Note: Ask Cody is a regular opinion feature that Cody Keith Charles writes for The Lawrence Times. Community Voices pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.
Read previous editions of Ask Cody here.
Q: Dear Cody, are your articles for only People of Color? I saw your picture and thought “Awesome, finally a fun sassy writer!” Then I read your bio …
A: Anyone can participate in Ask Cody. Just submit a question.
However, when I answer questions, I attempt to center the most marginalized people — that way the answer applies to everyone, not just white folks. Please remember my identities. I am not an older white woman who gives advice on primarily white middle- to upper-class issues — I am a Black transfemme human, not Abigail Van Buren.
My advice is rooted in justice and liberation of Black trans people; therefore, my columns will always hit on the fragility of white folks, cis folks, heterosexual folks, able-bodied folks and the rich and the wealthy. I will continue to make you all uncomfortable, until what I am saying begins to ring true. Often, I say radical things and move in radical ways only to be met by anti-Blackness, queer and transphobia and fatphobia. Years later, I have people trying to slither their way back into my life, once their politic has evolved into a less violent one, only to not take accountability for the past violence they’ve caused.
Because many of you (white folks) expect to be convinced based on your value system, below is an example to ponder. Black and brown cisgender heterosexual folks, please take notes. Again, I ain’t Abby, but Cody knows a thang or two about living.
Consider, what does it mean to be a Lawrencian?
This is a general question that can go in many directions; however, think critically on the ways this question is coded white. The white experience is the dominant experience. The dominant experience gets the government, gets the connections and social capital, gets voice and access to paint the picture of Lawrence, Kansas and what a valued community member looks like. The question assumes that all Lawrencians experience Lawrence in the same ways. In the same normative ways.
Some of you may respond, “Lawrencians are liberal, philanthropic, friendly; they prioritize safety and are great parents. Raising their children to be future Lawrencians.”
Now, consider this question —
What does it mean to be a Black Lawrencian?
This is a better question, as it digs deeper into the margins. Some of you may answer that Lawrence is filled with well-intentioned white people. White people who say they care about diversity, social justice and liberation for us all; however, there is very little action to back up these claims. Lawrence proclaims itself to be a model community, and yet silences and erases Black folks. Moreover, Black folks still fear law enforcement within this community, and continue to endure the rampant tokenism that seeks to deplete our energy.
Now, consider —
What does it mean to be a Black trans Lawrencian?
What does it mean to be a poor Black trans Lawrencian?
What does it mean to be a Black poor trans disabled woman Lawrencian?
Silenced. Joy. Erased. Surviving. Invisibility. Hypervisibility. Dreaming. Creating. Death. Risk. Action. Truth-telling. Knowing. Ignored. Shushed. Hidden. Bright. Shining. Prophetic. Beautiful. Ugly. Loud. Loud. Brave. Defiant. Moreover. In addition to. Beyond. More. Murdered. Exposed. Unprotected. Undiscovered. Unexplored. Full. Whole. Incomplete. Tried. Disrespected. Misgendered. Gaslit. Lied to. Duped. Deceived. Hoodwinked. Courageous. Spectacular. Brilliant. Underappreciated. Labored.
All of these questions have very nuanced answers.
These are answers white people don’t often get to hear or experience because they lack the ability to decenter themselves and create depth.
These are answers cisgender folks don’t often get to hear or experience because they lack the ability to decenter themselves and create depth.
These are answers able-bodied people don’t often get to hear or experience because they lack the ability to decenter themselves and create depth.
And honestly, it’s a tall task to radically reckon with self when the very system validates your existence. It’s tough to break the delusion. Black queer and trans folks routinely have to make the lesson, the training, the workshop and the keynote apply to our lives, except it never fits ‘cause our problems and issues are never thought of or spoken out loud.
White folks don’t have to be in practice of radical self-reflection, as they rarely know violence is present; they rarely understand that they are the violence, and they rarely deal with these discoveries well.
This column is a gift to fragile folks.
– Cody Keith Charles (all pronouns) is the Founder and Executive Director of Haus of McCoy, a queer and trans community center in Lawrence, Kansas. Moreover, Cody is a writer, facilitator, cultural critic and dreamer who critiques pop culture at the intersection of liberation. Cody enjoys trash TV, spending time with beautiful queer people and loving on their dog, Monét.