Tag Archives: Ottawa

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.


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.



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!]


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.


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. ***

The people in our neighbourhood

4 Jun
Neighbourhood slide showdown with her BFF

Neighbourhood slide showdown with her BFF

I grew up in the suburbs and didn’t really know our neighbours. For some reason, the street we lived on in Thornhill, Ontario was rather transient in nature. We lived in our house until I moved away and went to university, but many other families only stayed for a year or two and then moved deeper into the 905 regions of Markham and Richmond Hill.

I vaguely remember hanging out with a few other kids when I was really young — ex-pat Jewish South Africans who didn’t stick around into the mid-1980s. But I didn’t have much connection with my street, because I always went to schools that were out of our neighbourhood. At first, my parents sent us in taxis to a private Jewish school, and then I attended specialized arts public schools that required me to take at least two public transit buses. I received an excellent education, but my friends never lived within walking distance.

My parents moved to a new house when I was away at university, so I rarely go back to the street where I grew up. My sense of family isn’t rooted in a particular community or geographic place. So I never randomly bump into people I went to high school with when I go home to visit family.

My roommate in first year university was the child of a single mother and grew up in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy. She was the quintessential downtown kid — comfortable riding the street car at 2am, quietly street smart and cultured in a way that I envied. My family was never really suburban in the traditional sense of the word. We went downtown often, attended lots of theatre and ate in interesting restaurants. But it was always a long schlep to get anywhere. We needed to leave the house an hour before any dinner reservation. And I always had to make sure to catch the last TTC ride home, curbing late-night teenage adventures. I hated walking across the deserted parking lot of Finch subway station to retrieve the family car and drive the rest of the way home. It was too quiet. I always preferred the noise and bustle of downtown to the eery silence of deserted suburbia.

I am delighted to be raising a baby in an inner city neighbourhood. Our house cost a lot more than an equivalent property would have in the suburbs, but the trade-offs are so worth it for us. I have never felt isolated as a new parent, not even for a second. The coffee shop down the street is a magnet for young families, and the baby drop-in at the elementary school nearby is always bursting at the seams. The neighbours across the street with 3-year-old twins routinely drop off boxes of hand-me-downs. The family members living on a fixed income down the street are the first to assist elderly neighbours with snow shovelling and other physical tasks. A woman I met at a breastfeeding drop-in at the community health centre recognized me eight months later and invited us to a block party. Daphne has five close friends who live within a ten-minute walk away.

We live near a busy intersection and our nearest pharmacy is home to a methadone clinic. When we put our recycling out at night, all of the beer bottles are removed by morning by people who could use the spare change. I occasionally see a couple of sex workers on Gladstone street, discreetly conducting their business. None of these things bother me. They are part of the fabric of a city. I want my child to grow up knowing that not everyone grows up in a privileged environment and that our neighbourhoods have room for all sorts of people.

Luckily, Daphne is too young to discriminate. She enthusiastically waves “hi” to everyone we see. The people in our neighbourhood.


Activist mama

22 Oct

ImageIt’s been just over a week since we switched to bottle feeding, and a whole new world has opened up for Daphne and I. We are both so much happier. Feedings are no longer a scream-filled trial, and I have stopped doing mental calculations about how long I can be out of the house before she may get hungry again. I haven’t had a panic attack or a wave of anxiety since making the big decision. And I feel like I finally have room in my life again for exercise, yoga and activism.

Last week, the media in Ottawa uncovered a case where a woman was forced to give birth unassisted in an isolation cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. She was in jail after breaching bail conditions, but had not been convicted of any crime. She says that prison staff ignored her repeated cries for help when she went into labour, and when she became too agitated, they put her into solitary confinement. She gave birth alone in a tiny concrete cell. Her baby came out “feet first” — a dangerous breech birth that could have killed him. She was only allowed to hold her baby in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. After that, she was separated from him and only allowed to see him through plexiglass.

As a new mother with the experience of childbirth fresh in my mind, I was horrified. A group of local women — including criminology professor Dawn Moore — quickly pulled together an action in front of Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur’s office. We brought our babies and wrote messages demanding justice for Julie Bilotta on diapers, which we left outside her office (as she refused to acknowledge our presence). The hastily created Mom and Baby Coalition for Justice made national news, and Meilleur was forced to respond to our demand for an inquiry into the treatment of incarcerated women in Ontario. Two days later, Bilotta was released on bail and reunited with her son Gionni.

This is the kind of kitchen-table activism that formed the basis of second wave feminism. It felt great to pull together an effective protest so quickly. All of the members the coalition wrote media releases, networked through social media and wrote campaign materials, while bouncing our babies on our knees. While the action was open to anyone interested in seeking justice for Julie and her son, the image of mothers and babies was a powerful one. It drew media attention (the adorable factor certainly helped) and helped demonstrate mainstream, middle-class support for the rights of incarcerated women in Ontario and across the country.

Since we “birthed” this new coalition last week, we have heard from people across Canada, including former prisoners and parents of incarcerated women. In the coming weeks, we plan to re-group and start developing a vision for our new activist coalition. Our goal is to use our resources to support marginalized women and children, using nap times and brief moments of respite to try and make some change.

It feels great to be an activist mama. Here’s a news clip of me being interviewed at the demo, while bouncing Daphne in the baby carrier. Apparently the best way to get her to nap is to take her to a demonstration.