Ask Cody: Being an ‘accomplice’ does not mean centering your whiteness (Column)

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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.

I wrote a deeply personal article on July 21, titled, “Are you a boy or a girl?” This is a question I was asked at an event in July by a white toddler; in addition, this is a question that many trans people get asked every day – knowing that the violence could escalate in a matter of moments. 

Well, the white mother of the white toddler (who asked the question) had some white cisgender heterosexual nerve to try to hold me to the flame for calling out her child in the original article. 

Before we move forward, I want to make a few things clear about this white mother:

  • I have labored for them for years in terms of education
  • They consider themselves an accomplice to Black trans people – which is certainly not the truth
  • They offered up their labor to help my new project get off the ground; literally, yelling my name on Mass Street to get my attention, asking if they can offer their services
  • We discussed the white toddler’s question the following week in a meeting (where I labored) before I wrote the article

The original article was a labor of love for the community I’m a part of; a labor of love for all queer and trans people; and a labor of love for close ones who continue to lack empathy and thoughtfulness for Black trans folks in their lives. The purpose of the article was beyond the question of the white toddler; the purpose was to offer instruction, pointers and ways to move beyond the binary. Moreover, it was also about me and my experiences and how I’ve made sense of them.

Anytime a trans person is asked this question (by anyone – including children), it is indeed a violence. And this moment with the white toddler is clearly a moment of intent versus impact. 

It hurts to explain your gender over and over again to people who don’t experience you as human. And the violence is cumulative, and it builds and overflows. Every time the question is asked, it eats at my life force. It hearkens back memories of being erased, dismissed and stepped on. Always having to leave parts of myself behind to receive the smallest amount of humanity. 

I was vulnerable in the original article. I thought intensely on the question to provide something useful for our community. I went past the harm caused by the question, and focused on the intent; the significance of the question; and what are parents and guardians to do? 

I took risks in that article.  

And let us not forget, I was the receiver of said violence. And somehow, this white ally1 (a suitable word for this person) found a way to center themselves in this mess. They found a way to place their whiteness and cisness directly in the center. 

This question exposes the politic of the parent or guardian. It exposes who’s in the child’s life, and who’s not. It exposes the language used in the home, at school, in religious spaces and community institutions. It exposes the binary framing from proclaimed well-intentioned people. It exposes that waiting to teach children about gender is a mistake. Again, this conversation is beyond this white toddler. 

Here is a screenshot of the white mother’s email to me – because y’all don’t believe Black trans people. 

Things to consider:

“I am sure you have noticed things have been radio silent from me.”

This human who volunteered to help on this new project, to their own acknowledgement above, just stopped doing the work they volunteered to do. They were unavailable for meetings for almost a month, knowing that the opening of this new project was right around the corner. They didn’t give me the courtesy of letting me know there was a problem until a month later. They would have never done this to a white person or a paying client. 

“I was really taken aback that my son was used in your column as a symbol of violence.”

Of course, I don’t have disdain for the child. I don’t wish bad things upon the child. And the child is not a symbol of violence; instead, they are a direct implication of all of us; a marker that we have so much more work to do. We prefer to perform perfection. We dive into our grandiose delusions of self to not be held accountable. We are concerned with looking good, not doing good. Therefore, we proudly allow the status quo to live. 

“It did give me the opportunity to do some massive self-reflection that I hadn’t before dug into.”

You’re welcome for the reflection. What was violence for me is a reflection for you. Please consider sending me money for my labor. Moreover, please consider reflecting a bit more. 

“If I may make a suggestion: ‘all ages’ might want to be reconsidered for future events if the words of a three year old can cause this much harm. I truly regret bringing him.” 

This is not the truth. You are willfully lying. The 3-year-old did not cause this much harm. It is your response and entitlement, as a white woman, that is harmful. All the other (white) children at the event had a great time, and their parents knew that this would be an opportunity for growth. An essential point of the original article was the need for critical conversations at a younger age. 

I hope you’re able to find spaces for your toddler that are dynamic enough to teach them truth over fragility. Good luck! 

“Also, please do not use any of his photos in any Haus of McCoy marketing as he was the only white toddler there and I prefer to keep him anonymous.”

Girl please, your toddler was not the only white toddler in attendance. In fact, the only way people know it’s you I’m referencing is if you told them. And please know we’re not going to use pictures of a white toddler for our promotions — if you recall, we center Black trans youth. 

Situations like this are unending for Black trans folks as people don’t have empathy for us; it feels as if they perform not believing us ‘cause if they earnestly held us (Black trans folks) as humans, they would have to implicate themselves in the mess. They would have to be honest with who they truly are and reckon with the violence they cause. 

There is an expectation of immense labor for Black trans folks; and there are no thank-yous for the labor given and risk taken. All of the challenges and barriers to living are meant to break Black trans folks down — to deplete our energy and to consume our time. 

Moreover, we are burdened and expected to uphold the integrity of spaces. We should consider stopping this behavior and conserve our energy. 

– 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.

Find Cody on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Read more of Cody’s writing on Medium. Read more of Cody’s writing for the Times here.

Click here to find out how to send a letter to the Times
  1. Ally: an unhelpful person who performs helpful; they are not committed to ending said -isms, instead they perform by putting Band-aids on everything. They risk nothing, and are not concerned with ending said issue or cause. And they receive the ally title determined by their own criteria by simply claiming it.
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