Notes from/on C. Riley Snorton’s “DeVine’s Cut” UMass Lecture (12/1/16)

I had the privilege of listening to @CRileySnorton’s “DeVine’s Cut” 12/1/16 lecture, sponsored by Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UMass Amherst. It was my first time getting to meet Riley, whose work I’ve followed for some time. I also met many of the incredible WGSS faculty at UMass and I am excited to keep in conversation and share work with all of them.

Now, why was Riley’s lecture was so fabulous? And why I am going on about it? In my Queer America course, I teach the shift from 1993 to 2003 in the American queer imaginary through the lens of Brandon Teena, Matt Sheppard, and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Together, these gruesome murders and the media and political response, followed by the market glorification of gay male stereotypes on a hit Bravo show reveal the national pivot from blaming the rural to the moment of a nationalism that kneeled before and worshipped cosmopolitanism and its financial flows. Our discussion focuses on how race and gender are deployed and recognized now versus in the media at the time, namely in how gender non-conforming identities are increasingly accepted or sometimes tolerated while racism remains steadfast and rampant. I’m writing much more on this for a paper and for my book, but the highlight of Riley’s work, for me, is the attention finally granted Philly DeVine, a black man who was killed in the same house as Brandon Teena. When I teach about Brandon, Matt, and the “Fab Five,” I also discuss who is left out: Phillip DeVine and Lisa Lambert. Omitting the killing of a black man and a white woman in an interracial relationship only reifies mass killings of black men and the violence against women generally. How did I miss this?!?, my students ask, embarrassed with themselves and angry with the worlds. I reply by asking them how the world missed these points is the project of racism, patriarchy, ableism, and heteronormativity.

The lecture was terribly important, brilliantly stated, and, finally, makes sure the world does not miss this when it comes to Phillip DeVine. The insights from the lecture were a true contribution to the literature of queer, feminist, critical race, and trans theories, LGBTQ studies and history, and even urban-rural studies, although Riley admitted his focus is not in geography. As I mentioned to Riley, I do hope the book will give some nods toward geography. It’s insights are right there for the taking and are essential to the formation of national identity. As a recent co-panelist at the American Studies Association conference said, and I paraphrase, “Geography was obliterated from US universities because geography is dangerous.” Geography is not merely a backdrop to the lived experiences of race, gender, class, disability, and sexuality, but the socially produced environments in which we live, conceive, and perceive who we are. Riley is doing such a complicated intersectional project here. But, and I say this to the entire world and I will never stop saying it to the world, we must always attend to geography–even with the equivalent of a queer nod while passing on the sidewalk–to keep us all honest and to work for justice. On that note, geographers have much yet to do to contribute to queer theory (of which I believe I’m the first, yeeghads) much like the rest of social sciences who speak to LGBTQ studies rather than queer theory–so that there is a lot of work to be done on both sides. Onward, together! And thank you, Riley, for this generous reading and powerful scholarship!

I’m happy to share what tweets I grabbed from the lecture. I post the full lecture description from the WGSS UMass site, and the Storify of tweets below that.

In this lecture C. Riley Snorton will interrogate the absent presence of Phillip DeVine from the public memory of the Humboldt killings and the national narration of Brandon Teena, as a transgender martyr. While rarely mentioned at all, DeVine’s ascription as “wrong place, wrong time,” a rhetorical maneuver that situates DeVine’s presence in the Brandon archive by evacuating his place within, and as a necessary consequence of, the archive’s construction, is instructive for Riley’s reading of the symptomatically disavowed coarticulations of antiblackness and anti-trans violence, as it engenders a way to perceive how the mechanisms that contribute to Brandon Teena’s symbolic significance to trans historiography simultaneously posit DeVine’s figuration as always and already untimely, assigned to a conversation perpetually deferred. Making use of biomythography and following Sylvia Wynter’s work, this talk ponders on what aspects of DeVine’s figuration, as a matter of sociogenesis, constitute a usable history for more livable black and trans lives?  Snorton contends that to presence DeVine – to invent his/a life – then is to approach phenomenologically the interstitialities of black and trans life and black and trans death, particularly as it bears upon the current conjuncture of black trans life and spectacularized black trans deaths and their routes of public circulation in Transgender Days of Remembrance/Resistance and as they has given rise to the #TransLivesMatters and #BlackTransLivesMatters movements.