Lunchbox politics

29 Sep

Our daughter started public school this month. A veteran of full-time daycare since she was a baby, the transition has been relatively gentle. The biggest change has been having to pack her lunch every day — a task that I soon realized is not free from political controversy and authoritative judgment.

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Kiddo’s first school lunch

I remember my school lunches well — often a cheese and lettuce sandwich, a juice box, some fruit and a treat. Remember Fruit Roll-Ups? I think I “ate” one every day for at least a decade. And my brother drank so much apple juice, we were convinced it was flowing in his veins. Neither of us has any major health problems as a result.

Food shame

I grew up in a Jewish home with a father who cooked healthy and inventive from-scratch meals. I soon developed a sophisticated palette and the willingness to taste anything. But my lunches were very typical of the 1980s. And they would be the subject of shame if I packed the same items in my kid’s lunch bag.

To be fair, my kid’s school is fairly laid back when it comes to lunch rules. Nuts are banned due to allergies and juice “is discouraged.” So far, I have not been sanctioned for any of the food that I have sent for kiddo to eat. But I recently started a thread on a feminist parenting board about lunch rules and was shocked by what I heard.

Under the guise of “preventing obesity” or “promoting healthy food,” parents and kids are being surveilled and shamed for packing “unhealthy” food. And it’s unacceptable.

Here are some of the stories I have been hearing:

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Food dutifully separated to meet the child’s demands

  • Children being forced to eat their lunches in a specific order.
  • Kids being seated at a separate, “special” table if the teacher deems their lunch to be “healthy.”
  • Children having their lunches confiscated from them and replaced with a school-approved bagged lunch (without the parents’ permission).
  • Long lists of “rules” that parents must obey when packing lunches, including no juice, no pudding, no chocolate (even chocolate chips in a muffin), nothing “with sugar.”
  • No gluten in one school (seriously), because some kids have intolerances (not allergies, intolerances).
  • Teachers telling kids that the food in their lunch box is “bad” or unhealthy, and those kids quickly becoming anxious about whether their lunch would pass the test at school.

Obesity panic

I have long worried that the obsession with “childhood obesity” would lead to fat-shaming of young children. Just today, an article came across my feed about feared obesity in toddlers. BABIES. And yes, even a baby was subjected to the dehumanizing “headless fatty” photo.

This shit has got to stop. If schools want to encourage healthy eating, they can start a breakfast program or offer baskets of fruit and vegetables for kids who need them (our school does this). Encouraging physical activity and teaching about nutrition can be done without shaming parents and kids. So much of this is pure classism.

And can we talk about the juice panic for a moment? I get it. Eating fruit is better than drinking juice. Water is best. But when this Toronto school banned juice boxes, it went too far.

My friend Andy Inkster is a single father and had this to say about juice hysteria:

Juice boxes are so totally completely about class. If you’re broke/poor and a pack of  10 juice boxes costs $3 on sale and will last two weeks because it’s easier to say “Hey,  these are for school” and they’re shelf stable, so you can hide them if you need to, or  freeze them, and of you buy a 2 litre of juice, it’s heavier to carry home, and besides, the kids will drink it all tonight. That reusable juice box thing with the straw costs $2 at the dollar store but you didn’t have time to go there this week, and probably not until after next week. Besides, you bought one last week but junior lost it and it was only used twice, so that didn’t save you any money, really.

If you buy two of those ten packs on sale, that’s juice for lunch for kid for a month. And juice itself is about class. Because the more privileged kids parents can  say “Hey, here’s your $15 metal water bottle, drink tap water, it’s good for you, juice will rot your teeth.

But as a poor parent, you know juice has vitamins and that’s important, right? And besides, you don’t buy apples because sometimes they go bad before anyone eats them and at least this way the kids won’t die of scurvy. And it shows you’re a good parent and care about nutrition and you’re not so poor you can’t afford to feed your kids right.

Besides, it’s faster to shove a juice box in the lunch box, and when you’re trying to get your kids out the door and off to school on your own before running back a 10 minute  walk the other way to catch the bus to work, that two minutes finding the juice bottle and refilling it is time you don’t have.

We talk with our daughter about the importance of “growing foods” and insist that she eat at least one serving of vegetables a day. But we do not assign “good” or “bad” judgment to specific food items. We do not use the words “calories” or “diets.”

When kiddo begged me to include a few heart-shaped ginger cookies in her lunch yesterday, I did. Because food is about so much more than nutrition. Learning to eat well is also about learning how to enjoy treats.

And if any teacher tries to tell me that I cannot give my kid a cookie, they can kiss my fat ass.

Why Black Lives Matter and Gay Tories Don’t

3 Jul

I made a new post on Storify about Black Lives Matter, Toronto Pride, and the tantrum of a formerly closeted Conservative columnist.

 

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Our grief is not a cry for war

12 Jun

Screenshot 2016-06-12 13.07.06In between museum visits and snuggle time with kiddo, I have spent today glued to my social media feeds, watching the horror of the Pulse mass shooting unfold in front of my eyes.

First the news that 20 — now 50 — people had been killed when a gunman opened fire at a Pride event in a primary Latino gay bar.

And then the immediate Islamophobic speculation from the very same right-wing politicians who fight to put more guns in people’s hands and against the very rights that the LGBTQ community is fighting for.

I can only imagine the horror of the people in that club last night, in a space that was supposed to be celebratory and safe.

It’s easy for those of us who live privileged queer lives to forget that there are people who want us dead. But we can’t forget that the latest spike in anti-queer, transphobic laws across the U.S. have legitimized anti-queer political rhetoric.

The very people who are most vulnerable to violence (queer/trans people of colour) are characterized as the bogeymen. A political culture that interrogates and refuses to believe women who survive sexual assault also claims to be wanting to protect us from “bathroom predators.”

Let us remain critical of the people who will use this tragedy to discriminate. As a group of peace activists declared in the days after 9/11, “Our grief is not a cry for war.”

Some things to remember during these immediate dark days:

  1. Pulse is a club that primarily caters to the Latino LGBTQ community. Many of the victims are likely queer people of colour. Do not erase this. Elevate queer/trans POC voices.
  2. The shooter’s name is a common one. Despite rampant speculation, there is currently no evidence that he was motivated by Islam.
  3. The Christian Right has introduced more than 200 anti-LGBT bills in the U.S. in last six months. Homophobia and religious fundamentalism kill.
  4. The shooter beat his ex-wife. He was violent and abusive toward women. Toxic masculinity kills.
  5. The gun used by the shooter to murder more than 50 queer/trans people is “owned by around 3.7 million American households, making it the country’s most popular rifle.” Guns kill.
  6. In the midst of this tragedy, gay and bisexual men (as well as women who sleep with bisexual men) are banned from donating blood unless they have been celibate for a full year.

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Homonationalism, Exhibit A

It’s up to us queers to make sure that this tragedy is not used to justify Islamophobia and racism. The people who wish us harm are using our pain to score political points. Don’t let them.

Stand together. Always.

Our grief is not a cry for war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today was a big deal

17 May
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Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and 10 year-old Charlie

I cried in the halls of Parliament today. It wasn’t the first time. But luckily in both cases, they were tears of joy.

The first time my face leaked on Parliament Hill was in 2005, when we packed the visitors’ gallery to hear the government pass equal marriage legislation. I was only 26 at the time, cynical about the institution of marriage, and unsure about whether or not the new law would ever have an impact on my life. But being surrounded by queer activists who had fought for 30 years to reach that momentous day – it had an impact on me. We don’t get a lot of victories, and that was a big one.

Shortly after gay marriage became the law of the land, we entered the dark Harper years. I was on the board of Egale Canada when the government cut the Court Challenges program – a funding source that had been crucial to securing legal victories for the gay community in the 80s and 90s.

Trans advocates were understandably dismayed. They pointed out that human rights laws did not specifically include gender identity or gender expression, leaving trans people unprotected in a lot of sectors. And as all of the big-money gay donations dried up after the marriage fight, there was no money left for trans folks to fight their case in court.

Progressive wilderness

As progressive voices raged in the wilderness of a conservative majority government, NDP MPs Bill Siksay and Randall Garrison attempted to enshrine trans rights in the law seven times. In two cases, the bills passed third reading in the House of Commons. But neither bill made it through the Senate.

The last attempt was particularly enraging, because retrograde Senator Donald Plett took it upon himself to foment fear about trans people and bathrooms. Yes, the exact same rhetoric that was recently used to pass discriminatory legislation in North Carolina. (The very same law that the US Department of Justice is now fighting — THANKS OBAMA).

I take this issue personally, as a friend, lover and family member to trans people. Everyone deserves explicit human rights protection under the law. But trans people face very specific barriers to employment, health care and housing. Explicit legal recognition is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling these issues, but it is still a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Nerd party on the Hill

It felt like a family reunion on the Hill today, as the government announced it would be adding both gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and federal hate crimes laws.

I saw many activists and former colleagues who have been at this fight for decades. But what struck me most were the kids. Trans children as young as 10, including the incredible Charlie Lowthian Rickert. Seeing their eyes brim with proud tears and their chests puff up with pride, was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever witnessed.

Charlie is a kick-ass fighter already. When only nine years old, she and her mom visited Senator Plett, and told him directly how his fear-mongering was making life unsafe for trans kids like her. And just this week, she addressed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in a meeting of trans advocates, and explained why this bill was so crucial to her.

Today Charlie took centre stage with the Justice Minister, and told a packed room full of reporters why this law matters:

I know that the law won’t change the daily reality of bullying, but it may stop those heartless bullies who can’t accept who I am from doing more than just calling me names.

There is so much more work to be done to improve the lives of trans people in Canada. Access to health care and housing are key. And the decriminalization of sex work would help stop the cycle of criminalization that often targets trans women. All of this is important and requires our urgent attention.

But the fight on this bill is far from over. It is very likely to pass through the House of Commons, but it could get held up in the Senate again. And we are about to encounter one helluva backlash.

But today? Today is a good day.

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Awkward Hill selfie with two amazing trans advocates.

Manicure camp for girls, sports for boys. Because it’s 1957.

30 Mar

Apparently the city of Richmond Hill, Ontario seems to think their summer camps belong in another era. They are offering “Boyz Rule” camp, featuring extreme sports, including roller skating, biking and skateboarding. The “girlz” on the other hand, get to partake in such womanly activities as manicures, colouring and cooking. I kid you not.

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When my friend Audra posted this on Twitter last night, it started a bit of a shit storm. It seemed totally anachronistic to be teaching girls how to be perfect, passive housewives in 2016. Surely this had to be an anomaly. Richmond Hill must the only suburb stuck in the dark ages.

Sadly, it’s not. Turns out that the Dovercourt Recreation Centre in Ottawa is offering similar programming geared to 10-13 year-old children. Girls get to learn about “keeping fit” and “making healthy” snacks.” Boys on the other hand, get to attend a camp that is literally called “Man Cave.” And another camp claims it will teach them basic car maintenance.

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GIVE ME AN ALL-CAPS MOMENT TO EXPRESS MY RAGE.

There is nothing inherently wrong with activities that are generally coded as “girl stuff.” I cringe a bit at the thought of manicures being offered as a “camp” activity. But role playing and glitter represent fun, imaginative play for every kid. In fact, the LGBTQ+ camp that I volunteer on the board for even almost ran out of glitter on the second day of programming last summer. The horror!

And I was admittedly a kid who hated and feared sports. My parents were the intellectual, artsy types. In gym class, I was always vaguely terrified because I felt I was out of shape and had no idea how any of the games worked. It also didn’t help that I was never particularly masculine and sports activities were almost always geared to boys. Being segregated out of most sports activities certainly did not help. (I now take pride in lifting heavy weights while still wearing liquid eyeliner. Or running  with red lipstick on.)

But the worst part of all of this is how these camps are training young girls to be perfect housewives. In 2016. You’ll notice that basic food preparation is not included in any of the listed activities for boys. Because even today, boys are being socialized to be nurtured and served by women. It makes me want to projectile vomit all over the city recreation guide.

Kids have a long future of resisting the misogyny ahead of them. Why reinforce such blatant sexism in programming geared toward children?

(Oh and by the way, Girls Rock Camp is an actual feminist movement geared toward teaching girls how to play music and be awesome. Not to be confused with the Richmond Hill Manicure Camp for Young Housewives.)

If you want to support a summer camp that doesn’t propagate any of this gender essentialist nonsense, support our team in the Ten Oaks Bowlathon today.

[EDITED to add: Buzzfeed Canada picked up the story and as of press time, Dovercourt had pulled its recreation guide and Richmond Hill announced they would “review” their programming. Feminism FTW!]

Better wages mean better child care

8 Oct
Daphne's pre-school teachers keep her and 15 other kids entertained for nine hours a day.

Daphne’s pre-school teachers keep her and 15 other kids entertained for nine hours a day.

My daughter has two moms and neither of them are named Karen. But when Daphne is home and needs something, she frequently calls out “Karen,” or one of the names of her other wonderful preschool teachers. Because she is almost as bonded to her child care providers as her own parents.

There are mornings when I can’t convince my child to put on pants. But somehow the amazing educators at her daycare are able to keep 16 three and four year-olds calm and stimulated for more than eight hours a day. They possess skills that I do not have.

Since starting daycare at a year old – first at a wonderful home daycare and now at a centre-based preschool – my daughter’s vocabulary, social skills and emotional regulation have improved by leaps and bounds. But all of this comes at a price. Fourteen thousand dollars last year, in fact. For one child.

Parents feels the pressure when quality child care is expensive and hard to find. So many women tell me that they couldn’t “afford” to return to work because their salaries wouldn’t cover the cost of child care. And while some are happy to take on child-rearing as a vocation, many are pushed into the primary parent role because they really have no choice.

Taking care of and educating young children is hard work. And what stay-at-home moms have in common with child care workers is a devaluing of the skills, patience and competency required to perform this crucial labour. It’s not a coincidence that 98 per cent of early childhood educators are women and that they generally make extremely low wages. What’s seen as “women’s” work is rarely rewarded. We need to do better.

My daughter’s beloved Karen is a rare jewel for several reasons. She’s been doing the same job, in the same workplace for 28 years. And she makes a decent wage. That’s because she works for one of the very few cooperative, unionized child care centres in Ottawa. She has accrued seniority and wage increases over the length of her extensive career. She gets paid vacation and sick time. And all of this makes her a better educator.

In 2007, The Ontario Expert Panel on Quality and Human Resources recommended the establishment of provincial guidelines for wages, benefits and working conditions for early learning and care programs and immediate increases in funding to enable these programs to implement substantial wage and benefit increases. None of this has happened.

Data from a 2013 report on early childhood education showed a 2.7 per cent decrease in wages between 1998 and 2012 (after adjusting for inflation) for ECEs and other staff working in regulated childcare centres in Ontario. Low wages lead to high stress and high turnover – and this impacts our kids. We should all be worried about this issue.

The reality is that without dedicated, stable federal funding, the only way to improve wages for child care workers will be out of the pockets of parents. And most of us are already over extended. Our tax dollars pay for primary education for all children in the country. Why can’t we do the same thing for early childhood education?

Canada needs a universal, affordable child care system. And this includes core funding to ensure that child care workers can make a decent wage. Because every kid should have an educator as wonderful as my daughter’s. And every child care worker should have working conditions as excellent as Karen’s.

For more information on where the federal parties stand on child care, check out the Vote Child Care 2015 campaign

Thank you Venus Envy

30 Sep

Two stories flashed across my news feed today that made me profoundly angry. First: another treasured young trans person (Skylar Lee of Madison, Wisconsin) has taken their own life. Second: a local Ottawa sex shop received a bylaw infraction ticket for selling a chest compression vest to a trans youth under the age of 18. These stories are related.

For those who don’t live in Ottawa, Venus Envy is a education-oriented sex shop. Well, it started that way over a decade ago and has become much more than that to all of the queers in our city. It’s a well-lit, beautiful store where you can buy porn, dildos, vibrators and lube. They display local art in their stores, run workshops on a variety of topics related to sexuality, and they sponsor fundraising dances for their bursary fund, which has given out more than $15,000 in scholarships to LGBTQ students over the last 10 years. Venus Envy has truly become a cultural hub for the queer/trans community in Ottawa. Many of my friends have worked there, or continue to do so.

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My wife and I with writer Julia Serano at Venus Envy in 2007. Yes, that is a wall of dildos. Deal with it.

But in addition to the more explicit material for sale at Venus Envy, you can also purchase LGBT-friendly children’s books, an array of queer/trans literature and a couple of specialty items designed for folks who seek to better express their gender identities. This includes compression vests, also known as “binders.”

According to the store’s owner Shelley Taylor, the store typically sees four or five young people a week seeking binders or gaffs, usually with their parents. The store’s staff are trained to deal sensitively with requests of this nature and make sure young people can find a good and comfortable fit.

Last week, a person under the age of 18 bought a binder at the store without their parents’ knowledge. And when their parents discovered the purchase, they called the City of Ottawa and had the store charged with a bylaw infraction. Because technically Venus Envy is a sex store and people under the age of 18 are not supposed to be allowed through the doors.

Members of the local queer/trans community are understandably outraged. First of all: it seems absurd that sexually active young people should be barred from accessing information about safer sex. If they are permitted to buy condoms and lube from a pharmacy, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so from a store that specializes in sex education? But secondly, the fact that this is the only store that carries binders and gaffs (which are items not even remotely related to sex) points to a bigger problem. Trans youth need access to essential services and a sex shop shouldn’t be the only place for them to purchase items that are crucial to the expression of their gender identity.

There are lots of ideas brewing in the community about how to fix this. A benevolent anonymous purchasing program that allows adults to buy these items for the teens who may need them? An arrangement with a local social service agency to provide binders and gaffs? A campaign to change the bylaw, so young people can gain access to spaces that support their sexuality and gender identities?

I hope that the outrage over this ticket reaches the young person who was brave enough to enter Venus Envy last week and make a purchase that was obviously so important to them. I want this kid to know that we have their back. That there is a whole community to support them. That one day, they will be free of their parents’ authority. That their voice and their choices matter. I don’t want to lose another Skylar. We need to do better. In the meantime, I want to say this to the staff at Venus Envy: thank you.

You can support Venus Envy by buying from them, either in store or online. I have a feeling you may find something there you like. 

*** UPDATE: I just heard from Shelley Taylor that the ticket has been waived. Venus Envy is going to be granted an all-ages license to make sure that youth can access the store. The only concession they had to make was to stop selling porn DVDs, which is not a huge loss for them. They are also going to start a “par-it-forward” program so community members can help purchase binders and gaffs for the youth that need them. This is the best news. Special thanks goes to city councillor Catherine McKenney and her amazing staff for making this happen. ***