C. Riley Snorton, Ph.D.


1.For people who don’t already know you, please share a little about yourself, your work, and/or your activism.

I am an author, scholar and an assistant professor in Africana Studies and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University. My research and teaching expertise include cultural theory, queer and transgender theory, Africana studies, and popular culture. My first book, Nobody is Supposed to Know: Black Sexuality on the Down Low traces the emergence and circulation of the “down low” in news and popular culture. Currently, I am a Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture completing a new book about the relationships between blackness and transness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

2. Many things shape who we are. What is one person or event or experience that has empowered you?

There are numerous people who have helped me to understand how to exist in the world—my family, given and chosen, the figures who I have come across in my research, and the political communities that have confirmed how being black and trans is for me a way to embody and practice a set of ethical commitments.


3. What is a piece of Black Trans History that you want to make sure others know about and don’t forget? (person, event, cultural development, trend, ___?)

In looking at the range of responses given by others profiled here and of the profiles, themselves, in this series, I affirm so many of the names previously mentioned: Carlett Brown, Lucy Hicks Anderson, James McHarris, Sir Lady Java, Martha P. Johnson, and many others.

However, Ava Betty Brown comes to mind as someone who is relatively less well known. She appears in the Chicago Defender, the city’s black newspaper, in 1957, described as “a Chicago version of Christine Jorgensen.” Like many other black trans figures at this time, she was measured against and made intelligible through Jorgensen’s spectacular popularity. Brown, unlike Jorgensen, makes the news because she has been put on trial for fraud—a not uncommon legal practice that also explains how we know about Lucy Hicks Anderson, for example—after having been arrested for standing outside in the middle of the day. In court, Brown and her defense attorney both described how the police department consistently harassed her and some 12 years later when she reemerges in media coverage, we find out that Brown has filed a formal complaint against the Chicago PD. As a matter of black trans history, Ava Betty Brown reminds us of the persistence of state-sanctioned and extra legal forms of antiblack and anti-trans violence and the ways that figures from the past contended with what continues to be defining issues in black and trans political struggle.


How to connect and learn more about C. Riley Snorton, Ph.D.:

Harlem, NY/ Ithaca, NY

Twitter: @CRileySnorton

Faculty profile: http://www.asrc.cornell.edu/people/c-riley-snorton.cfm

To read some of my articles and book chapters: https://cornell.academia.edu/CRileySnorton.


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