Airport Security story update

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.

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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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6 Responses to Airport Security story update

  1. Roxy says:

    I’m so glad that you sent email to SFO and the TSA – it’s a well-written letter that clearly describes the incident and encourages follow-through by both making suggestions and asking for clarification. And I’m thrilled that they responded, although chastising you at all was completely misplaced – it took guts to send that letter, even a few months after the fact. Your willingness to stand up and serve as a test case and an educator for others impresses the hell out of me – you could have just as easily let the whole thing drop to avoid having to explain packing cocks and gender identities to complete strangers.

    You set a high bar, Mr. Jones. Thank you for demonstrating integrity and grace under pressure, and for making the road a little easier for those who come after you. You are thoroughly awesome and I adore you.

    thank you so much, honey. It is always easier to complain about a situation than to do something about it. I don’t always go the non-lazy route, and I’m proud of myself for trying and pleased with the responses I’ve gotten so far.

  2. pixie says:

    Good For You!! Im glad you followed up and I am glad you have received some response from them. The behavior of the TSAs was deplorable and until we start speaking up and complaining, nothing will ever change.

    Attending Folsom a few years ago, SFO had just gotten the machines that you stand in and it “puffs” air over you and then analyzes the particles that blow off you .. I almost always get checked ( I think its the 2 xx’s in my legal name!) and a TSA lady said, please step through that door .. I had never seen this “door” before and did as she said, i stepped THROUGH It .. well she meant open the door, stand inside and wait … then go through it .. As i went through, alarms, bells , whistles .. everything went really loud and people rushed at me with guns .. i almost cried i was so scared! And what did the TSA Lady do, she snapped at me for not following directions.

    Not anywhere near as bad as yours but still .. the SFO TSA’s need to learn some manners and respect, for all travelers!

    The US border patrol is next lol .. i was cavity searched because I had a piece of paraphernalia in my car coming back from canada ( and received a 500.00 fine for not disclosing it was there!)

    Pixie, yeah, they over reacted on your Folsom trip, for sure. I just really think they are so used to their procedure, and most likely so bored, that they don’t remember how alien it is to the rest of us. Some of them are friendly, professional and will talk to you like you’re a worthy human being, but a lot of times they seem pretty disinterested. They’re chatting with their co-workers, or doing it all by rote, which doesn’t result in good things for the rest of us.

    I’m hoping that by bringing all this up in a respectful way, I can get some positive changes in motion, but this is just one airport. I have no illusions that I’m going to effect system-wide change. That’s where everyone else needs to step up. It’s not hard to find contact numbers, addresses and email for all of these organizations. I think we should all speak up when we feel the process can be improved.

  3. Johnny says:

    @Roxy, i think the chastising was just that he hadn’t gotten to them sooner about it. the longer the wait before saying something, the harder it is to promote real action…

    but yeah, good on you for actually saying something. most people would have just been so mortified they would have just let the whole thing drop. TSA needs a serious kick in the pants with regards to how they treat EVERYONE. i’ve actually never traveled by air, and am planning to purchase a packer pretty soon. if this does happen to me (or anyone else for that matter) is there an identification of some sort, like a badge number or something, i could ask for, for recognition purposes?

    Johnny, agreed on the chastising, was doing it a bit of it to myself, for the same reasons.

    Even during that incident, I wasn’t clear headed enough to look for identification on them. They’ve got ID badges that they wear clipped to their shirt collars, so if I have further issues, I’ll definitely ask to see their ID so that I can record their names. I think if that happens, it’d also be important to let them know that you’ll be corresponding with their superiors with feedback on my experience. And I think this will be important regardless the experience I have. For example, if I have a positive experience, I’ll certainly want to call those agents out by name to the people I’ve been corresponding with, to point out the kind of behavior I would hope to encounter every time.

  4. It was recommended to me to look at the complaint stuff here and follow those directions to file a complaint. Alternatively, NCTE (http://transequality.org/) may be able to file a complaint for you.

    http://www.tsa.gov/research/civilrights/civilrights_travelers.shtm

    Thank you for the link, Corey. I’ll look into sending them information as well

  5. Blazer says:

    Kyle, I am glad you followed through with your letter. It strikes me that you probably would have gotten it off earlier (and avoided the chastising) if your hadn’t received such negative response from your initial blog entry regarding the incident. While I know that the comments to your post were overwhelming positive, it is sad that you received more blame from this community than from DHS. I find it very positive that immediate agency response was not to somehow excuse the treatment you got but to recognize it as a problem that needs to be dealt with. I look forward to your further updates.

    Thank you. I’m also very encouraged by the responses I’ve gotten so far.

  6. Erica says:

    I’m so glad you took the time to write a letter to the proper authorities. One of my friends, who is genderqueer, also “packs.” However, he is going to study abroad in Germany and Austria this summer, and he is apprehensive about what the airport authorities will do and say. As a member of the queer community, I thank you for your advocacy of this important issue. I hope your example will inspire others to communicate with authorities!

    Erica, thank you so much for your support. It is important to stand up and stand out sometimes. I realize that not everyone is in a position where it’s safe to speak out, but I am and so I feel I must. I hope your friend has a great time traveling. If he decides to pack, I think the way to prepare is to expect to be inspected. I know to expect it now and will do my best to be patient, to communicate clearly and respectfully with the security personnel. I wish him the best of luck.

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