Notes on Pride

Archival Cuttings: C. Riley Snorton's Black on Both Sides

June 18th, 2021

"Referring to the ethical and aesthetic implications of DeVine’s erasure from the feature film, Jenni- fer Devere Brody explains that “Boys Don’t Cry is emblematic of the way in which the radical erasure of blackness makes queer stories queerer.” (Snorton, 2017, p. 178)
“The Disappearance of Phillip DeVine,” DeVine’s name is not even included in the memorial text at the end of Boys Don’t Cry, precipitating a ques- tion for the artist: “[W]hat sacrifices are made to construct lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender stories for mass consumption?” (Snorton 2017, p. 4)
"I explore in this chapter the question, How does one think about and express genres of life that are reiteratively, transitively, and transversally related to death?" (Snorton, 20917, p.185).
DeVine was invoked—usually in passing—in news coverage of the case, which was then interred in the Brandon archive. As it relates to these passing invocations that work as erasing gestures, one might ask the same question posed by Sonia Sanchez in a poem: “Did they search for pieces of life / by fingerprinting the ash?” (Snorton, 2017, p. 194).
"...By “inventing a life” for Phillip DeVine, I am not attempting to make a case for a new martyr from the materials of the Brandon archive. There are too many names listed on the impossibly long ledger of black and trans deaths, and this is not a story that equates national memory with national restoration. Rather, at least in part, I am proposing that DeVine’s biomythographical life disrupts and reshapes the dominant view of the Humboldt killings, unsettling and upending the ways that archive has been put toward claims for a juridical grammar for trans inclusion" (Snorton, 2017, p, 195)
"Because Say Her/Their Name(s) functions both as a digital repository and a catalog of those whose exposure to violence has precipitated their premature deaths, it is worthwhile to reflect on what assumptions and politics about memory are fomented within various political movements, including Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, and Black Trans Lives Matter, which are invested in securing the existence of black and trans people in the present and into the future. The practice of remembering and saying their names is also a demand for new structures for naming that evince and eviscerate the conditions that continually produce black and trans death" (Snorton, 2017, p. 195)

Arguably, the murder of Brandon Teena, the trans man murdered in the Humboldt Killings (retold in the film Boys Don’t Cry) has been credited with galvanizing the trans movement in the US. But as C Riley Snorton asks In “Devine’s Cut: Public Memory and the Politics of Martyrdom” what other stories had to be “cut” or left on the editing room floor to render the Brandon archive, and ultimately the trans movement, legible and coherent? Picking up the story of Philip Devine, a black, disabled man who was also murdered alongside Brandon Teena, but whose story has received comparatively little attention, Snorton traces how a founding moment for US transgender politics is sutured to the disappearances of both race and disability from the larger LGBTQ+ narrative. Devine’s story is often retold as one of “being in the wrong place in the wrong time;” diminishing both his race and disability as sites of violence. But rather than make a new martyr, Snorton invites us to think about how Devine’s life (and his death) “disrupts and reshapes the dominant view of the Humboldt killings.” And in doing so, Snorton compels us to think about founding moments in queer history (the Humboldt Killings, Stonewall, the Compton Cafeteria Riots and so on) not purely as moments where LGBTQ+ identities come into view alone. Rather Snorton shows us how these moments are always already shaded by the textures of race, gender, class, nationality, ability, and other sites of subjectivity.