How to avoid getting groped by the TSA during trans
An introduction to the L3 ProVision 2
If you’ve flown in the past decade, you’ve probably experienced this, but if you’re cis, you probably haven’t thought about its brand. These L-3 scanners became standard in 2013, after a massive public outcry over the old TSA machines, which sent a sort of nude X-ray image of airline passengers for agents to investigate so-called threats. potential. These, instead, use “automated target recognition software,” which simply maps small threat boxes onto crude, impersonal representations of people.
If you never paid close attention after walking through the semi-enclosed tube and tilting your arms above your head, the TSA agent sees something like this, which would indicate that your left leg needs of a palpation.
What you’ll probably notice here is that there’s a blue scan button and a pink scan button. Since this system was not designed by anyone with any idea of the complexity of the genre, the blue scan button is for boys and the pink scan button for girls. You don’t see this because you’re on the subway, but every time someone at the airport shows up to be scanned, the TSA agent working on that machine has to look at them and decide their gender . This extra bit of manually entered information, in theory, helps the scanner differentiate between (authorized) genitalia and (unauthorized) guns and bombs. Innovation!
The most serious problem is just that this crap doesn’t seem to work. The TSA has routinely posted abysmal success rates in undercover security testing, and these scanners stand as hollow and expensive symbols of America’s 21st century security theater. But I have a much more personal beef with them. This issue would have started in late 2017 or early 2018 I guess. It was my first year of physically transitioning as a trans woman, and for those who haven’t experienced it, it’s a strange time. Not only is your body literally going through a second puberty, but how strangers react to you is completely pervasive and impossible to predict. Some just see a boy. Some see a girl. Some see a boy they want to shout insults at. Many are just confused. All of this reflects on your own self-image, which most often boils down to a “dumb, unmanageable stain.” It’s a tough climb to get to a place where you are relatively well looked at and seen from day to day.
The first time a TSA agent pressed the pink button for me, I had no idea that their scanners required the gender of every person who entered their little security tube; I also didn’t know what happened if you triggered them. Thus, I was too surprised and nervous to voice any objection as they walked me through a script that I would eventually memorize. I was asked if I wanted to be searched in the open or in a private room, and for the sake of speed I said that here was fine. I was then asked if I had a preference for the gender of the person searching me, and to avoid causing tension or pressure, I replied that it didn’t matter. Then the officer walked me through how his gloved hands would move along my upper leg, waist, and groin before making me experience this discomfort for real. Then my hands were swabbed for, I guess, bomb residue. After that, having gone through all the steps, I collected my luggage from the conveyor belt while absorbing all sorts of curious and angry looks from the rest of the line. That first time, I’m pretty sure I heard the TSA agent’s partner say, “I told you so.
As this happened, I gained knowledge of how various cis people react when suddenly confronted with the existence of an undeniably trans person in a vulnerable situation. My least favorites grilled me with questions about my identity under the guise of trying to avoid offense. Those who didn’t bother me just exuded an aura of disengaged frustration, quietly annoyed that I pulled them out of the easy routine of their work. The nicest ones at least tried to show empathy for my ordeal, by paying me compliments or engaging in small talk about my travels, though I ended up resenting them almost as much as the others. for inflicting the same ritual on me, albeit with an air of apology. smile.
Looking back, the only person I’m somewhat grateful for was the older woman in Chicago, I think, who helped me realize that this wasn’t a routine I had to suffer in silence for the rest of foreseeable future. My strategy at this point was to try to completely disengage from my body and walk through the TSA like an unresponsive zombie, with all the defense mechanisms that keep my mind from being overly aware of my fortified body multiple times. I didn’t even realize what she was talking about at first when she said, “Oh, honey, you’re shaking,” in the kind of tone you would use to address a three-legged dog.
“That’s my least favorite part of flying,” I squeaked as I briefly reappeared inside myself, as his hands moved up my leg.
As much as I appreciated the United States Department of Homeland Security’s unwavering belief that my trash was a weapon that posed a serious national security threat, I tried to develop strategies to keep things nice and distant between me and the TSA. I first tried to look like a boy as much as possible when I got on the plane, but I’m pretty proud to say that just failed and the officer pressed pink anyway. I tried to explain the situation to the agent before they did the scan, but it was just messy, both because talking in the tube seems to be frowned upon and because I didn’t never been able to come up with a concise collection of words that could explain the impending situation to someone completely unprepared for it. It was like asking a baby if he needed to go to the bathroom before a long car ride.
But in recent instances where I’ve flown and been stuck in the scanners instead of the basic metal detectors they sometimes open during peak times, I’ve managed to use my acquired understanding of the TSA machines and of its procedures to escape any invasive contact. . While I don’t feel comfortable saying this will work universally, or even just for me all the time, it’s my best and most proven strategy, and I will continue to use it in the future. .
- Be completely quiet and normal for the duration of the scan. Do nothing to differentiate me from other passengers.
- When I exit the machine, watch the image of the scanner appear next to the agent. React without surprise or confusion when my groin is reported. Immediately ask the agent, in a slightly lower tone than I usually use, “Do you want to change gender and try again?” Slowly return to the machine as they try to figure out the glaring flaw in their technology.
- Resume the scan. This time it’s likely that something in my upper body will be flagged – it must be a bra or chest related bug. This presents what could be a maddening catch-22 for trans women. But in my case, maybe because I already passed the other test in that area, I never got anything more than a cold, superficial brush down my shoulder and arm, that which is much, much better than the previous alternative.
It’s cool and interesting, at least to me, that walking in a scary environment became easier for me when I adopted a facade of unassuming confidence instead of shy submission. Many people are still troubled by the unexpected appearance of someone who does not conform to gender norms, and many people also do not want to do extra work at their job. So as long as I don’t rush too far and wait for the obvious problems to arise before trying to fix them, I can take advantage of these two traits to tone down the horror of the flight experience a bit.
I hope that if you are cis and read this far, you can learn from my experience and apply it more generally. If not, at least you have further proof that the TSA is stupid as hell and wasting all your tax money.