Clothes and coming out

Earlier this week we briefly discussed our feelings regarding University of Toronto blowhard Jordan Peterson. In short, we’re sick of hearing his voice!

A few weeks ago, two U of T student organizations, NewPRIDE and LGBTOUT, released a video on the theme of coming out. Ten students tell their stories — including one close friend of the End Dress Codes collective — and we could listen to their voices all day!

We were especially struck by Shai’s reference to his clothes in describing his post-coming out feelings:

The word I’m thinking about is expression. You can express yourself, you can be yourself. I mean I’m wearing bracelets and this awesome shirt I love. Before, when I was pretend straight, I was so focused on my image to everybody and trying to look as, I guess, stereotypically masculine as I could, and I hated it so much. I never got to have the closet that I wanted, or the room that I wanted, or the friends that I wanted, or anything that I wanted inside me. And as soon as I came out, I’m finally able to show people who I really am, and that is such a weight off your shoulders.

 

Shai’s reflections reminded us of another recent video by a Toronto queer organization. Check out Xtra‘s portrait of “andro-babe at masc presenting” Megan, who is super-articulate about the links between her sexual orientation and her clothing choices. Another voice we’d love to hear more of!

EDC vs. J.P.

The End Dress Codes collective would like to see an end to Jordan Peterson’s employment at the University of Toronto, for a variety of reasons.

First, we’re a bunch of Social Justice Warriors — what did you expect?

Second, some of us are U of T alumni, and some of us are current U of T students. We care about the institution, and about the climate on campus.

Third, some of us have taught students who were transitioning, and some of us have taught students who waited until they graduated — and, in some cases, moved on to supposedly safer post-secondary institutions — to transition. We know how vulnerable, and how brave, nonbinary and transgender youth are, and we care about what happens to them, both inside and outside of our classrooms.

Fourth, school dress codes are, in part, a trans issue. School dress codes implicitly refer to clothing conventions based on a rigid gender binary, and school dress codes embolden school staff to police students’ gender expression. Our call for an end to school dress codes is, in part, a call for schools that affirm the existence and dignity of trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students.

Fifth, we’re not even going to get into J.P.’s misogyny or his palling around with white supremacists or his doxxing of activists or his attacks on his colleagues. Suffice it to say that the man is a mess.

Please consider signing and sharing this open letter that calls for the termination of Peterson’s appointment at U of T.

And please listen to what students, especially trans and nonbinary students, have to say about this issue. Over the past week or two Kira Williams wrote her own open letter to the president of Laurier; Jay Rideout wrote an essay in Laurier’s student newspaper; the Record spoke to gender nonconforming students; Abigail Curlew wrote about recent events for Vice. In addition, both The Varsity and the McGill Daily have published editorials calling for Peterson’s termination.

In Peterson’s rhetoric, non-binary people aren’t human beings, they’re symptoms, or symbols, of postmodern neo-Marxism . . . or something. We end with Jeffrey Marsh‘s words:

If non-binary people are a metaphor for anything, it’s the chance we all have for radical self-acceptance.

#EndDressCodes Friday Jam: Shawnee

November is one of the longest, most trying months of the school year — congratulations on making it through!

Of course December can be challenging too. Twenty days from now is the darkest day of the year, and the holidays can be especially difficult for 2SLGBTQ youth. Please hang in there! Consider cranking up “Warrior Heart” by two-spirit Mohawk singer-songwriter Shawnee when you need a boost: “Stay / And show them what you’re made of.”

 

#EndDressCodes Friday Jam(s): RIFFS!

Last week friend of the collective Julia Tausch published an essay disavowing Toronto band Death From Above. One member of the band was recently accused of associating with the alt-right; Tausch shows that the band’s music has always been misogynistic.

The news that a fave is problematic — or a straight-up problem — is never welcome, and Tausch acknowledges DFA fans who were genuinely heartbroken at seeing their image of the band tarnished. One good thing about our historical moment, though, is that there is so much art out there, so many potential faves.

For example, there are plenty of bands out there that trade in heavy rawk riffage, like DFA, but that manage to not accompany that riffage with arguments for patriarchal family values. Some of our faves from the last few years are: Big Joanie, Bully, Dilly Dally, Downtown Boys, G.L.O.S.S., HIRS, Lithics, Marnie Stern, Melkbelly, Mourn, Priests, and Xenia Rubinos. These artists rock out and punch up; they bring the riffage, and they sing (or scream) about intersectional feminism, systemic racism, trans liberation, xenophobia, as well as anxiety, depression, desire, relationships, and sex.

When faves are called out for being problematic, some people worry that a witch hunt is in progress. To borrow from Lindy West: it’s true! — our faves are witches, and they’re on the hunt! Instead of choosing just one song for today’s jam, we’ve made a whole playlist of heavy music. Good luck, and good hunting!

SRO Victory!

How should a school be?

Should a school replicate the world outside its walls? Should it prepare students for the way things are?

Or could a school try to do things differently? Could a school be a space for trying out new ways of life? Could a school foster social change?

These are some of the questions that animate the work of the End Dress Codes collective. They are also at the heart of the debate over the school resource officer program — the debate over the presence of cops in Toronto schools.

We are absolutely thrilled, and beyond impressed, that this decade-long debate has been decisively won by Black Lives Matter, LAEN (Latinx, Afro-Latin America, Abya Yala Education Network), Education Not Incarceration, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, Educators for Peace and Justice, and, especially, TDSB students — who organized with the aforementioned groups, responded to Board surveys, participated in community consultations, and presented delegations at sometimes hostile police board meetings.

These groups fought to win, and they won; we want to congratulate them, and we want to follow their example. We want schools that resist the injustice outside their walls: like anti-black racism, like the school to prison pipeline, like the prison-industrial complex. We want schools that try to do things differently — and we’re so grateful for the reminder that we will win.

EDC VOICES: Mr. Wright

The End Dress Codes Collective is looking for stories about dress code discipline in the Toronto District School Board. Browse our archive of anecdotes, and get in touch if you can add to it. Anonymous contributions are welcome, and we won’t post your story to the site if you don’t want us to.


I’ve taught for twelve years in Toronto, and two before that overseas. It’s a cliché, but I’m firm but fair, I hope. My goal is to have my students learn. It shouldn’t be a party, it shouldn’t be tons of fun all the time, they have to do some serious learning. But I don’t lose my cool too often. It’s pretty great to be able to talk about things that I like all day, things that I really care about, and to try to make students like them too. Books, literature, politics, big ideas, big questions…

I don’t usually enforce the dress code. I have bigger things to worry about. I don’t think it affects their learning, so I don’t care about it.

The dress code prohibits hats so that we can identify intruders. The logic is that if someone is wearing a hat, they’re an intruder. I get the concern for safety. But I walk by hundreds of kids every day. I don’t know most of them. I can’t tell if they’re an intruder whether they’re wearing a hat or not. And if I see a student I don’t know wearing a hat, I don’t want to start our relationship on a bad note, by talking about this thing that I really don’t care about.

There’s one Vice Principal in particular who is really on about the hats. I’ve had a few encounters with him over the past couple years. It’s frustrating because the encounters have all happened in college-level classes. At my school the kids in those classes are often at-risk, they don’t necessarily like school, and they definitely like it less when they feel like they’re being picked on. I think they feel the same way I do, like it has nothing to do with their learning.

The first encounter was when a student left my class to go to the washroom, put on his hat once he was out the door, and was caught. The VP gave him a talking to, and then gave me a talking to. “We all have to be on the same page…”

Another time that year a student came to class late and sat at the back of the room with his hat on. I’m in the middle of a lesson, I’m engaging the other kids, and I’m not going to interrupt my class — I want everyone to stay focused on what we’re doing, and I’m so focused on what we’re doing that I’m not going to notice a small thing like that. And inside the classroom the student clearly is not a threat: I know him, he’s supposed to be there. So the VP opens the door and yells at the kid with the hat on. And what I’m doing gets destroyed, the whole moment gets destroyed — and clearly the VP’s relationship with that student is null and void.

The third encounter is the most vivid to me. It’s June, we’re in the computer lab. There’s this kid who is having a really difficult time at home, his parents have split, his mom has been away, he’s moving around, he hardly ever comes to class. There’s a couple minutes left in the period. I’m having a conversation at the back of the room, everyone else is just waiting to get out the door, and this kid puts his hat on. This is after doing some good work, trying to make up for what he’s missed, really trying to get the credit. The VP sees him through the window, bursts into the room, takes the hat off, gives the kid a scowl and says “You’re not getting it back,” gives me a scowl, and leaves.

That kid already has a very tough time. Why did it need to be made worse? It’s like the rule is valued over individuals, over acknowledging that students have stuff going on, and this thing that’s unnecessary is making their life worse. And when there’s a real safety issue, like violence or something, these students are not going to go to the administration, they’re not going to want to work with them, they won’t be on board.

The negative effect that the dress code has on school safety was really brought home to me by this student who was always breaking the code. She was really pleasant, she wasn’t a bad student, but she was always breaking the dress code, always getting hauled into the office. I taught her in grade twelve, and early in the semester she happened to mention that she’d been assigned a locker next to a guy who had assaulted her in the past. And she wasn’t going to do anything about it because she felt like the administration wouldn’t be on her side, because of her history of breaking the code. I ended up going down to the office with her, and making sure that the guy got moved to another locker.

If she’d been left alone, if she’d been allowed to wear what she wanted, she would have been more likely to feel like she could speak up about this herself. And her learning would have been better because she would have felt safer. We can’t control what she’s wearing. (What are you going to do, suspend her? That would be absurd. You’re going to take away her learning because of what she wears?) But we can control how safe she feels, and we have some control over how focused she is on her work. Why waste time on stuff that doesn’t affect her learning?

It was the same overseas. My students would adjust their uniforms for the weekly check, they’d be compliant for that day, and then they’d go back to doing what they wanted. It was just absurd. The administration would measure their fingernails, measure how high their dresses were, call them all into the gym… What a waste of time.

I guess I just don’t want to make anyone’s day any worse. I want to talk to them about their learning. Why get all riled up about something that is not going to affect their learning?

When he isn’t marking or prepping, Mr. Wright likes reading history books, watching (and yelling at) Blue Jays games on TV, and hanging out with his new baby.

#EndDressCodes Friday Jam(s): EnVision Playlist!

This week was EnVision 2017, a conference for LGBTQ students and their allies presented by the TDSB’s Gender-Based Violence Prevention Office and the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. We set up a table at the community fair, alongside awesome orgs like Send the Right Message, LGBT Youthline, NBD Campaign, Planned Parenthood, and Toby’s Place. At the End Dress Codes table, we debuted five brand new posters, and we asked students to suggest songs for today’s Friday Jam.

Rather than choose just one of the suggestions we received, we made a whole playlist. One student asked if the song they suggested had to be “appropriate”; we responded, enthusiastically, “No!” So be forewarned!

EDC VOICES: Yasir

The End Dress Codes Collective is looking for stories about dress code discipline in the Toronto District School Board. Browse our archive of anecdotes, and get in touch if you can add to it. Anonymous contributions are welcome, and we won’t post your story to the site if you don’t want us to.


I was just trying to fit in for the first two years of high school. But as grade eleven rolled around I started to become more comfortable with myself. I expanded my social circle, I became more outgoing.

I was never a crazy dresser. Part of me wanted to be; I was always really intrigued by fashion, style. But I never really stepped outside the norm. I wore a lot of black — I think it was partly me trying to seem as heterosexual as possible!

I was never dress coded. It never crossed my mind as something I had to think about. We learned about the dress code at the beginning of the year; I associated it with a boring lecture I had to sit through every September, along with fire drill procedures and how you couldn’t eat on the second floor. Retrospectively, I recognize that I was incredibly privileged to be able to not think about it.

My first “personal” encounter with the dress code was when I heard about a classmate I knew that had been told her tank top was distracting to boys. It was around the time I was trying to come out to people, and I still wasn’t completely comfortable with myself, so hearing this story was kind of unnerving but I wasn’t really in a place to reflect on why I felt unnerved. A while later, I did think about it when someone informed me about the rules on spaghetti straps. I thought to myself, “Okay so girls are clearly being targeted here.” I started to hear more and more dress coding stories and realized that, as a cisgender male, I literally never had to worry about the code, whereas girls were being called out over and over again, for the smallest, randomest infractions. I always had more friends who identified as girls than friends who identified as guys, so when I actually started paying attention, the sexism was really evident.

Some of my friends would resist the code through evasion. Trying to cover up when seeing a teacher in the hall, or hiding from particularly conservative staff, was common practice. The stories I was told made it clear that being dress coded was often an aggravating and emotional experience. The more I heard, the angrier I got.

The final straw was when my close friend told me she was dress coded by the principal seconds before walking into a particularly difficult bio test. She was pissed off and said she couldn’t think about anything else during the test. That’s when I thought, “This is absolutely one hundred per cent not okay.”

This was around grade eleven. By then I had kind of accepted myself, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the dress code was stopping other people from accepting themselves. And I realized that the code was homophobic — because it assumed all boys are heterosexual — and that hit close to home I guess. I think I’m now aware that it probably made the coming out process harder — even just coming out to myself. Anyway, I was just like, here’s an issue that’s blatantly wrong, let’s fix it!

I decided I’d write my grade eleven English speech about it. But I knew it might not be perceived as relevant to our school. I wanted quotes, I wanted evidence that would show how real the problem was. Also, I knew I couldn’t just do a speech on dress codes as a person privileged enough to never have been coded before. I wanted to include the voices and actions of people who were affected by the code daily.

So I conducted a social experiment. I asked some friends, mostly girls, but some boys, too, if they would be comfortable breaking the dress code in particularly apparent ways for one day. And I gave them a few questions they could ask the staff members who coded them. “What about my clothes is wrong?” “Why is the dress code important?”

So everyone showed up that day in clothes violating the code. They wore crop tops, bralettes, short shorts, low-cut dresses, low-cut tops, tank tops, et cetera. (To be honest, they actually all looked amazing.) And before lunchtime, I had almost every female-identifying participant running up to me in the hallways to relay what had happened. The stories were beyond my expectations. They were told their clothes were too sexual; boys will be distracted; everyone in the room is uncomfortable. It was honestly repulsive. One friend was on the verge of tears after being humiliated by a teacher who accused her of “valuing sex over education.” Most teachers got visibly angry when questioned about the reasoning behind the code. One friend was told to go to the office as soon as she started asking questions.

And none of the boys were even looked at twice. One of them very badly wanted someone to call him out on his tank top, he wanted the opportunity to ask his questions. So he went around looking for teachers and initiating conversations with them. He even had a short conversation with the principal and a vice principal. Alas, no one called him out. He was pretty disappointed.

I wrote about all of this in my speech. The response from my classmates was really great. It was like many people had been thinking about it for a while and had finally heard someone say it out loud. Of course, there were some who disagreed, but I think even they were shocked by the results of the experiment. The class had to vote on who got to present their speech at the grade-wide speech competition and I ended up getting the most votes, so I polished it up and presented it to a larger audience later that year. A lot of the students who saw it there came up to me saying they loved it. I think after that the word kind of spread, and me and my friends got a lot of people coming up to us to tell us when they got dress coded from then on.

I knew achieving real change would be a slow process considering the apathetic response from a lot of staff. But the response I got from students was really heartwarming. I found out about a lot of people who felt similarly about the dress code and it made me feel like we had numbers on our side. People were irritated, people were angry, people were fed up. People actually cared. The word was spreading.

Yasir writes for the McGill Daily. A reckless spender, you’ll find him purchasing anything mini-sized.

#EndDressCodes Friday Jam: The Rascals

On the day that Douglas Hamburgh got sent home from Castle Frank High School (now Rosedale Heights School of the Arts) because his hair was too long, the number one song on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart was “People Got To Be Free” by The Rascals. How apt!

Did you know that The Rascals refused to perform on segregated concert bills? In other words, if no black artists were on the bill, The Rascals weren’t playing. Another reason to make this 1968 hit a Friday Jam forty-nine years later!

“Petty tyranny of the sort that alienates young people from school”

Last year Torontoist posted a story about sideburns in Toronto in the 1960s. Men about town like historian Pierre Berton, boxer George Chuvalo, and Liberal MP Paul Hellyer wore them; the National Ballet of Canada kicked out a dancer because of them; coach Punch Imlach demanded that his Maple Leafs players get rid of them. (Shades of Lou Lamoriello, am I right?! Ahem. Okay, no more sports.)

And then there’s this:

During the same September that Punch Imlach ordered shaves and haircuts for his team, another hair-related controversy emerged at a Toronto high school. Wilbert Bush, the principal at Castle Frank High School (now the Rosedale Heights School of the Arts) sent 16-year-old Douglas Hamburgh home due to the length of his hair. All three major Toronto papers ran the story, complete with photos of Hamburgh, with his hair still short of his eyebrows and barely past his ears.

The initial explanation offered was that Castle Frank High School was a technical school, where students regularly used machinery, and that long hair represented a safety hazard. However, the Telegram reported that Hamburgh had already completed two years at Castle Frank with this hairstyle, and that as an arts student, he never came in contact with the technical-course machinery. A Star editorial pointed out that female students with long hair were permitted to work the machinery at the school provided that their hair was pulled back. “This looks like a clear case of petty tyranny of the sort that alienates young people from school. So long as they don’t disrupt class work or endanger themselves, students should be allowed to wear their hair any way they please.”

Over the next week, protests were organized at Castle Frank High School, dividing the student body. Over 70 students staged a protest, in which they wore jeans and slacks — also forbidden at Castle Frank — demanding the right to dress and wear their hair as they wished. In a Star article with the headline “Students in jeans threaten existence of school: Principal,” Wilfred Bush defended his decision on the basis that, as a technical school, Castle Frank had a duty to prepare its graduates for employment, and that having long hair threatened job prospects. “We go after manners and appearance,” Bush said. “If we lose the battle of hair and clothes, employers would ignore us and not hire our graduates.”

So much of this story sounds familiar! The haphazard imposition of dress code discipline; the illogical rationale provided to justify it; the student resistance; the unconvincing appeal to the job prospects of students. (Ironically, much of the rest of the Torontoist piece is devoted to hair controversies at work — at CFTO-TV, the Canadian National Railway, the Edmonton Transit System, and Dominion grocery store, for example. These employers discovered they’d hired high school graduates who had not entirely given up “the battle of hair and clothes.”)

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 10.20.12 PM
headline from the September 24, 1968 Toronto Star

What is slightly less familiar is the clarity with which the Star editorial diagnoses the situation. It bears requoting:

This looks like a clear case of petty tyranny of the sort that alienates young people from school. So long as they don’t disrupt class work or endanger themselves, students should be allowed to wear their hair any way they please.

Given that the source of dress code discipline — “petty tyranny” — and the effect of it — alienation from school — were so obvious in 1968, it’s hard not to wonder why we are still dealing with such controversies today.

One reason does come to mind, however. Today, the subjects of dress code controversies do not look like Douglas Hamburgh; today, the targets of dress code discipline are mostly students of colour and female-presenting students. Perhaps our culture is less inclined to defend them from tyranny.