Enhanced security patdown

By , March 15, 2012 2:51 pm

I’m sitting in Terminal 3 at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, waiting for my flight to San Francisco. I’m going to visit family and to have a surgery consult with Dr Bowers. Prepping for the trip, I thought through how I would handle the new TSA “Advanced Imaging Technology” (AIT) scanners. Ignoring potential health concerns and the fact that they don’t work to increase security, I’m concerned as a trans person. As someone who, as I’ve joke before, is attempting to smuggle a penis through airport security.

I talked about the TSA last year, while at the National Center for Transgender Equality’s conference on trans issues. The post discussed how the TSA was handling trans travelers, and they deserve credit for appearing at the conference at all. Likewise, when the TSA fucks up, they work (at least they say they do) to correct the problem. That said, it’s inherently obvious to anyone who works with computers – or even anyone who has a camera phone – that the TSA’s claim that the AIT scanners can’t store images is bullshit.

So I opted for the “enhanced” pat-down, preferring not to risk images of my naughty bits being sent far and wide without my knowledge or consent.

The procedure was tame and – fortunately – the TSA workers were very professional. I said I was opting out of the AIT scanners, and was asked to step aside. Within a few minutes (not a particularly long time) a security woman asked if I wanted a private screening. I said I did, so we waited another minute or so for a second TSA woman to join us.

We went into an enclosed area and she wiped down her gloves and put the wipe in a scanner, presumably to ensure there was no  explosive residue before the pat-down even began. She then explained very thoroughly what was going to happen: what parts of her hands she was going to use, where she was going to touch, when she was going to use specific parts of her hands. The process was relatively quick, and about as innocuous as having a stranger touching you can be.

And yet, I managed to smuggle my penis through security. She either didn’t mention it or – as I suspect – didn’t notice it at all. Which was fine with me, but just goes to show how ridiculous the security procedures are. Now, I imagine that the TSA scanner is more focusing on explosives or drug residue – the goal of the pat-down probably isn’t primarily to check for physical weapons. Likewise, I had to go through the regular metal detector before the pat-down. But, ultimately, I could have been smuggling some small prohibited item in the crotch of my undies. (Heaven forbid!)

Again, I’m glad she didn’t make a big deal out of my being trans. I suspect she had no idea. I wouldn’t have been happy if she’d asked what the lump in my crotch was. But I would have at least been reassured the security was secure, instead of having one more example of how invasive-and-yet-ineffective the whole charade is.

4 Responses to “Enhanced security patdown”

  1. violet says:

    Of the ~20 times I have gotten the enhanced pat-down gropery, I’ve once been asked “what’s this” (woman doing the pat-down points at my crotch).

    “I’m trans” (I blush)

    “Uh, ok, you can go”

    (That was very much not my worst experience with it. The worst one was the second day they were doing them, when the person running the metal detector threatened to call out for “male assist” even though I was wearing a skirt (this didn’t happen, but almost did). Also they were a lot more intrusive than they are now. Trying to catch a plane when it’s already almost done boarding and you’re running and crying is no fun)

    • Rebecca says:

      Yuck! I’m so sorry to hear that. The TSA now has a dedicated page for trans travelers, which lays out how they’re supposed to not suck, but obviously individual assholes can be…well…assholes. =/

      • violet says:

        Yeah, after the bad incident happened, I actually looked up the policies in their handbook — they’ve always been instructed to do a patdown by a person matching your gender *presentation*, it’s just that one TSA person was being a jerk.

        .. though that does leave open the question of “what about people presenting genderqueerly”. I have been outright asked, before, which went okay. “Do you need a male or female to pat you down?”

        I have also had them ask to see my ID again, which could have been really frustrating had I not had it changed to read ‘F’

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