Back in January, I posted a story about my encounter with TSA at the San Francisco International Airport and how much trouble my packing penis caused. Besides posting the story and getting the word out, I was determined to communicate to those in a position of authority about the situation. It took much longer than I wanted it too (I’m gonna blame life for that) but I did recently write a letter and send it off to various places (a copy of that letter is included at the end of this post).
I emailed to the TSA and SFO through their websites and also sent a copy to SFO via snail mail.
The TSA responded with a polite and concerned email. They forwarded my email to the Customer Service Manager at SFO. According to the TSA, this person is responsible for ensuring that the screener workforce adheres to TSA principles for professional processing.
They also said that the TSA monitors the number and nature of complaints to track trends and spot areas of concern that may need special attention. What this means to me is that other people who feel uncomfortable or disrespected during a TSA screening should follow up with an email to the TSA, to make the issues visible to them.
I did not get a response from the email I sent via the SFO comment page, but did get a response to my snail mail letter. The response came from the Customer Service Manager, the same person TSA forwarded my email to.
The CS Manager’s response was polite and concerned. He thanked me for sending such a detailed accounting of the events and apologized for the lack of forthright and clear communication from the TSA agents. He informed me that he forwarded my letter to Covenant Aviation Security, who is SFO’s primary TSA screening contractor. His hope was that I would hear from Covenant soon, perhaps with some suggestions on what to do in the future to get through the screening process more smoothly. As of yet, I’ve not heard anything from Covenant. I emailed that update to him today and hope to hear from him within the next few days.
Today I received an email from someone with the Department of Homeland Security, referring to the physical letter forwarded from the SFO CS Manager. A lot of other people were CCed on that email, with Covenant and DHS email addresses. The person emailing me requested more specific information on the incident: date, time, flight number, my physical description. In my answer, I also included physical descriptions of the two agents involved, since the DHS stated they were interested in determining which agents were involved and getting statements from them. Not sure I like the chances of them remembering at this point, but that’s my fault, after all this time. I was subtly chastised for not reporting my experience earlier. All screening checkpoints are video taped, but this many months after the incident, that video was probably not available. OK, lesson learned, for myself and anyone else, report the incidents as soon as you can, don’t let life get in the way. Another thing I wish I’d done was to get the names of the agents who were involved. Ahhhh, hindsight. This correspondence was from the Stakeholder Manager, Department of Homeland Security/TSA in San Francisco. He did say that Covenant’s customer service department had been pulled into the loop and that DHS and Covenant were working on my suggestion together. That suggestion was for them to offer training in gender diversity and communication for their agents, as stated in the letter below.
My letter to TSA and SFO:
To whom it may concern,I want to relate a situation I found myself in at San Francisco International Airport while going through security in January 2010. I was traveling from SFO to SeaTac Airport on Virgin America. At that security gate I went through a biometric scanner for the first time. On the basis of that scan, I was pulled aside for further searching.
I am biologically female and normally ‘pack’ a silicon penis in my briefs. This packing penis was apparently visible to the agents monitoring the biometric scanner. I was first approached by a young female agent who asked me if I had anything in my pockets that I’d forgotten to remove. I searched my pants pockets but found nothing and told her so. Then she motioned with her hands, focusing on my groin and asked, “Are you sure you don’t have anything around here?”
That’s when I realized it was my silicon penis that was causing the concern. I told her that it was my ‘packing cock’ and, in hindsight, I realize I should have used the word ‘penis’ rather than cock as it would probably be less offensive. She didn’t give me much feedback that she knew what I was talking about. I was left standing for a while longer while she consulted with other agents. Then she told me to follow her, still not explaining what was going to happen. I overheard her ask another female agent to accompany her and the two of them led me to a small room to one side of the security area. Though I had asked several times what the problem was and what was going on, no one took the time to explain anything to me. The younger agent seemed embarrassed, which is not surprising if she wasn’t familiar with the use of prosthetic penises. The older agent seemed angry, spoke sharply to the younger one, didn’t speak to me much at all, but gave me angry looks throughout.
Inside the small room, I was told to stand with my feet wide and my hands out. I was trying to communicate with the agents, telling them that if they needed to see the prosthetic, I would gladly show it to them in order to expedite the process. The younger agent gave me a pat down that barely qualified as a search. She knew what the issue was, and it wasn’t about the contents of my pockets. She concluded her pat down and looked at the older agent, standing in the doorway with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face. The older agent said something to the effect that they couldn’t release me until they knew for certain what the scanner had seen, but she still wasn’t speaking to me. I looked at both of them, my frustration and impatience growing, and said,”OK, I’m going to show you the packing penis now, if I do that, will we be done?” This got me more scowling from the one and a shocked and embarrassed expression on the other. I honestly wasn’t going for shock value, but clearly the agents needed to see what was in my pants in order to conclude this search.
I unbuttoned my pants and pulled out the facsimile penis, holding it at arm’s length in their direction, making sure they could see it clearly before asking,”OK? Can I go now? Is there anything else?”
The older agent didn’t answer me, just turned on her heel and walked out of the room, leaving the door partway open. Mind you, I had my pants open and was holding a prosthetic penis. The other agent seemed very out of sorts, not sure if the search was over or not. She started to leave the room too, without saying much more than “Yeah, ok” to me. I called after them, “Can I get dressed and come out then?”
“Um, yeah” is all I got in response. I finished putting myself back together and exited the room.
I realize that everyone is concerned about airline safety and that biometric scanners are a new tool in the effort to keep us all safe. My complaint is the lack of respect I was given through the process. The younger agent did make an attempt, but seemed stymied by her own lack of experience and by the very negative attitude of the other agent. The older agent, presumably more experienced, was just plain rude. Even with increased security, I would expect the agents to communicate to me about the process I was going through and to show some respect for my privacy.
I will be travelling through SFO regularly for the foreseeable future and I will be packing my silicon penis on those trips. I understand that my choice to do so will probably result in increased attention from the TSA agents in security. However, I do not think it should result in a lack of respect and communication by those agents. Please consider offering training in gender diversity and communication for your agents in the future. If there is something I can do to communicate better with the agents, please let me know. Perhaps there are specific terms I could use to communicate my situation, for example.I look forward to hearing from you.
I’ll be traveling again in early July, most likely flying on Virgin and going through the international gates at SFO. I really hope I get some sort of feedback on getting through that checkpoint more smoothly. I’ll be sure to pass on any advice I get.
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