Smuggling a penis through airport security – Why I’m scared to fly

By , November 19, 2010 10:25 pm

Way back in January, I posted about the new airport scanners, following a discussion I engaged in on another site:

Without being sarcastic, some of us are concerned about having their small penis put up for display. This will inevitably be TMI, but I know I’m not the only trans woman who reads Slashdot, and presenting and being perceived as a woman but smuggling a dick through security runs the risk of harassment (if you’re lucky) and arrest/sexual assault/murder (if you’re not).

I’m all for safe air travel, but I can see a million ways to abuse this technology, and use it to harass and humiliate people who aren’t terrorists for every one way it can be used to “fight terrorism.”

Well, airport scanners have been in the news a lot this past week. Bruce Schneier has a good rundown of everything that’s been going on. But, in short, there has been some major backlash against scanners that are able to take and store effectively naked images of all passengers.

From a livejournal post:

It is no accident that women have been complaining about being pulled out of line because of their big breasts, having their bodies commented on by TSA officials, and getting inappropriate touching when selected for pat-downs for nearly 10 years now, but just this week it went viral. It is no accident that CAIR identified Islamic head scarves (hijab) as an automatic trigger for extra screenings in January, but just this week it went viral. What was different?Suddenly an able-bodied cisgender white man is the one who was complaining. (Emphasis in the original)

An interesting segue into my own take on the issue, Schneier quotes that same section on his blog, but leaves out the word “cisgender.” Which is ridiculous, because this is an issue that effects trans and gender-nonconforming people more than any other population!

(There’s a note at the bottom of the livejournal post, saying “cisgender” was unintentionally left out, so it’s possible Schneier copied the quote before it was put back in.)

Since beginning my 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 my name and documentation; I was flying under a name and license that said ‘male,’ but trying to hide my breasts under baggy clothing. Now, the reverse is true: I have a proper ID and name documentation (though still haven’t gotten a new passport, more out of laziness and cheapness than anything else) but I’m terrified about the idea of having my genitals show up on these new backscanner imaging devices. As I said in January, being laughed at is the least of my concerns, and being harassed, detained, or sexually assaulted aren’t out of the realm of possibility.

As such, I feel cut off from some of my family, as well as any thoughts of having The Surgery. Most of my friends are in Chicago (where I live) or Minneapolis or the east coast (pretty drivable or bus-able), but I have family in western Colorado and in San Francisco, and I have no desire to drive to either of those destinations. (Or money to afford a train ticket, which is what I’d really like to do.) For my entire life, flying has been an affordable if cramped way of getting from point A to point B quickly and cheaply – I’ve flown around the US, to Canada, and to Europe.

Now, without even having any particular plans to travel in the near future, I feel trapped and unable to fly.

But at least I can be reassured that the policy of either submitting to the scanner or going through the “enhanced pat-down procedure” is being applied inconsistently:

When we got to the scanner, I opted out. Then [the family behind me] opted out. She’d already convinced the family behind them to do the same. Her response to the TSA agent was awesome, I wish I’d thought of it:

“Ma’am, please step over here.”

“No thanks, I’ve already had cancer, just feel me up or whatever.”

After the first 4 “OPT-OUT” calls, they just passed us all through the regular metal detector. No one got groped.

So if it’s inconvenient, the TSA has the authority to ignore these new “security” regulations. Awesome! I feel so much safer!

The ACLU has a page where you can email your congresscritters, so please take a moment to do so.

7 Responses to “Smuggling a penis through airport security – Why I’m scared to fly”

  1. Anna says:

    “Frankly, I Enjoyed It”….
    was Gloria Allred’s response to a question by Sean Hannity regarding her feelings about having her “privates” touched in the course of a TSA “pat-down”. Hmmmm…..Ya Gotta Luv It!

  2. Emma says:

    Yeah I’m not a fan of the enhanced pat down. It was exceptionally awkward even when presenting as male (work trip, not out at work).

    This guys video is basically how I plan to deal with it next time.

  3. […] 11/22/10, 10:40 a.m.: See also this post by Rebecca at The Thang Blog on how the new procedures have effectively grounded her as a trans […]

  4. Jesurgislac says:

    I am a (white, cisgender) Brit who decided to quit going to the US in 2004, because British Muslims were then being harassed by the US airport authorities and I objected to the idea that my safety in traveling to the US depended on my religion. (Christian by upbringing, atheist by inclination.)

    At that point, literally everyone else I knew except for a small handful of people who were or were close friends with British Muslims, thought I was nuts. Either because they didn’t believe it was that bad, or because they didn’t see why I was refusing to fly when it wasn’t people like me who were subject to harassment.

    Six years later, while it would be invidious to say “I TOLD YOU SO!” I have to wonder: what if the mass reaction to non-American Muslims being routinely harassed at American airports had been, as it was for me, a simple refusal to fly?

    But I also wonder: what could I have done more to advocate this? I felt foolish for years, sticking to my refusal to visit to the US, because I wasn’t in any of the at-risk groups. Now we all are – now will people stand up and say, no, I will not submit to this?

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for chiming in. I think you’re absolutely right that this has actually been a big deal for years, but is only now making headlines because it’s impacting non-minority populations.

  5. Stasya Doll says:

    Well I was watching TV the other Night when this came up. What boggles my Mind is Picture this if you will. This Group of People sitting around a table coming up with This Fantastic Concept saying to themselves. “Well this should not Offend anybody Since We are sure that everyone wants some Obscure Government Department to Have record of Naked Scans so that the Civil Servants can Laugh a them them during Lunch Break or when they don’t have anything else better to do”. It just goes beyond anything that is even passable as Logic.

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