Navigating Airport TSA as a trans* person

Airport Security (Wikimedia Commons)

Okay, so I’m lucky in that I pass pretty well to strangers. As long as people don’t look too closely at me and I don’t open my mouth, most people in passing assume I’m male. (Pun intended.) A couple months ago I was travelling to NY for the summer. I got up at three ridiculous thirty in the morning after staying up late to pack.

My family, thank goodness, loves me enough to drive me to the airport that early in the morning. If that’s not love, I dunno what is. We got there at about 5am and parted ways. I tried to act all “yeah, I know what I’m doing I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me,” but as soon as they left, I was all “oh mah goodness where do I go for my boarding pass and security and flight and argghh!”

Somehow, I manged to make it to the security check-point with my pass in hand. There, they checked to make sure my ID and pass match. My ID didn’t look much like me.. it was about three years old. I had long hair and regrettably a hot pink shirt. I tried to remind myself that this is the only time in my life I’ll see Miss Official ID Checker, but any trans* person’ll know that showing someone an old ID is rather uncomfortable. She looked at me, and my ID, and back at me. I guess my face must’ve been similar enough or she hadn’t had coffee yet because she stamped it and sent me on my merry way.

The next part flustered me a bit. I had read the TSA’s policies for transgender travelers, but by the time I was ready to go through the scanner and had already almost forgotten to put my laptop outside of the bag, take my shoes off, and check my pockets I wasn’t really thinking about being transgender. (Over time, it’s become so comfortable to be out in male clothes that I think less and less about it.) At the time, I didn’t know that they had switched out the nude body scanners for less revealing millimeter wave scanners. With the new system, the officials are required to punch a pink or blue button (how cliche) to tell the machine what “stuff” to ignore.

The scanner-checker must’ve  pressed the blue button since I appear male. Obviously, as a pre-t pre-surgery guy I have a lack of certain stuff and an unfortunate overabundance of other stuff. When I went through the machine a TSA guy held me up.

“Please stop right here, sir.” He said a quick few words to the person behind the computer screen and turned back to me.  “It’s flagging a region on your chest, I’m going to give you a pat down.” Before could react and say that I’m biologically female, he was doing so. Okay, for any cisfemale I’d imagine having a middle aged guy patting down your chest would probably be at the least awkward and at most grounds for a sexual harassment complaint. But I’m not a woman and I don’t identify with my chest. It didn’t feel awkward to me, besides the fact that a stranger was invading my personal space. He was just doing his job. In a few seconds he was finished: “Thank you, sir, you can go ahead.”

Even though he referred to me as male after the pat down, I have a small chest, but not that small, so I find it hard to believe he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. But it definitely didn’t faze him either. I’d like to imagine he did figure it out and decided to be respectful about it. I guess on the way back I might just opt for a pat down since I’m probably going to get one anyway.

Have you (cis or trans) had any experiences with the TSA, good/bad/otherwise? Can you think of anything the TSA could do to seamlessly accommodate people across the gender spectrum?


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