In the past couple of months, I’ve gotten a couple of inquiries from folks asking for advice on traveling transgender. These happened to be trans masculine folks who were specifically asking about what to do with their packies. In each case, I had to confess that I don’t have a ‘one method fits all’ solution. Getting through airport security quickly and without hassle is going to depend on the airport, the way the TSA at that airport are interpreting TSA rules and regs and the individual TSA agents you deal with. And that’s for everyone. As we know, traveling while transgender can introduce a lot more wrinkles into the process.
Should you keep your packy in your pants or stow it in your luggage? I’ve done it both ways. I’ve gone through body scanners with it in my briefs many times, sometimes I’ve gotten unwanted attention, other times I haven’t. Because I’ve either traveled alone or with people who I am out to with regard to my gender and packy, I don’t have the same stresses as someone who is not out to the people they are travelling with.
Here are some resources you can read to come up to speed on current security practices and how they relate to trans* travelers. Keep in mind that ‘current’ can change quickly, so staying up to date is important. For example, the ‘visible strip search’ style of body scanners that were deployed in early 2010 as a result of the ‘Underwear Bomber’ have fallen out of favor, and should no longer be in use in airports where security is managed by the TSA (ref: CNN Article, January 2013, NY Daily News Article, 05/2013).
The National Center for Trans Equality, Transequality.org: Great information here, I recommend this as your starting point… read all the information and then consider what you are willing to deal with in terms of comfort and personal safety, and the comfort and safety of those you are traveling with.
From the TSA, tips for Transgender Travelers, last updated December 2012. A Quote from this document “Prosthetics: Travelers should neither be asked to nor agree to lift, remove, or raise any article of clothing to reveal a prosthetic and should not be asked to remove it.” This guideline was not in place when I traveled in January 2010, or on a later trip in September 2011. On both of those occasions, I was required to remove and show my packy, on the second, my packy was subjected to swabbing for traces of explosive material. I’ve gone through scanners since 9/2011 and not had to do anything additional even with my packy in place. I do not know if that is an indication of anything beyond the airports I traveled through (Seatac in Seattle and SFO in San Francisco), so I don’t know if agents everywhere are up to date and educated on trans issues and items that may appear as anomalies on scans.
Foreign travel advice created by the UK government for trans* travelers pointed to another resource provided by the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) containing LGBT Travel information… there’s a map and a drop down list of things to consider when travelling.
US Department of State LGBT Travel Information, updated April 2013, has information of interest for international travelers.
And there are many many more resources, if you search on ‘transgender travel advice’ you’ll get a lot of pages to peruse.
If you’re looking for ways to limit or eliminate hassle, the biggest red flag is going to be if you have identification that does not match you in appearance or gender marker. If the picture on your ID doesn’t match you now, that could cause unwanted attention. The second big flag is going to be if the gender marker on your ID does not appear to match you, in the eyes of the agents involved. And then we get into what we’re wearing. Depending on the training and awareness of the agents involved, your packy, binder, prosthetics of various kinds could cause unwanted attention. So the choice to keep your binder or prosthetic on is in part going to depend on your reaction to the possibility of unwanted attention or delay. This is going to be different for each person. My approach is not going to work for everyone, or maybe for anyone but me. And each airport, each group of agents, each individual agent is going to have a different level of experience and exposure and tolerance to people they are uncomfortable with or that they are not accustomed to (and this is certainly not limited to trans* and gender non-conforming individuals).
What do I do? When I’m travelling with my family I do not wear my packy through security. I do not want to delay us as a group, or cause increased stress in my wife and kids. I wrap my packy in a hankerchief, put that in a quart-size ziplock bag and put that in my carry-on. Then, at the earliest convenience after security, I transfer it back to my briefs. So far, I have not had any issues with that approach. I have also found that when travelling with my family, my non-conformity gets much less attention. And I know that’s not always the case for everyone.
When travelling alone (and it’s been a while since I’ve done that), I will wear my packy in my briefs and I will deal with whatever comes my way because of that choice. The last time I had trouble with that approach was Sept 2011. In all the times I travelled after that, I got no extra attention for my ‘anomoly’ and that was before the ‘strip search’ scanners were removed. I believe that lack of scrutiny was due to increased awareness and education of the TSA agents.
Remember that if you receive unprofessional treatment at a checkpoint, you have recourse. You can choose to deal with it on the spot, ask for a supervisor, ask for information on contacting that supervisor’s boss if you need to. You can also email the TSA (via Homeland Security) at TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov. I’ve done this and gotten good results. I’ve also filled out forms at the checkpoint evaluating agent behaviors (in that case it was a mix of praise and critique). You should also consider contacting the airport specifically, check the airport’s website for contact information. I would encourage you* to take all or some of these steps if you are asked to do anything that contradicts the TSA’s posted guidelines (linked above) or any other behavior that is out of bounds EVEN IF YOU COMPLIED IN ORDER TO GET TO YOUR FLIGHT ON TIME. Let the agent know that you are complying under protest and that you will be contacting the TSA with regard to what happened.
(*but remember, above all, you need to honor your own sense of safety first)
This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license.