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Trans-Portation Security

By |2018-01-16T09:22:57-05:00December 16th, 2010|Opinions|

Gwendolyn Ann Smith

‘Tis the season: The time of ornaments on pine trees – not to mention bell ringers, packed shopping malls, and the same 15 songs you’ve heard every December since you were a child. In all of this is the potential for holiday travel — and in no time in recent history has travel been wrought with so much controversy.
This year, the Transportation Security Agency has added what they’ve characterized in their own press releases as “an unpredictable mix of security layers,” including an increase in “Advanced Imaging Technology” and a new, more intrusive pat-down procedure for those traveling by plane.
A large number of stories have circulated in the media about these systems and the “rock and a hard place” option between an X-ray machine that can expose the whole of your body and a pat-down that includes groping one’s most private parts. Many are outraged about a system they view as counter to the liberties they hold dear.
For many transgender people, the new procedures can mean being “outed” while traveling.
The TSA is using both millimeter wave and backscatter X-ray systems. Both systems produce an image that displays the whole body of a subject, including visible buttocks, genitals, and breasts. They also would reveal any binders, gaffes, or prosthetics present on a subject. A suspicious item could be further “zoomed in on” by a TSA agent using these machines.
The new pat-down procedures include handling around the breasts and genitals of passengers, and there has been a report of a mastectomy patient having to remove and expose a silicone breast prosthesis. It would be safe to assume that any materials used to conceal or enhance genitals and chests could be viewed as suspicious and require additional study by the TSA.
So what does this mean for a transgender person?
For many, especially when one might be new at presenting in their preferred gender identity in public, being in a large, crowded, public space can make one nervous. We may worry about being “outed,” or getting in trouble solely for how we’re presenting. This nervousness may work against us, causing a TSA agent to be more concerned about us. When this happens, it becomes all that more likely that one will indeed be “outed.” In a worst-case scenario, this could mean public humiliation and degradation. Heck, even in the best case this will be a less-than-pleasant situation.
An important note: The TSA does not have any policies in place for the treatment of transgender individuals. This means that you can face TSA agents who don’t have a complete grasp on why a person might be binding their breasts or wearing a “packer” to fill out their pants. They may not understand why someone would wear breasts forms or tuck male genitals back. What’s more, you stand a chance of coming across a TSA agent who is less-than-friendly towards transgender presentation.
I cannot help but feel that many transgender people will find their personal safety compromised in the name of safe air travel. Their personal privacy will indeed be at risk, and I dare say I expect to hear of TSA agents harassing transgender travelers this season and in the future. I don’t want to think that — but yet, I do.
The National Center for Transgender Equality has produced a guide for the transgender traveler, suggesting that one check their binders and other items, or be prepared to educate the TSA officers when they ask. They also note the procedures for complaining about how one might be treated. Go to
Meanwhile, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center are collecting stories from transgender people who have faced issues while in airport security lines. The form for that is at
In between the fruitcake and other holiday traditions you may enjoy, I hope that safe, friendly skies will be yours — and that you will not face public humiliation at the hands of the TSA.

Gwen Smith might have to take the train next time. You can find her on the web at

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.