Posts tagged: travel

Today’s travel adventures

By , April 13, 2014 10:46 pm

I used the now-standard line on the TSA agent in Shreveport, LA, when they flagged the bag with my dilators: “I’m a sex educator. Those are dildos.” The agent visibly paused, zipped the bag back up, and said, “I’m not going to open it. I still have to wipe it down to check. He,” she gestured at the agent at the x-ray machine, “owes me.”

I was delayed getting into Dallas, so missed my connecting flight. I gave candy to the ticketing agents and – low and behold – I was the first person called from the standby list. Got a window seat, too, and saw lightening flashing in some clouds during the flight. Very pretty.

I gave more candy to the flight attendant on the plane from Dallas to Chicago (they’d been delayed and I figured they could use some love) and he gave me a bottle of wine saying he needed to “even out the karma.” That’s right, not a glass of wine during the flight; he handed me an entire bottle of red wine in an opaque plastic bag as I was getting off the plane.

Never a dull moment. But now I am so incredibly ready for bed.

Travel Tips from a Touring Artist

By , April 7, 2014 1:26 pm

Welcome to the Life of a Touring Artist

In late 2010, I quite my job and started working as a touring artist and educator full-time. Since then, I’ve gone on dozens of flights, a handful of road trips, stayed in hotels, university guest housing, and on people’s couches, spent way too much money on shitty airport food and side-of-the-road diners, and met tons of students and teachers and fellow artists and activists and educators. In the course of all that, I’ve learned a few lessons about making travel as easy and pleasant (or, at least, as un-un-pleasant) as possible. I’ve already written a bit about spending money to make money, and this post can kind of be thought of as an extension of that idea. Except here, I’m not necessarily talking about spending money to make money, but spending money (carefully and with consideration) to make travel as smooth as it can be. Continue reading 'Travel Tips from a Touring Artist'»

Reconsidering airport scanners

By , November 17, 2012 5:13 am

Images taken by the (older) x-ray backscatter scanners

I don’t like the TSA. I think they engage in security theater (at best) along with racism, sexism, and theft (at worst). I’ve also repeatedly refused to use the TSA scanners, opting instead for the “enhanced security pat down.” I had a few reasons for doing so: I question the safety of repeated exposures to the scanners, I don’t like supporting security theater and feel a sense of obligation to slow down the process, and (most importantly) I question how they would read trans people. After some consideration, and a lot more traveling this past year, I’m beginning to reconsider.

First, it’s worth discussing the two types of scanners used by the TSA. The older models, and the ones around which I based most of my opinions, used a (relatively) high level of radiation for their scans, displayed the naked images which made the news, and have been prohibited in the European Union. The newer models, which I’ve been seeing as I’ve traveled the last few months, use a (relatively) low level of radiation for their scans, display generic human outlines as opposed to naked pictures, and are used the world wide.

So, after flying from O’Hare to Harrisburg for a gig at Bucknell University (which went swimmingly) I decided that, for my return trip, I’d give the scanners a try should I have the option. I am beyond security, having gone through the scanners, and have no excitement to report; I went through without incident and was not flagged for additional screening.

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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.

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She lives!

By , August 8, 2011 5:43 pm

I’ve been really bad about posting lately, going from my height of posting once every other day to not posting for weeks on end. I’m going to try and get back into the posting groove, and thought I’d start with some more thoughts about being in Kansas City and being back.

The rest of the trip was as enjoyable as the first chunk. I got to see more shows (some good, some less so, but all fun) handed out a shit ton of postcards (probably around 2,000), and was the highest selling show in my venue, Loft 122, meaning I won the coveted Kansas City Fringe Festival Hangover Award and received a bonus performance on the final Sunday of the festival. Woo! Being in Kansas City reminded me how much I like performing and how much I particularly enjoy the festival atmosphere: lots of friendly people, tons of things always going on, built-in socialization opportunities, and a very finite list of tasks to accomplish.

I’ve been thinking about that since I got back to Chicago and my stress level went back up. Being in Kansas City meant I didn’t need to worry about everything, just a very specific thing: getting people to see the show. And I really only had one tool to do that: going out and talking to people while handing out postcards. So I didn’t need to think about contacting colleges to perform, festivals to perform, researching grants, thinking about my next show, thinking about Kickstarter fundraising, and on and on and on.

I’m trying to recapture that while back home, to give myself a finite list of tasks. Say, contact ten colleges by the end of the week, three festivals, find one grant, and so on. Make things I can reasonably check off my list, instead of just feeling like I need to do everything all at once.

Being in Kansas City (and DC back in March) has also awakened some wanderlust in me. And I’ve begun researching grad school. Eeek!

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In Kansas City

By , July 21, 2011 4:33 pm

Yesterday morning, Phil and I left sweltering heat in Chicago to drive 500+ miles to sweltering heat in Kansas City. But that’s ok, because there’s a FRINGE FEST GOING ON!

The drive down went smoothly: My air conditioner worked, Phil and I had stuff to talk about and then agreed on Car Talk and This American Life podcasts, and we didn’t get lost. Also, Culvers has delicious shakes.

While stopping at a McDonalds somewhere in Missouri, a guy unloading the McDonalds truck said “Wow, you work on that? Cuz it looks good!” I wasn’t sure if he meant my tan (awesome) or my muscles (also awesome) but either way it made me smile.

Kansas City is pretty. And hilly. And pretty hilly. I say this from my admittedly flat Chicago perspective, but it seems hilly to me!

The people I’m staying with are AWESOME. It’s Brooke and her husband Chris, and their roommate Amber. They own a beautiful early 1900s home in a historic district and have been fixing it up since they bought it three years ago. Which means there are odd gaps in the repairs – the stairs have ridiculous 1970s linoleum – but on the whole it’s lovely. The main AC doesn’t reach the third floor, where I’m staying, but there’s an extra unit up there. It has trouble fighting the heat during the day – the heat index in KC right now is 97 – but at night it’s delightfully cool.

When I got in they had made delicious veggie dinner. Best hosts ever!

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A tale of two cities

By , July 5, 2011 11:21 pm


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Two weeks from tomorrow, I leave Chicago for Kansas City and the Kansas City Fringe Festival. I’ll be driving, most likely by myself. My mom is attempting to talk me into taking her car, a Subaru Forester station wagon/SUV type thing. She wants me to drive her 2007 or 2008 Forester instead of my 1998 Toyota Corolla. The Corolla I like. The Corolla I’ve had since graduating from college. The Corolla covered in LGBT, leftist, and radical bumper stickers.

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TSA: Trans women have “anomalies”

By , March 14, 2011 10:51 am

The TSA speakers just finished, and I’m tuning out the Assistant Secretary for Aging (who I’m sure is very lovely) to type this up before my anger begins to dissipate. I dislike the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I dislike the creepily-named Department of Homeland Security (DHS). I went into the TSA’s presentation with a huge chip on my shoulder, but I think my skepticism was born out.

New AIT screen

New AIT screen

The speaker, Stephanie Stoltzfus, from the TSA’s  Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, External Compliance and Public Outreach Division (phew, a mouthful) began by discussing Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), and enhanced pat-down procedures. But I’ll get that to a bit. First, I want to talk about the new software for the AIT systems. It would highlight “potential threat items or anomalies and indicate their location on a generic outline of a person that will appear on a monitor attached to the AIT unit”” (Ms. Stolzfus’s words). That’s the image on the right. No more ‘naked’ images from the AIT? Awesome!

Except those two buttons on the upper right of the screen, one blue and one pink. Screeners need to choose whether the person their screening is male (blue) or female (pink) based purely on their presentation. Someone in the audience reasonably asked what would happen if a trans woman, with a penis, was scanned as female.

Ms. Stolzfus said they had checked for that very thing in the current round of testing. “The reality is an anomaly will come up if the individual appears to be female – is female – and has parts that may not be expected, additional screening will be necessary.” Well, that’s just lovely, isn’t it?

This is why I am not flying right now. This is why I took the train to DC. This, in my mind, justifies and confirms all of my worries and fears and dislikes of the TSA. My body is not anomalous. To say otherwise is humiliating and, quite frankly, offensive. What happened to the United States I grew up in believing in, not the reality but the idealistic goal that “all men are created equal”? I know it never really existed, but a girl can hope, right? The way the TSA operates, the way  travelers readily and even eagerly give up their personal integrity and body rights for supposed safety, disappoints, offends, and disgusts me.

UPDATE: After a discussion with a friend, I wanted to clarify something. I acknowledge that my body is in the minority, compared to most folks out there. I’m not really arguing that. Likewise, I admit that the TSA will probably take the position that – in the interest of security – the ends justify the means. But if that’s they’re attitude, they need to know something: Any way in which trans folks are treated differently, which this scan seems to do, is humiliating. It makes me feel degraded, and like I’m considered less valid of a person than non-trans folks. My guess? They’ll shrug and say, “Sorry, but for security reasons this is how it needs to be.” But right now it wasn’t clear that they were aware of the casual and seemingly inconsequential way in which the TSA is dehumanizing trans folks.

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Train thoughts

By , March 12, 2011 3:13 pm

Typed Saturday morning, on the train, and the last bit in the hotel
Sleeping on a train is harder than I thought it would be. Rather, sleeping on a train’s coach seating is harder than I thought it would be. I enjoyed the clickity-clack (very soothing) but had the hardest time finding a comfortable position. I’d think I had something, try for five or ten minutes to fall asleep, and then toss and turn in frustration. I went through permutations sitting upright, on my side, with my legs up on the tray table, everything. (I wish I’d had the guts to try my feet up on the chair in front of me, something I saw folks doing this morning and which looked somewhat comfy.)  I finally managed to fall asleep, around midnight or 1AM, by sprawling across my and my neighbor’s seat, as Keith was off somewhere. I was much embarrassed this morning to find out he came back about 2AM to find me taking up both of our seats, but rather than wake me decided to sleep in the lounge car. That said, the couches in the lounge car do look pretty comfortable – I may try sleeping on one on the way back.

Breakfast was yummy, and not horribly expensive. Omelet, potatoes, and a croissant, along with communal seating. I ended up siting with Keith and two strangers, one from Spokane traveling to Georgia (a long trip!) and one from Minneapolis travelling to DC. Once again, the topic of why we were on the train came up, and I gave my cop-out answer of gay rights. Keith, of course, reiterated that he was supportive, as was Spokane. Minneapolis stayed quiet, though, while the three of us had a conversation about equality. I was too chicken to ask Minneapolis about her views and, to be honest, wasn’t sure I wanted to hear them over breakfast. Once Minneapolis left, Spokane, Keith and I continued chatting about politics, immigration, the state of the nation, and the same things any good liberals discuss when they run into each other in potentially hostile territory.

I’m on the lounge car right now, facing a river (stream? creek?) that the train has been traveling along since I woke up around 6AM. It’s very pretty, and hopefully some of the pictures I’ve been taking will turn out well. I’m not 100% sold on train travel yet – I think my ability to sleep on the way back will help determine my final verdict – but it’s hard to argue with the view and the sense of actually traveling. Not just stepping onto a magic metal tube and appearing somewhere else hours later. Likewise, as Spokane said at breakfast, strangers you might never speak to on an airplane become potential companions and conversation partners on a train. (Something I took advantage of last night to get some filming done, and something I hope to take advantage of again this morning.)

There’s a sense this morning of leaving my gender behind, as I’m thinking about No Gender Left Behind. As much as Keith’s views on women (see the previous post) were grating, I’m honest enough to admit I enjoyed his claims of how pretty I was. (And since he talked at length about his girlfriend, wasn’t too worried about his ‘gentlemanly’ flirting becoming anything more.) And there’s been something surreal of my lack of trans-ness on this train. It hasn’t been something I’ve had to reveal, and so (even if I don’t like the politics of keeping silent) I haven’t revealed it. I’ve just been another woman on the train. A lesbian, perhaps, once I start talking about traveling to DC for gay rights. But much less of an ‘other’ than I sometimes think – rightly or wrongly – that I’m viewed at.

At the same time, my gender – my trans gender – has been left behind, way back in Chicago and the Land of Lincoln, because that same sense of freedom is a sense of isolation: there is no one else like me. I’m hoping the networking and policy events for the lobbying prep will help with that. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to chat with other trans folks, and our allies. But for right now, I watch the changing-yet-the-same landscape out the window, count the windmills (20 from this view – go alternative energy!), and try to take photos without picking up the reflections in the glass.

Written in the hotel

After getting off the train, there was an amazing feeling of the calm of train travel: this is a civilized way to travel. No obnoxious security checks, no ridiculous lines, and you’re deposited in the heart of the city rather than the outskirts. I’m hoping my sleep on the way back will be better, because I WANT to be convinced that train is superior to plane; I’ve enjoyed every single thing – the food, the space, the sense of travel, the atmosphere – except sleeping. So we’ll see how the trip back goes.

Checking in was fine. A little trouble with payment from using United rewards miles, but everything is figured out and I’m about to hop in the shower. More updates later!

“Women should be ladies and men should be gentlemen”

By , March 11, 2011 8:37 pm

I’m a whopping one hour into this seventeen hour train ride, somewhere in Indiana. I have to say, so far I’m loving this experience. Easy boarding, generous carry-on luggage allowances, comfy seats with leg rests, no ‘Please fasten your seatbelts” announcements, and what will undoubtedly be a gorgeous viewing car as soon as the sun comes up. And, of course, the fun of chatting with other people.

I sat down next to Keith (not his real name) and we made polite conversation. He looks to be in his mid-twenties (later confirmed) and I learned he’s going to the second-to-last stop, in Maryland, while I go all the way to DC. We chatted about why we’re going (him: going to visit his girlfriend, me: going to support LGBT rights), why we’re in Chicago (him: grad school, me: life), and so on.

(At this point, I should make an admission: when speaking with folks I don’t know – particularly in an enclosed environment like a 17-hour train ride – I’ve been saying that I’m going to DC to push for LGBT equality, rather than trans equality. I don’t like the politics of saying so, but I also don’t feel comfortable potentially outing myself to total strangers. So there it is.)

From discussing gay rights (again, I admit, not trans rights), we moved further afield. Keith, fortunately, is in favor of gay rights, and part of his reason for leaving the Methodist church was their stance on homosexuality. For all that, Keith and I had a really interesting discussion – during which I stayed bemused the entire time – about his view on women’s rights, a man’s place in the world, and gender equality. To whit, “Women should be ladies and men should be gentlemen.”

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