A group of 32 House Democrats have penned a letter to the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) expressing their concern over the treatment of transgender air travelers. Prompted by the recent mistreatment of pre-op transgender woman Shadi Petosky, who was held at a checkpoint for 40 minutes because of a body scanning “anomaly,” the letter is unlikely to lead to any change in TSA policy nor action.
The TSA, long having shown itself immune to the complaints of travelers and of government officials on their behalf, alleges that it reviewed the video of Ms. Petosky’s detainment and found “our officers followed TSA’s strict guidelines.” That video has not been released even to Ms. Petosky, however, so it’s possible that instead of seeing what really happened, TSA officials were instead viewing the latest Transparent episode on Amazon.
It’s notable that not a single Republican felt the need to sign onto a complaint regarding the treatment of transgender passengers. Notable, but unsurprising. However, it’s also notable that of 188 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, barely 1 in 6 felt like they should sign this letter.
The core of the issue here with the body scanners is that for each person who enters the scanner, a TSA agent must push a “male” or “female” selection such that the scanner doesn’t register “crotch anomalies.” If you are a pre-op transgender woman and do not “tuck,” then you are at risk of being flagged as an “anomaly.” Likewise, if you are a pre-op transgender man, you may be flagged for lack of equipment. I’m unaware of any news reports at this time of the TSA harassing transgender men in this way, save for a couple of cases where a strap-on or prosthetic which was worn through security triggered an alert.
Being a very frequent traveler, there are a couple of things which I can advise to assist with this problem:
- Go for the TSA Pre-Check program. With this program you will often be sent through a simple metal detector, rather than a body scanner, thus working around the problem. The downside is there is a cost involved, a bit of paperwork, and you must turn over a large amount of personal and bio-metric information. What’s more, if you have not yet made a name or gender marker change, as soon as you do you may need to go through the process again.
- We don’t know exactly what happened to Shadi Petosky from an unbiased source. From her own tweets, we see that she was being harassed and threatened, and we see that she did push back – the only thing she seems to have done wrong, and something guaranteed to cause a problem with the TSA. From her 3:35PM tweet:
Cop asked me what sex I was. I told him I wasn’t going to answer that question. I am complying but come on.
OK, refusing to answer a question from the police is not complying, but seriously? There was no justification whatsoever for her abuse!
The critical thing which I advise in ALL dealings with the TSA is this: comply. When they ask you a question, answer as factually as possible. When they tell you to do something, do it if it is legally and ethically possible. You cannot argue your way out of a screening, you cannot beg, you cannot appeal. You need to put on your biggest smile and say “sure! What do you need me to do?” Otherwise, you’ll end up confined in a small room with the police outside, hands on their guns, while your flight takes off without you and the airline rubs its hands with glee over the change fee they’ll charge you.
When they ask your gender be brutally honest and open. Forget embarrassment, forget your fellow passengers gawking at you. They have their own problems and are so self-absorbed they won’t care. And in most cases you have no chance of ever seeing any of these people again. Smile, do what they say, and just walk on through, and do everything possible to avoid a conflict with government workers who are underpaid, overworked, under-trained, and over-hyped-up.
I had a “TSA experience” last month on my return from India, as my Pre-Check didn’t print for my U.S. boarding pass legs. After I arrived at Newark I was sent through the normal body scanner, and there was an anomaly detected – not from my genitals, but from my Dexcom blood glucose sensor. I was taken to a private screening area, where a female agent started to frisk me in great detail near my waist, and needed me to open my skirt to show my panties. I said “sure thing! One thing you should know, I’m a transsexual woman, just in case that matters.” The agent looked at me, looked down, and said “thank you for the courtesy, ma’am.” That was it – the search was over in 15 seconds.
I cannot guarantee that it will be that way for everyone, but I also ask of you – look in detail at the numerous YouTube videos of “TSA Agents Gone Bad.” In each video you’ll see that the entire situation gets out of control very quickly when the passenger starts butting heads and insisting upon their rights. If you want to get on that plane with the least trouble and fuss possible, you need to remember that until the legislation changes, your rights are an illusion when it comes to the TSA. In this screwed-up world of security theatre madness, make your decision – do you want to get to your destination with as little difficulty as possible, or do you want to be tweeting from a holding cell?