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Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity
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Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  356 ratings  ·  65 reviews
The story of Christine Jorgensen, America’s first prominent transsexual, famously narrated trans embodiment in the postwar era. Her celebrity, however, has obscured other mid-century trans narratives—ones lived by African Americans such as Lucy Hicks Anderson and James McHarris. Their erasure from trans history masks the profound ways race has figured prominently in the co ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published December 5th 2017 by University of Minnesota Press
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  356 ratings  ·  65 reviews

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Alok Vaid-Menon
Oct 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtq-history
Trans history in the US tends to focus on white trans people like Christine Jorgenson, who was one of the first to publicly undergo gender confirmation surgery in the 1950s. While Jorgenson quickly rose to fame, many Black trans people – and especially Black trans women – were disappeared in her shadow. White trans women like Jorgenson began to achieve acceptance by appealing to the dominant norms of white womanhood (domesticity, respectability, heterosexuality) and differentiating themselves fr ...more
Dec 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Meticulously researched and daring in ambition, Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity fails to deliver on its promises but nevertheless offers an interesting set of cultural readings. The title misleadingly frames this book as a history of Black trans identity, but the author quickly admits in his introduction that he won’t actually be offering history, neither about the emergence of trans as an identity nor about the changing social life of Black trans people in America. Inste ...more
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, gender
Organized around a series of events that provide occasions for bringing both signs—blackness and transness—into the same frame, Black on Both Sides is not a history per se so much as it is a set of political propositions, theories of history, and writerly experiments.

If I had absorbed the above quote properly before I bought this book, I probably wouldn't have bought it. Snorton works in cultural studies methods, with connections and theories zinging around every second sentence and the reading
I enjoyed this but it was extremely academic and difficult to read. It did get a lot better towards the end which is why it got an additional star. I just cant give it more than three stars because I feel that there is a point when over use of academic language intimidates and bogs down the message and can even make the point an author is trying to make impossible for non-academics to grasp. I do think the point this author was making, what I could understand of it, was interesting. I do feel th ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity is an exceptional and beautifully written book in which C. Riley Snorton explores the intersections of blackness and transness. The range of archival materials is astounding and Snorton's analysis is just mind blowing. His resistance of the dominant periodization of trans as emerging with the clinic is incredibly compelling.

Though the book’s title offers a “a racial history,” Snorton claims that “the problem under review here is time” (xiv
Neil Cochrane
Jun 17, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: life-times, queer
I really wanted to like this book, but it’s written in such academic jargon that it practically needs to be translated, and also spends surprisingly little time talking about trans people at all, let alone black trans people.
Honestly, I’m not sure how to review books like this that have a very academic nature to them. I don’t think I have the knowledge background to really appreciate the full scope of what he is writing about, as there are chapters which analyze events or books assuming the reader already knows the facts/has read the books. Still, I did learn some things so.
Ai Miller
Just an incredible book; Snorton carefully hammers home his points again and again, drawing together transness and blackness through fungibility, movement, and transversality. It's a book that is so beautifully couched in the works of women of color feminism, queer of color and trans of color critique, and it's something I'm going to be chewing on for a really long time as I think about ways to teach and also write trans history broadly. Just a magnificent book, truly. ...more
Anai Finnie
This book was clearly well researched, I only wish it had been more meticulously edited and that the author had done more to connect the historical evidence and his conclusions.
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Spotted this book as a new addition to the library's collection and thought it would be an especially topical read for Black History Month. The premise that author Snorton would explore the intersections of the histories of transness and blackness sounded really interesting. Black trans women in particular are at risk for violence and while this book is not specifically about that topic it seemed like it would be a good topical read for the moment.

Honestly, it was a difficult book to read. The b
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poc-authored, lgbt
The subtitle of this book, "Black on Both Sides," is misleading and not in a particularly positive way. Claiming to be a racial history, in the first few pages the author outright expresses he won't be doing historical work. Though the starting point for each of the chapters in the book is historical archival materials about the lives of a variety of black trans and gender non-conforming people, each chapters veers far away from history to begin making grandiose cultural and theoretical claims.

V Chaudhry
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an EXCELLENT text, a necessary contribution to trans studies, black studies, and black feminism -- it's worth the read, no matter how long it takes (it's a hard one - not just because of the depth of thought in every sentence written, which could land as dense for some readers*, but also because of the weight of the text. It's hard because it should be - reading about the ways antiblackness actually undergirds/has historically undergirded the systems of power that structure US national r ...more
R.J. Gilmour
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at how trans and racial identities intersect. Looking at specific historical events that intersect with race and trans ideas Riley Snorton unpacks how they are loaded with meaning for understand modern trans identities. A sophisticated theoretical study that at times is more obtuse than clear in its argument.

"This mode of accounting, of expressing the arithmetic violence of black and trans death, as it also refers to antilock, antiques, and anti trans forms of slow and immine
musa b-n
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I know that this is the second book that I've rated with 5 stars today, but it really really deserves it, you have no idea. This book is so incredible. It took me almost three months to read, but it's difficult on purpose - it's really heavy subject matter, emotionally, theoretically, mentally - and in the sense that I wrote about in my BA. I feel like a lot of this text made me understand my own thesis more. Beyond being just incredibly informative on a history that is unthought on most account ...more
Chase Jay
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbt, favorites, academic
An extremely complex and academic book discussing the intersections of Blackness and transness by reviewing historical accounts of Black gender nonconforming and trans people, photographs, films, etc. Snorton has some amazing ideas regarding race and gender theory. However, many of the references they make are not explained and therefore to understand the book you may have to do some digging into the things they are referring to. It's very dense and can require multiple passes over a section to ...more
Dylan McDonough
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
An academic and intersectional approach to understanding our conceptions of gender in America. Snorton does an excellent job of showing us that in many ways race and gender cannot be separated but rather that our our knowledge of one only exists because of the other. While not all his theories land and sometimes it can be difficult to trace the threads between them, there is much here that is necessary learning. Be warned though, he supplies a heavy dose of philosophical language that if unfamil ...more
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
An incredible book overall. Would definitely recommend it
Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I will come back to read more intermittently. The book is very academic and can get dense in the theory, which I am not always up to the task of reading.
The first chapter gives a very in depth history of the field of gynecology and the doctor from the 1800s who abused enslaved women for the sake of promoting himself and his research. This history was all the richer because Snorton includes details about the impact of this doctor and the legacy of his experiments on American material culture in
Feb 28, 2021 added it
[DNF] I really wanted to like this book. The topic is so important and genuinely fascinating. However, the discussions of medical abuse were very triggering for me and the writing was a disappointment. I love critical theory. I'm an academic and I've taken some gender studies classes in my day. When I say that this book was written in such opaque prose that I hardly believed the author knew what they were saying, that's really saying something. Normally, by the end of long academic sentences you ...more
Ari McManus
Jun 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wow this book was amazing and I was crying by the end. I am going to have to reread parts of it because I skimmed since I want to use it for some specific research also my brain is very tired right now. But. I look forward to a reread and also was happy to read Snorton's thoughts on some big gender publications. ...more
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Brilliant theoretical work; I’m sure I only understood a fraction—the densely academic/poetic style packs in a lot of meaning—but this is worth the read, nonetheless.
Alex L Combs
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Reading this really leveled up my brain. Not only did I learn really important facts about trans people in history, it opened my mind to the connections that can be made between the concepts of transness and blackness. Also, get ready to learn some new words and concepts-- it might feel difficult to read some parts, but if you’re willing to take the time to slow down and look things up you will be rewarded with some heavy ‘mind blown’ moments. 
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Snorton is so rigorous, so thorough, and so brilliant.

"The recurrent practice of enumerating the dead in mass and social media seems to conform to the logics of accumulation that structure racial capitalism, in which the quantified abstraction of black and trans deaths reveals the calculated value of black and trans lives through states' grammars of deficit and debt." (viii)

"What does it mean to have a body that has been made into a grammar for whole worlds of meaning?" (11)

"If being an object o
Sigrid M
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great book! In this ‘racial history of trans identity,’ Snorton troubles the conventionally accepted meanings of both ‘trans’ and ‘history’. I picked up the book because I was interested in the author’s analysis of the distinction between sex and gender, and the ways in which this distinction was affected by slavery and its afterlives. The basic point that interested me was laid out early on: that it’s impossible to conceive of sex as ‘biologically’ prior to or separate from gender, except insof ...more
Charity Jon
Apr 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Changed My Life

I finished this book, after a couple of months, in the wee hours of Trans Day of Visibility. Couldn't believe it came to a close when it did. I thought it would be full of academic jargon but it was not impossible to glean all sorts of wisdom and a wonderful articulation on Black trans experience.
Liam Arne
I expected a lot from this book, and perhaps that was unfair from the beginning. The black trans experience is a fantastic and underresearched aspect of identity in history so I was very excited to read it- I even bought it brand new, a true rarity for me! While the intro suggested a cohesive message, most of the chapters meandered far away from the core (and actually more interesting) subject with tangential reference to the topic, if at all. It seems like it was greenlit for production based o ...more
I have read this book many times already, and I know that I will be rereading it many, many, many more times before I even finish my program, but each time I read it, something new and theoretically-rich springs from it. Snorton's work is masterful, meticulously-researched and opening worlds of possibility and rupture within its pages. The central claim--that sex/gender are not preconditions but are produced through the rupture of chattel slavery, meaning that transness and Blackness are fundane ...more
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful work of scholarship. I've taken many notes on methodology and content; Snorton's archival work, theoretical grounding, and storytelling mesmerize me. I indulged in the stories of Part III in particular and was rewarded with a gorgeous optimistic silver lining at the very end. Previous knowledge of Hortense Spillers and other black theory might makes for an easier reading experience without being requisite. "Black on Both Sides" reads like the best of scholarship and the best ...more
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is not what I expected at all. I do warn readers to not judge the book by its cover but rather expand and consider the word “trans-.” Instead of truly arguing, Snorton instead explores the concepts he proposes with delicate hands. I especially am a fan of the last section of the book, “Blackout,” which deals with trans-historiography and posthuman/death ontology with memory studies.

Snorton had a hard task and did his best to ethically treat his archival and conceptual research. Did hi
Matthew Rohn
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
The final two chapters are about the black transgender experience in America which provides some interesting material focusing on very specific examples and methodology for this discussion, but the book leading up until that point is a mix of the kind of loosely grounded theory that seems to be using Foucault as a style guide and individual case studies used to try to link into theory about other uses of transness that's often a real stretch given the source material it's working from ...more
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C. Riley Snorton is associate professor of Africana studies and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies at Cornell University and visiting associate professor of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He is author of Nobody Is Supposed to Know: Black Sexuality on the Down Low (Minnesota, 2014).

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