November 19, 2010

In which I get more serious than I intended

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

Well, hello there! My name is Lawrence, and I'm a transman. Lawrence is not a pseudonym (though it's also not my legal name), but as I hope you can tell, this is a pseudopic. I'm not putting a picture up because I'm trying to keep more control of who I am out to, but if you think you know me in person based on what I write, feel free to approach me and ask. I find it emotionally exhausting to tell people, but it's comforting when people know, and if you're the one bringing it up I'll know that any freak-outs have already happened where I won't have to deal with them.

Also, Ping is pretty much The Best. I watched that movie eight thousand times as a kid trying to figure out why Mulan chose to be Mulan when she could have been Ping. (Realising I was trans meant suddenly understanding like 80% of my childhood obsessions. Alanna! Ozma! Mulan! These stories have something in common!)

However, I actually have a specific topic I want to write about today, and it's pretty serious: the goddamn TSA. If you haven't heard about what they're up to these days, Jeffrey Goldberg has a pretty good introduction.

The short version: if you get randomly selected for additional screening, you have a choice between having the TSA use a machine to look at your naked body and take photos of it-- naked photos which are not secure from being saved and leaked-- and having your junk and/or boobs groped. The TSA has been brushing the backs of their hands over boobs for years, but it is now done with the front of the hand, and they have to feel under the breasts, too. Also, they're going to run their hands up your legs until they meet "resistance."

Imagine you're transgendered for a second. Which way would you prefer to be outed? Detailed photographs of your genitals, or a good old-fashioned grope? Remember, if they don't like your naked photo, they can force you to put up with the grope anyway!

I actually plan to opt out of the backscatter machine, and put up with the groping, but it's a complicated decision for me. I've made this choice because this way nobody will actually see my body, and because I hope it will annoy the hell out of the TSA. But then, I do not believe I will be in danger, because everyone will assume I'm a girl anyway. If people actually saw me as a man, I'd... well, I probably wouldn't fly in or out of the U.S. anymore.

The thought of a stranger handling my breasts brings up all my most violent feelings of body-hatred. To be blunt, it makes me want to cut the damn things off, or at least bind for the next thousand years. But binding would probably be "suspicious", and my parents would definitely notice and freak out. So I'm going to wear a damn bra, and let them touch me, and try not to be sick, because I know that the TSA is only doing these invasive pat-downs to bully people into accepting the backscatter imaging devices, and I refuse to be bullied.

It's definitely easier to just let them take your picture. It doesn't feel any different than going through a metal detector, really. It definitely feels less invasive than having someone touch you. But a stranger is still looking at your naked body, and I don't know about you, but I thought I was supposed to have civil liberties protecting me from that.

There is no reason for these machines to exist. There's no proof they would have prevented the attempt that supposedly necessitated them (which, let's remember, failed.) They endanger transgendered fliers by outing them in potentially-hostile environments (Don't think it's dangerous? Four words: Transgender Day of Remembrance.) They also take explicit pictures of children's genitals, which I thought we'd agreed was a Bad Thing.

Opting out of the machine is the best way to bully them back; if enough people do it, the one selling point of the machines-- convenience-- will be negated. So, if you're flying home for Thanksgiving, and you get selected for additional screening... think about opting out.

If I can do it, you can do it. Seriously.


  1. Whoa, I didn't know the TSA was doing that! That's hella creepy and downright, NOT OK.

  2. When you say Alanna do you mean the character from the Tamora Pierce books?

  3. Lawrence, I've read a bit about these new security measures, and am ashamed that I never considered the implications for trans-identified individuals. Thank you for writing this, raising my consciousness about cis-gendered priviledges and making me a better ally. The truth is that, despite being pretty hard core liberal, I hadn't considered what I would do if I got selected for more screening. After reading this, though, I almost hope that I get chosen so that I can opt out and make a statement (I say "almost," because, um, the whole groping thing doesn't seem ideal). Know that when I do opt out (assuming I get chosen for screening at some point in my life/before they realize this is effed up and eliminate it), it'll be becuase you wrote this, informed me, and challenged me. [Your final line: "If I can do it, you can do it. Seriously." is pretty damn effective.] You will be my immediate inspiration to opt out, but I will also be doing so in the name of all other transmen and transwomen.

    I'm not sure if I know you, but I certainly hope that if they haven't already, our paths will cross soon.

    Finally, welcome to the Blog! I'm thrilled to be connected to you through our writing here :)

  4. Lawrence-I am so, so, so happy to see you writing on the blog. This is an awesome first post, and I am so excited to see more of your future posts advocating for our transgender community! It is so incredibly helpful to know more about being a great trans ally, and I'm really grateful that you're starting to help us learn. =)

    you're awesome, by the way.

  5. Lawrence,
    ditto what Risa said.

  6. I completely agree with what Risa said and I feel really awful that I didn't realize the trans implications. Please please please please stay forever and write more, I love this post so much and I also love that people are speaking up not only in regard to wanting to be more of a trans ally (like Matt) but also that we have actual trans people who finally feel comfortable enough to vocalize, even through a pseudonym.

    I'm sure I haven't met you because I've been just terrible about heading to Duke this year (I'm from UNC) but, I hope that I do meet you soon. Even if I don't connect the dots, you just seem like an incredibly passionate person and a lovely conversationalist.

    <3 Swati

  7. This policy is entirely ridiculous. If the TSA made a breast cancer survivor show her prosthesis during a pat down (, I can only imagine the horribly uncomfortable situations that some trans people will be put in as a result of these new security methods. Here's another blog post about the implications for trans people for those interested: (also, it's a great blog in general).

  8. I admit that I had not considered the implications of these images for trans people, but your post carried several implications that seemed blatantly wrong.
    You wrote that "I know that the TSA is only doing these invasive pat-downs to bully people into accepting the backscatter imaging devices".
    While that may be the perceived effect as a victim, doesn't it seem more reasonable that these policies have been enacted in order to protect us?
    I am by no means arguing that these new policies are appropriate or effective, but it seems as though you have forgotten why we have security screenings in the first place. For our security.

  9. Hey, Anon 11:36. You're right - security screenings are supposed to be "for our security," but the thing that is particularly troubling about these new measures is that 1) TSA is giving us basically no information about what the new measures are (for security reasons), so during a pat-down we don't really know what is and is not SOP, and 2) they are essentially taking away our rights to control our bodies. I absolutely refuse to let anyone take a picture that basically shows my naked body. And since when do strangers get to touch me, especially my breasts or genitals? There is no reason for such measures - we have bomb-sniffing dogs, chemicals that react when mixed with explosive residue, metal detectors, and probably many other security tactics that I'm not even aware of. Let's face it - if someone were to smuggle dangerous contraband into an airport, I highly doubt that it would be detectable by either the imaging machines or the pat-down. So, should we all submit to cavity searches in the future? I think not.

    And, Lawrence, bravo to you - you're extraordinarily brave. Thank you for writing about all of the implications of these new measures. I will also be opting out should I be selected for additional screening.

  10. (Sorry, my previous comment posted before I was done.. gonna take me a while to get used to Blogger.)

    Thanks for such an awesome response, everyone!

    Anon 12:24 - I'm definitely talking about Tamora Pierce! I loved her as a kid! Great books for anyone going through girl-puberty.

    Swati - Ok, first off I am super excited to hear from you (like everyone), definitely hope we meet... but I feel the need to remind everyone that although Lawrence is not my legal name, it is not a pseudonym. I know you probably didn't mean it that way-- without a picture or a legal name I am pretty pseudonymous as a blogger-- but accepting trans folks' chosen names as their real names is one of those Trans Ally 101 things that I'm going to be stressing. You're just the lucky test subject.

    Anon 11:36 - Jennifer did a good job of pointing out that there actually are supposed to be limits, and that it's not acceptable to sacrifice everything in the name of security (the only thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart, etc) but I really want to emphasize that on top of everything else, these "security" measures don't work. The backscatter machines don't work, and the pat-downs don't work, because neither of them will find stuff hidden in body cavities, which is where terrorists actually hide things. Well, terrorists actually just throw stuff over the fence for their buddies who are already inside-- the people flipping burgers don't have to go through the same screening as everyone else. The current state of the TSA does not provide security, just security theater. I oppose these measures at least partially because they draw funds away from things that do protect people, like intelligence agencies that catch terrorists before they get to the airport. So I hope you and I can find some common ground there... I think if these things worked, I'd be raising a fuss to mandate trans-sensitivity training for all TSA employees, and carefully-enforced policies to protect the trans community. It's only because they don't work that I think they should be eliminated altogether.

    But anyway-- thanks again to everybody for your comments (even you, anon 11:36!) and especially for your support. I have work during Fab Fridays, but I hope I'll still be able to get to know you as I become more active at the center in general. And I'll definitely keep blogging away! (As if I could stop, hah!) I hope you have a good break and, if you're going home, a good flight!

  11. The follow-up: I did get selected to go through the backscatter X-ray, and I did opt out. I managed to stifle my indignation when they called for a "female assist" to pat me down (I didn't really want a guy to do it) and dutifully endured my pat-down. It was... laughable. There were three points where I was left alone with my things and could have simply wandered away to the gate. Three! And the pat-down itself, though slightly more invasive than the previous procedure, was completely incompetent. I probably couldn't have gotten away with binding, because they pressed between the breasts, but I could easily have been packing and they wouldn't have noticed. (Packing a dick, that is. Not a gun. But that says to me I also could have hidden anything else down there and I wouldn't even have needed to resort to body cavities.) Plus, they no longer go through your carry-ons by hand when they do secondary screening, which strikes me as an odd omission.

    I think my derision of the sloppy security distracted me, because I reached my gate feeling contemptuous rather than violated, which I guess is a plus in that it meant I didn't feel the need to throw up. But it also means that I will no longer accept any justification for the enhanced pat-downs, or for the backscatter X-ray, because neither of them does anything if someone slated for secondary screening can just go through the metal detector and walk off, like I nearly did by accident. They cannot justify the risk to trans people, or the violation of everyone's privacy.