Shifting the Focus and Raising Awareness: 5 Questions with Maya Jafer
5 Questions with Maya Jafer
Transfaith sat down with actress and activist Maya Jafer to talk about finding faith in new places and changing the focus of the transgender movement. Her art and social justice work excite us, and we know it’ll excite you too.
1. How would you describe your spiritual or philosophical perspective?
I am a Muslim, but I'm not religious at all. I'm more of a spiritual Muslim, which means that while I am a Muslim, I'm accepting all belief systems or lack thereof. I'm closest to Buddhism as a way of life, particularly the middle path, the acceptance, and love.
2. How has your spiritual or philosophical perspective evolved over time? What kinds of opportunities and challenges have shaped your perspective?
I was raised in a strict, traditional Muslim family in South India. I never really connected with God through religion. It was only when I discovered Buddhism that I discovered the spiritual aspects of Islam, and the acceptance of all belief systems (or lack thereof).
For the first time in my life, I started developing a connection with my God. It’s through spiritual connection that I have a strong relationship with my God. I do everything, big or small, through my God. I pray to my God to guide me, to protect me, or to make the right thing happen.
I've had to hold on to my faith very strongly because my family disowned me because of it. They said I was against religion, and that I dishonored the family when I transitioned. For a short while, it was very earth shattering. I felt like I had no anchor.
Now, I go to 12 step meetings and spiritual gatherings. These spaces helped me regain my spiritual connection with my God. I have to tell myself that my God loves me, no matter what, and that my God created me just the way I am. Today, my strongest anchor is my connection with my higher power.
3. How do you see your work (vocation, calling, advocacy, role, etc) in the world? How does your spiritual or philosophical perspective relate to your work?
I have two doctorates in holistic medicine, but I don't practice anymore. I believe in the concept expressed by the statement "Physician, heal thyself!" I had to work on myself -- especially with when I began my transition. It took everything out of me, and I couldn't be available to my patients.
Now, I’m an actor, a Bollywood dancer, and a post-op transsexual activist. My activism comes in the form of my movie Mohammed to Maya. We host question and answer sessions to raise awareness about what it means to be transgender and the issues we face. My work as an activist and advocate goes hand in hand with my spirituality because every move I make happens through my God.
4. When do you feel the most vibrant and alive? What resources or practices do you draw on to nurture your own resilience?
Acting is my passion. Recently I was in three episodes of the TV show Transparent. It's a very small role but I’m grateful to be part of this revolutionary show. When I give Bollywood or traditional Indian dance performances I am also really vibrant. I feel connected to life and I can see my purpose.
Prayer is my number one resource. I pray every day, several times a day. It works amazingly well.
I attend twelve-step meetings for group fellowship. They're always going on, and once you start going regularly, you make connections. I’ve made lots of connections with the other women in the program. I also go to a transgender support group on Friday at the LGBT Center here in Los Angeles
5. What kinds of issues or concerns do you think need more attention in the world?
Equality and acceptance for all minorities, whether it's black [people], transgender people, [disabled] people.
[Transgender people] receive more understanding now than we have in the past. The trans movement is beginning, and hopefully it will lead to more acceptance and awareness. The transgender community is the most misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized community in the world, especially the eastern world.
In the United States alone there have been several murders of transgender woman. In my neighborhood a transgender woman was stabbed, then burned alive until she was no longer recognizable. It was a horrendous act of hatred. This issue needs more attention and conversation. We can’t just talk about the good stuff, like Transparent, Orange is the New Black, and Laverne Cox. We need to focus on trans woman, especially trans women of color, getting killed left and right. These murders have been happening all along, but now they are being brought to light more often, which is a good thing. It must be addressed and taken seriously by EVERYONE.
Maya Jafer is an actress, Bollywood dancer & a transgender advocate. She is a post op, transexual woman from India, now settled in Los Angeles, as an U.S.A. citizen. She is the subject of the multi-award winning international documentary feature Mohammed to Maya. She is a co-star on the 2015 Golden Globe Award winning, Amazon Original Series Transparent. She is also a co-star on the 2015 Emmy Nominated, Transparent-Docu Series This Is Me.