Stressed about Flying

By , July 2, 2009 12:54 pm

Queen Emily of Questioning Transphobia and elsewhere has a great guest post up at Feministe called Why I Hate Filling Out Forms. From the post:

I hate it, every single time. Name, sorted. Then… clunk. Sex – M or F. Sod.

It seems like an easy question, right? For most people it is. For me, it should be an easy question. I live and identify unequivocally as female. I’m not a genderqueer person for whom the very either/or question is wrong. So why the rising sense of panic?

The problem is this, my birth certificate says I am male, my gender presentation is female. They do not match. Until I can afford expensive genital surgery, I cannot change the marker on my birth certificate. No matter what I put, in a cissexist world, I am situated as a liar.


Now imagine what you do in a Customs line when you enter a country. Imagine you’ve heard from acquaintances who’ve been turned away by the US, or that worst-case-scenario lurking at the back of your head about Homeland Security issuing a memo about “cross-dressed terrorists.” What do you put then? What do you wear then? How do you present?

Imagine how vulnerable you feel. Driving (what if a cop pulls me over). At the bank (what if they think I’m trying to scam my own money). At the doctors. At school. At work. At anywhere they want a piece of ID, anywhere they want you to tick a box that divides humanity into two. Anywhere they want you to fill out a form. Confess, little tranny girl, confess. Tell them what in their minds what you “really” are. Or else. And they’ll get you anyway.

I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing all week, because I’m flying to DC tonight, and Queen Emily’s post sort of sums up what I’ve been worrying about. And, unfortunately, I would say it’s not entirely unreasonable that I’m stressed.

I know that I am damn lucky I’ve had extremely minimal and superficial experiences with direct transphobia, most of it revolving around cluelessness rather than straight-out bigotry or maliciousness. Likewise, I know that I do still exercise a lot of privilege in non-gender related areas: I’m white, I’m middle-class, and I’m the daughter of a lawyer, all of which combine to make me a troublemaker when it comes to knowing my rights and not taking things lying down.

But that doesn’t really hep with on-the-street bigotry. And even though it does reassure me that, eventually, I’d get anything with TSA or airport security cleared up, it doesn’t mean they can’t hold me for hours and hours or make my life hell for a while.

For tonight, I bought my tickets in my male (legal..) name, as I my name change won’t be finalized until July 20. I’ll be changing after work into baggier clothing, pulling my hair back, and knowing that this is going to be a lose/lose situation: If I pass as male, I’ll be disappointed that it was so easy and, if I don’t, it’ll most likely be because someone’s complaining about my documentation.

Hopefully, this will be straightened out by my August trip – I’ll have updated documentation – but it’ll still be stressful to have genitals that don’t match what a close-up security search might expect.

7 Responses to “Stressed about Flying”

  1. Ash says:

    I’m sorry, babe. It must be really upsetting to have to go in male drag to the airport. I’ll be thinking about you, let me know how it goes or if I can do anything for you.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for the support. Fortunately, it was pretty anticlimactic. I was pretty lazy about it (just wore a sports bra with a super-loose t-shirt) and no one seemed to care. In fact, I definitely got female pronouned by some of the flight crew, which made me feel better about the whole thing.

  2. Mattie says:

    I have a suggestion, that worked for me the times when I needed to present masculine after coming out. It is more a mental trick to make it more comfy than anything else. I decided to see it as me going extremely butch rather than as a male thing. Oddly the times I did this I found how I’d be read were very hard to predict indeed sometimes. It helped me anyway, made me feel less awkward and uncomfy 🙂

    • Rebecca says:

      That actually sounds really great. Looking at it as a role (and an expression of a particular type of female behavior) does seem like it would be less obnoxious, and more fun. I’ll have to remember that!

  3. queen emily says:

    Thanks for the kind words about my post. Unsurprisingly, most of the cis responses have been to the medical bit, where they can grasp at a “biological” reason for us to get put at risk every bloody time we have to present an ID.

    Traveling really does suck, but I don’t see good alternatives for the US beyond male drag or trying to present as androgynous. All it takes is one bastardy security person and you’re in a potentially dangerous situation. For me, as a non-citizen, I feel even more at risk..

    • Rebecca says:

      Of course! I always enjoy your posts, and this one hit home because of the travel stuff I was dealing with. (Fortunately, my experience last weekend was all sort of anticlimactic.)

      I did think the range of responses was interesting, particularly the number of people who were focused on the importance of having some gender identifier on most/all paperwork. As if, for most situations, it made a difference.

      Likewise, although I hadn’t noticed it until you pointed it out, the vast majority of the responses are either about forms in general or about the medical situations specifically, even though interactions with police/security/etc can be just as life-altering and scary, even if they often seem less pressing to begin with. That is, if I’m going to the ER I know already something is very wrong. If I’m pulled over, it’s probably (initially) not crazy dramatic or life-threatening, even though interactions with a cop while having an ‘incorrect’ ID (or, heaven forbid, a night in jail) can end up just as deadly.

  4. […] public transition, flying has made me nervous. Way back in July of last year, I posted about my worries concerning an upcoming flight. That one was particularly nerve-wracking, since it took place a few weeks before I legally changed […]

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