BOOK REVIEW: Miss Major Speaks: The Life and Legacy of a Black Trans Revolutionary

March 16, 2023

By Major Griffin-Gracy & Toshio Menorek

The future of black, queer, and trans liberation from a legendary transgender elder and activist.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is a veteran of the infamous Stonewall Riots, getting her jaw broken by a police officer the first night of the riots, a former sex worker and atavist, and a transgender elder and civil rights activist who has survived Bellevue psychiatric hospital, New York’s jail system, and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Miss Major Speaks is both a document of her brilliant life—told with intimacy, warmth, and an undeniable levity—and a roadmap for the challenges black, brown, queer and trans youth will face on the path of liberation today.

This is a superb visceral compassionate and raging memoir that brings a fierce focus onto the personal and political lives of Miss Major and shows how living without fear or shame, supporting communities and fighting injustice can begin about radical sustainable change.  She don’t give a fuck, tells it like it is, and exhilarates with her forthright hard won wisdom. The books unfolds as a series of questions from Toshio Menorek, which roam across the rich tapestry of her life, warts and all, sharing shocking, challenging and heartwarming insights into this tremendously affectionate person.

Miss Majors’ work around grassroots community organising and HIV/AIDS care laid the foundations for supporting people at the end of their lives, educating people in desperate need of evidence-based information and focusing the righteous anger of communities ignored, sidle lined and sacrificed by right wing political classes.

Born on the Chicago South Side but raised on the streets and battered, buffeted and bemused by many medical, mental or corrective institutes and interventions Miss Mayor confounds them, and their labels, boxes and outcomes and offers us real insight into what a life well lived looks like.

This is not your average biography, there’s no simple answers here, no easy ‘and then I…’ explanations, but plenty of hard slaps to bring us round to reality, plenty of hard-won experience lightly shared as cautionary tales but not wisdom, plenty of heartbreak and hopes that have paved the road to where Miss Major is today. In conversations with the author, questions are asked, answers are given interwoven with flashbacks, observations, rallying calls, radical empathy, a ferocious scathing tongue aimed at the hypocrites and wasterills who tried to take her down.

Miss Mayor offers us hope, through her own Black Trans Mature lens, but wraps it in the guise of ourselves, bound together by common ideas, not our complex intersections of identity, class or race but by our needs and community duties to each other. To care, to learn, to listen, to offer a hand, to find dignity and humility, and to be the monster who rages at the people who come to harm us, purposefully or by ignoring us.  But most importantly  by stepping up and just doing, doing the things that need doing, the everyday things, the longer term committed things, the hard things, but doing them, not passing the buck or turning the other cheek.

Eight decades down the line she still roars with life, anchored in the moment driving her will and personality off the pages, and offers startling and practical advice into living with all the passion you can muster.  It’s offered wrapped up in earthy humour, acid wit and a real sense of ‘I see you’  eyebrow raising. I’d give a lot to spend an afternoon with this gorgeous firebrand.

I adored reading this book, every page making me smile, sigh of feel anger. Reading about the need to honour our elders, but also understand them and what drove/drives them, to pass the baton with grace to those who coming up behind us, to shift from our privilege and platform voices in need of space.  Her refrain is ‘work with what you’ve got – YOU –  and work together’ it’s a powerful reminder of fighting for Queer, TNBI, LGBTQ & QTIPOC  liberation, recognition and rights is ongoing and a community endeavour. This fight is something for all of us to work towards and not leave it to often very well meaning but ineffective non-profit organisations or so called ‘representation’ as this is a half-way house to the honest, equitable and truly fair future of black, queer, and trans liberation.

Strong clear noncompromising voices like Miss Major don’t come along that often and when they do, we better listen, because by telling us their past, pointing out the road they’ve carved to allow the glorious procession of themselves to roll on, they show us the way to a better future.

The fact that this is done with such ruthless sharp pointed humour gives this memoir a delirious tangy edge and offers you a peek and some insight into Miss Majors gentle inner warmth & pure power which has shaped LGBTQ+ struggles in American for more than fifty years. Miss Major is truly an Icon with  a glorious Legacy!

Seriously Recommended.

Out May 2023, Paperback.

For more info or to order/buy the book see the publisher’s website.

Review:  Eric Page

Cover May 2023