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.
This week’s question was not submitted through the Ask Cody account. It was asked in person, during one of the most important events of my life.
Are you a boy or a girl?
This question was asked by a white toddler as I was speaking to their white parents. I didn’t end up answering the question because my conversation with the parents continued for a few minutes after the question was asked. It would have felt a bit awkward (and perhaps too much labor) to loop back to the child’s curiosity.
I wasn’t exactly hurt by the question. I guess you can say I had mixed feelings. It reminds me that both intent and impact matter — impact quite a bit more, of course.
However, the violence is inherent in the question, specifically for folks deep into their gender journey. And it hits differently coming from this white toddler at this Black ass-queer ass event. I thought about the intent of the question. What was it that the child wanted to know?
Like all children, the child receives a variety of messages from parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents and institutions around gender and gender performance — and most of these messages center the binary of male-female. However, the question felt earnest coming from this child. They really wanted to understand what the heck was going on. I didn’t fit into any category they’ve been taught; in essence, I had been erased before we even met.
The child saw my purple nails, a flowy cardigan paired with tight jeans, blonde curly hair and my effeminate movement and voice. The child was trying to make sense of the information given as my presentation fascinated them, and they had not yet assigned meaning to all of this defiance.
If circumstances would have allowed, I would have responded, neither, and both. I am everything.
And I wonder the impact that answer would have had on this white child as they also experienced me as a Black person? Would they believe me? Will their white parents attempt to help them make sense of my answer? Do the parents even understand the answer? Do the parents believe me?
Turns out, the most meaningful time to talk to your child about gender is when they ask — as they are going through their very own gender exploration.
Explain to them that this question (are you a boy or a girl) centers the asker, not the receiver; explain to them that this question doesn’t provide critical information to living life; explain to them that Black queer and trans folks are to be followed, listened to, labored for and provided the resources to create more just communities; explain to them the ways you fall short (as a parent or guardian) in this conversation around gender; explain to the white child that they are not to be at the center — they should spend their entire lives moving from the center to the margins.
Understand that the ways you approach and execute this conversation has everything to do with the trajectory of Black queer and trans kids. If you don’t understand the connection, please engage friends, colleagues and family members in conversation around this topic.
Allow yourself to be pushed, implicated and ultimately helpful.
– 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.