A Canadian shop has been slapped with a $260 fine under a city bylaw after a teen purchased a “chest binder” – a sleeveless elastic under vest used to flatten the chest.
There’s nothing illegal about the binder. The problem is the premises. Under city bylaws, Venus Envy is licensed as an adult store and can’t serve people under 18.
Even though there is a demand for products that help transgender youth affirm their gender identity, teens can’t enter the store to buy the products. It’s even unclear if those under 18 can enter the store and make a purchase if a parent or guardian is present.
Venus Envy owner Shelley Taylor says a bylaw officer told her the complainant was a parent.
It’s so upsetting cause Venus Envy is the only place in town to buy binders. And we do see a lot of young people because that’s who can’t order online and who often need info as well as products. We’re officially an adult shop, there’s no alternate to that license at the moment. So a guardian has to be here if someone is under 18.”
Taylor says she has already spoken to city hall, and isn’t optimistic the bylaw will change anytime soon. Ideally, these products would be available to teens in a non-sexual environment, she says.
Do you need to have fake ID to buy something that affirms your gender? That’s good for your emotional and mental health? Our goal is to make people comfortable and offer good service.”
Taylor believes a lot of young people come to the store because few teens have credit cards and can order online, or fear having something mailed to their home.
Other teens come with their parents.
We serve so many youth — mostly with their parents. They come from all over because we’re a trans-affirming kind of place. For us, it’s an emotional thing when we see a queer or trans kid with their parents, because they have the support that most kids don’t.”
Appearance is important to all teens, but those who are undergoing a social transition experience even more difficulties, says Laurie Rector, the director of community programs at Family Services Ottawa, which offers programs for gender creative and gender independent youth and their families.
It’s a highly affirming part of the transition to be able to express your gender. It’s so important for youth to have access to binders.”
When Taylor posted the news that Venus Envy had been fined on Facebook, there was an outpouring of support for the youth whose parent made the complaint.
Taylor has reluctantly placed a sign on the front door of the store saying customers under the age of 18 aren’t permitted in the store. She has spoken to staff at city hall, and isn’t optimistic the bylaw will change anytime soon.
Ideally, these products would be available to teens in a non-sexual environment, she says. There are some solutions to this, including running a pop-up store at another location. Kind, which already runs a “freecycle” clothing swap, is considering whether it can offer temporary space.
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