[Ed Note: this story continues to get a high volume of interest, months after being posted. Please take the time to read the whole post as well as the accompanying comments. There are questions and criticisms in those comments that I've responded to, which helps to provide a more complete picture of what happened, what my actions were and what they were not. Thank you for your interest.
See also my update to this story. I've written letters, and been in correspondence with officials from the SF Airport and Homeland Security.]
As if it wasn’t hard enough to say goodbye to Roxy Sunday night, I ended up getting special, unwanted, attention from the TSA personnel (bad touch! bad touch!). I have enjoyed flying Virgin America because of their excellent customer service and onboard amenities, but I’m beginning to see a downside. Virgin flies out of the international terminals (at least in Seattle and San Francisco) and the recent bomb scare has caused increased security for international travelers .. even when they’re domestic.
We’d gotten to the airport with plenty of time to check my luggage and get my boarding pass. We calculated how much time we could spend in a back corner of the foodcourt, getting as many snuggles and laughs in as possible. We were heading over to security when we saw that my flight, and a bunch of others, was marked ‘Delayed’. Huh. A quick consult with the Virgin ticket counter revealed that incoming flights were being delayed because of weather which was having a domino effect on the departing flights. It now looked like I’d have another hour and a half to hang out at the airport. We took it as bonus time, but I could feel the tension rising in me. I hate leaving her, but it was stressful to be ready for goodbyes and then have uncertainty about when I would truly be leaving.
We sat near security, near the flight board, Roxy doing what she could to massage the tension out of my neck and shoulders. She compared me to a chunk of granite. About a half hour went by and she got up to check the board again. Still delayed. Another 20 minutes and we looked at the board with a shock. The flight was now scheduled to leave on time and I wasn’t through security yet. I had about 10 minutes. We performed a very abbreviated version of our usual goodbye ritual and I began making my way to the checkpoint. No biggy.. I know my way through security. I pulled my laptop out and my shoes and put my stuff in the bins and started walking toward the xray machine, looking back at Roxy and blowing her kisses every few minutes. I didn’t even notice that we weren’t walking through the typical metal detecting archway.
And so it was that I found myself inside a cylindrical booth with my feet on yellow shoe shaped marks and my hands above my head. The biometric scanner did its thing and I wasn’t thinking much of it. I didnt’ have any metal on my body, except for two earrings and a couple of surgical screws in my knee. I travel enough to know to get the change out of my pocket, put my watch in my back pack and pull my metal-studded belt off. Maybe I was slow on the uptake, distracted by having to leave my Roxy on the other side of security. At any rate, I couldn’t fathom why they had me stand aside on another set of yellow shoe shaped marks after coming out of the scanner. Add that to the fact that one of the TSA agents was bitching me out for not putting my laptop in a bin (Seattle doesn’t want you to, SFO does). I was told to stay where I was and watched as my stuff rumbled on down the conveyer belt. I was pointing out the other bins that belonged to me and the woman was scowling. Then the agent who was standing with me, keeping me in place got my attention. She was a tall, young woman and seemed pretty uncomfortable, sheepish even. She asked me if I had anything else in my pockets or ‘around this area’ as she gestured at my pelvis. I still hadn’t clued in to what she was on about as I patted down my pockets and felt only my ID and boarding pass.
“No, nothing in my pockets” I looked up at her quizzically and she sighed and said again, with more specific hand gestures directed at the area between my front pockets,”Are you sure there’s nothing here, in *this* area.”
Ohfuck, internal groan, slight shake of the head, and a bit of a frown. Deep breath, straightening my shoulders, looking straight into her eyes,”Oh, that. I have a packing cock. Is that what the problem is?”
I stared right at her until she looked away and called for assistance for a pat-down search. I gaped, chin dropped: holy shit, they’re gonna give me a pat down cuz I’m packing a silicon cock. Fuuckkkk.. Not only was it humiliating, I was worried about making my flight. I was trying not to be agitated, that wasn’t going to help, but I wanted them to hurry it along. I looked up at the young woman, “Please, whatever you need to do is fine, but can we hurry a bit, I don’t want to miss my flight.” I looked behind me to see where Roxy was, but there were a lot of people in the way. The older woman who came to her assistance was the same one who had scolded me about my laptop. The scowl was apparently her only facial expression. As they led me to a small room to the side of the security area, I looked back to see Roxy with a very concerned look on her face. I did a big pointing motion at my crotch and then went into the little room with them. They donned their purple latex gloves. I did as requested stood with my hands up, feet in a wide stance as the young woman did an almost touchless pat down. Seriously, she barely touched me but I think that’s cuz she knew there wasn’t anything in my pockets and she didn’t want to touch my cock. She looked at the older woman, clearly hoping that was sufficient. Scowling Woman glared at me and scowled at her.
I sighed again, and decided to do what I could to get this over with, “Look, it’s a silicone penis, in my briefs. Do you need me to take it out and show you?”
The younger woman looked mortified, this was pretty much exactly what she didn’t want to see. The older woman scowled even more (she had an amazing ability to scowl) and said something like “Well, we have to check.”
“Fine, I’ll show you then,” and I had my buttons open and my cock in my hand before they could say anything more. “See? it’s a silicon penis. Are we done now?” It’s possible I brandished it at them, I was pretty angry by then. It was hard to stay calm, but I managed. I just wanted these people to let me go so I could finish the miserable process of leaving Roxy. The older woman nodded to us curtly and was halfway out of the room, leaving the door open, before I had my pants closed up.. thanks for the respectful privacy.. not. I tucked myself back in and hustled out of the room in time to see The Scowler digging my laptop bag out of a bin.
“This yours? I need to search.” Oh, for fucks sake, more? But this time it was me who’d fucked up. She went through all the little velcroed pockets pulling out cords and peripherals and then out came a small silver object and my heart dropped. My new pocket knife, a christmas gift from my wife. I would have sworn I put that in my checked luggage. Dammit, of all things to add to this nightmare. I looked back to where Roxy was struggling to see me through the plexiglass and motioned for her to stay where she was. ”Look, I meant that for my checked luggage. I don’t want to lose it, can I give it to my friend? She’s right there” I pointed. Scowling woman got even more impatient and unhappy with me. She finished with my bag and asked 5 times which person I was talking about and then took the knife to Roxy. I have to say, they did a crappy job of communicating to me that they were done with the search. I had to ask more than once if I could put my belt back on, get my shoes and stuff. I was trying to expedite the process so I could get to my flight. I didn’t have my cellphone out or my watch on and didn’t know what time it was but knew I was cutting it close.
Finally, I was fully dressed and had my gear. My body was warm and jacked up on adreanaline. When I called Roxy to explain what had happened, I’m sure my voice was shaking. She was wonderful, supportive and indignant at what had happened. I hustled to my gate, breathlessly giving her details and feeling a warm layer of her love and pride wrap itself around me.
So, my trans and genderqueer brothers and sisters, this is what we’re going to put up with in the new age of biometric airport security scanning. If you choose to pack while going through security, build in some extra time. Be ready for this. You need to be ready because they probably won’t be. They don’t know what to do with us gender outlaws. The body language was pretty clear: this was embarassing and inconvenient to them and they were struggling to deal with their very unprofessional feelings about my physical augmentation. I was completely caught off guard this time, but I’ll be prepared next time. And, yes, there will be a next time because I’m not going to put my cock in my luggage. I’ve put up with a lot of bullshit in my life about being queer, not looking like enough like a woman, I’m not going to start conforming now. The one exception is when travelling with my family. My wife made a special request that I not put them through delays on our trips together and I’ll honor that request. But the rest of my travels, I’ll pack my cock proudly. I’ll whip it out for security if I need to and I’ll do it with my head up and my eyes squarely on theirs. They need to be made aware of the human side of these policies. Yes, I want air travel to be secure. Yes, I know a guy just snuck bad stuff onto a plane in his underwear. So, fine, check my briefs for explosives, but be respectful. The Scowler was dismissive, disapproving and disrespectful. The younger woman was out of her element but I believe wanted to do the right thing by me, she was just woefully under prepared for the implications of their new security policies.
For more info on Biometric scanners and current airports employing them, see this Imaging Technology article on the TSA sight. I think it’s interesting that I could have passed on the scanner and asked for a pat down instead. Clearly even the pat down wasn’t going to do the trick. Doing some research this morning, I found numerous sights discussing the rights and wrongs of this technology, including stories about people having to remove their prosthetic limbs in front of other passengers. Transgender and genderqueer folks like me will have their privacy and identities violated (article on transgendered related security concerns and the ACLU’s response).
[ed. note: Yes, the Scowling One did take my pocket knife to Roxy who is mailing it back to me. Thanks for asking, JesseJames]
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