to Arkansas through House of GG’s, a non-profit she co-founded with her chosen family. Her hope is that, through more local organizing, a trans person in need of a “safe haven” would not have to stray far from home to find it -- or “alter, change, or adapt yourself to suit someone else’s needs.”
Another recurrence at this event was critique of egoism, and the danger of elevating one’s position at other people’s expenses. Particularly in activism.
“In doing this work, or in trying to be an activist,” Miss Major said, “you have to do this stuff from your heart… there are people who are doing this work to fill up a resumé… You’ve got to believe in the people that you’re trying to help.” In keeping with these beliefs, Major pushed back against people pedestaling her, asserting, “I’m just an average girl… doing things average girls do.”
Holding this energy, at the end of the panel, Fischer asked audience members to turn away from the stage and look at each other. The organizers wanted us to know this event was as much about honoring Miss Major as connecting with each other, in our varied urgencies.