Chicago Author Speaks About Black Trans History at FIU

C. Riley Snorton speaks on black trans history at the English Department's annual Butler Waugh Lecture in Literature. Kendra Campbell/PantherNOW

Kendra Campbell/Contributing Writer

In a nicely decorated ballroom, as faculty and students lightly converse over their mini plates stacked to the tipping point with hors d’oeuvres, they patiently wait for the guest of honor to introduce his new book.

The audience watched a discussion that hits home for some in the black community, yet remains largely taboo to discuss: black trangender history and culture.

On Wednesday, Sept. 11, the English Department hosted their annual Butler Waugh Lecture in Literature with special guest, C. Riley Snorton.

Snorton discussed his most recent book “Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity” that explores the often untold transgender history of African-Americans and how these two terms are often treated like separate entities.

Snorton is a professor of English and Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Chicago. 

His studies focus primarly on race and sexuality, specifically transgender identies within the black community.

“This actually wasn’t something that I had originally intended to study,” said Snorton. “But being both black and identifying as trans, people would often come to me asking about how they could find work related to black and trans history. It got to the point where I was like, you know what, one day I’m just going to write a book about this.”   

Snorton’s lecture aimed to open up the audience’s minds to the fact that race and sexuality can be studied through the same len and looking at stories of transgenderism in America’s history can help us further study how we look at racial identity in the black community. 

He said that when it came to many records pertaining to non-whites in America, much of these stories were omitted from American history books. 

Snorton believes that this shaped our lack of belief in transgender issues that continue to exist in minority communities.

When it comes to current day narratives on transgender issues Snorton feels that it’s being treated like a seperate topic that only started with the current generation. 

“A lot of journalists are treating transgender issues as if they just discovered it, as if they are columbusing it if you will,” said Snorton. 

Snorton hopes that through his book he can educate the public about how the history of racism and sexuality ties directly to today’s issues regarding injustices and violence against African Americans and transgender people. 

The English Department felt that for FIU’s culturally diverse and LGBTQ open-minded student body, this lecture couldn’t have been more important. 

I hope that, after hearing the lecture, students see themselves as thinking with and through identity, rather than seeing thinking and learning as anonymous or neutral activities,” said Martha Schoolman, an Associate Professor of English, who played a main role in organizing this event. 

Schoolman goes on to acknowledge that there are students walking on this campus that have their own questions about their racial and sexual identity that haven’t been answered by conventional media.

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