by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Seventeen-month-old Roy A. Jones is dead. His killer, Pedro Jones, is in custody. The child’s mother and her family are distraught, angry and full of deep, heart-wrenching sorrow.
Pedro Jones, Roy Jones’ babysitter, is a 20-year-old who was Roy Jones’ mother’s boyfriend – but is of no relation to either. While the infant and his family were part of the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, Pedro Jones was not.
Roy A. Jones died of cardiac arrest, but this was caused by Pedro Jones – according to New York State Police – hitting the child “several times throughout the body with closed fists.” Jones has pled not guilty to first-degree manslaughter charges, arguing that he “never struck that kid that hard before.”
What would cause Pedro Jones to pummel a 17-month-old child, the son of his girlfriend, an infant entrusted to his care? “I was trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl,” he said.
This isn’t a case of a transgender person being killed, but for all we know Roy A. Jones could have been. This wasn’t a gay youth who was murdered, but again Roy A. Jones might have one day identified as such. This was nothing more than a 17-month-old infant who was beaten because a man who he was put in the care of decided this child’s actions were not manly enough for him.
An average 12- to 24-month-old toddler knows how to crawl, and can even stand a bit. At the upper end, they can begin to walk. They’re starting to feed themselves, thought not without help. They might enjoy picture books, and can even help turn pages. They can’t speak much, possibly stringing together a word or two in some very simple phrases, and they may have a vocabulary of five to 50 words to choose from. They’re curious about others, and less wary of strangers, and will often attempt to imitate adults.
In light of the above, I wonder how a 17-month-old “acts” in one gender or another. Do they even have an idea of gender so fully formed that they know how to present themselves in a gender? Sure, we spend an awful lot of time gendering children in this country, from the ever-increasing spew of action figures and pink dolls to toy segregation in the kids’ meals at our fast food joints, and camouflage onesies and princess dresses for the youngest tot.
But I find myself baffled that somehow a 17-month-old is going to have even the most rudimentary working knowledge of all the “boys do this and girls do that” that our culture is obsessed with. I certainly don’t see much that tells me that they’re going to even understand much in the way of gender differences.
This is an issue larger than that of Pedro Jones. No, while the crime would be no more or less heinous if it was an isolated case, there have been quite a number before this: infants younger than Roy who were force fed glass and thrown at walls because they were born with ambiguous genitalia, as well as older children beaten and killed by family members and neighbors because they were transcending gender norms.
I said it above: This is not a transgender child. The issue is not in and of itself a “transgender issue.” We all – transgender, homosexual, and even those who view themselves as neither – can face hatred, discrimination, violence and even murder because someone else feels we’re crossing gender boundaries.
It frustrates me when I hear my gay and lesbian siblings tell me that transgender issues are not their issues, because I know that they’ve been discriminated against on the basis of their gender expression, too. Any stereotyped caricature of the “limp-wristed pansy” or “swaggering bull dyke” used against gay and lesbian individuals is an exercise in gender bashing as much as gay bashing.
It frustrates me, too, when some in the transgender movement want to push gays, lesbians and even other transgender folks away. As we all face this sort of behavior, we all need to stand together to combat it. If a toddler with little notion of gender can find himself beaten until his tiny heart gives out, then we all should be able to see that the issue of violence against people for not falling within some other person’s views of gender transcends all the issues and drama of identity politics.
Things in this country are becoming more and more polarized, with all sorts of people coming out of the woodwork to spew hatred at all of us, and they’re not making any attempt to hair split over our identities. We shouldn’t either. Not with stakes this high.
Roy A. Jones should not have died in vain. Let his death remind all of us that anyone, even the most innocent amongst us, can be a victim – and let us all, united, fight for a world where an injustice like this would be unthinkable, where children can live their lives without fear that those they and their families trust, and where parents don’t see their children murdered for not being “man” or “woman” enough.