Last week, I watched the documentary “Major!” on the life of Miss Major Griffin Gracey. Miss Major is a Black transwoman activist, a veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion, and advocate for Black and transwomen of colour in prison. Miss Major serves as the Executive Director for the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, which advocates for transgender women of colour who are disproportionately incarcerated in the US.
What I learned from her life story was that Miss Major worked with “her own.” She worked with people like her, Black transwomen who worked the streets and were incarcerated. She worked with them one-on-one, writing letters, providing food, visiting them in prison, offering friendship. It occurred to me that I need to work with ‘my own’ as well, transgender Buddhists. That’s why I feel it’s time for me to focus my engaged work on the Triratna Gender Diverse Buddhist study group. I am helping 20+ transgender people go through the four-year program of Buddhist study, a critical step toward their ordination as Dhammacharyas, and my own. Modern Buddhism needs not only the bodies but the voices of transgender and gender diverse people as Buddhist teachers and leaders.
One of the ways that I want to work with ‘my own’ is to confront, as a white person, ‘my own’ internalized white supremacy, deconstruct and dismantle ‘my own’ white privilege, and counteract the white power structure in the media and the state. Working with ‘my own’ means working to end the system of white supremacy around me that involves me.
The Triratna Gender Diverse Buddhist in the West also has connections to an even larger Triratna Buddhist sangha in India. The plan is to extend our online study program to Buddhists in Mumbai and Maharashtra, a state in India that is majority Buddhist. I am already working with queer activists in India to connect with the Hijras and third genders of India, in Mumbai and Maharashtra. This is an extremely oppressed and marginalized group, even within Buddhism. It’s not realistic for me to go to India myself. Not only is it very expensive, but at my age I can’t tolerate the extreme heat. But I can reach them online, and together we can begin to build a transnational queer sangha that supports third genders in South Asia.
The massacre in Orlando at Pulse Nightclub, and the death of 50 queer people of colour (including the shooter) woke me out of my sense of quiescence and safety. The thin veneer of legal rights we have here in Canada are not strong enough to stop a bullet driven by hate. The United States is in even worse shape, with dozens of states passing laws to make blatant discrimination against queer and transgender people legal and enforceable by law. There are now 13 states in the US where I cannot use a public washroom.
I am more fervent than ever that I need to work with “my own.” I’m not Hispanic—nor am I a gay man, and most of the victims were gay men—but my partner is a Latina, and I know something about the struggles of Latinx queer people. The shooting woke me up to the fact that visibly queer people in the US and all over the world are still fighting just to make it through another day. Miss Major said that she hoped transgender and queer people who knew about her life would shout out “I’m still fucking here!” Queer and trans people all over the world are still struggling just to be here.