Those of us who have been to the airport in recent years know that it is a much larger hassle than it was in pre-9/11 days. (Remember back when friends and family could come with you and see you off at the gate?) But as is usually the case, it’s a much bigger hassle for some people than others, and the increased frustration and outright harassment tend to fall along lines of oppression. If you breastfeed, you may be harassed about your pre-pumped milk. If you have a disability, you may be harassed about medical devices that are unfamiliar to screeners. If you have a certain national origin or heritage, or dress in accordance with certain religious customs — meaning, if someone could read you as Arab and/or Muslim — you may be harassed on the basis of racial profiling.
And if you’re transgender, you might be harassed on the basis of your government-issued identification, and whether or not it “matches” with your gender identity and presentation. Thus, the very real fear surrounding new regulations being implemented by the TSA:
Airlines this week will begin requiring some people making reservations for domestic flights to submit their dates of birth and genders as part of a screening process aimed at keeping boarding passes out of the hands of suspected terrorists, the Transportation Security Administration said.
The agency said the screening would all play out behind the scenes, meaning there should be no additional delays for passengers at airport terminals. The change will be phased in starting Saturday. Not all airlines are fully participating yet and might not request the data.
The TSA said it would be up to individual airlines or travel agents to decide how to collect the required information at the time a reservation is made. The program, called Secure Flight, is aimed at meeting congressional mandates, including those passed in 2007 to put into practice recommendations from the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks. The government’s goal is to vet all passengers on domestic commercial flights by early next year.
The first thing that occurred to me, which thanks to cis privilege never had before, is that even without these new rules, flying was already likely an additionally difficult and stressful situation for many trans people. All situations which require identification have the potential to be such. Even without the requirement to put down one’s gender as a part of the ticket booking process, there’s nothing stopping an airline employee from taking a look at a person’s ID — which thanks to cis-supremacist government bureaucracy is often very, very difficult to correct — and deciding that the photo, name, and/or sex indicated on it don’t match the gender identity of the person standing in front of them, and publicly asking all kinds of intrusive and outing questions. For me, being forced to show my identification numerous times before boarding a flight is comparatively the most mild of annoyances. For a trans person, it can be a risk to personal safety.
And so it’s no wonder that many trans people are deeply concerned about this new standard effectively resulting in a “no match, no flight” rule. The matter is being left up to individual airlines to implement, and as many airlines likely won’t even discuss or consider the needs of many trans passengers in advance, to individual employees. And in a world where employers feel comfortable demanding photographs of trans people’s genitals as a condition of employment, and where trans identity is routinely and openly mocked and delegitimized on mainstream television, that’s a dangerous, toxic mix.
We’re looking at employees wondering and asking why the woman standing in front of them has an “M” on her driver’s license, and still even quite possibly being unsatisfied with the answer. We’re looking at people who identify as neither man or woman being forced to choose one, and hope that the airline employees read them as the one they chose. We’re looking at other passengers who are decidedly not trans-friendly overhearing the conversation. We’re looking at trans people yet again being forced to modify their dress and actions according to prejudiced cis standards and then being asked what the “big deal” is. And we’re quite potentially looking at certain people being refused the right to travel.
And, as Helen points out, the actual benefit that such a measure would have is dubious at best. Seemingly, it’s intended to increase the effectiveness of a list that is ineffective and quite arguably unconstitutional. I feel no safer knowing that I can’t bring a bottle of water through security, or that a person has to throw out their nail clippers or be unable to board, and so I sure as hell feel no safer knowing that the TSA is trying to determine the gender of all travelers, and causing pain to and enacting discrimination against oppressed people in the process. And really, why on earth would I? How will this legitimately make anyone safer, even if it wasn’t making other people less safe in the process, and especially when it is?
To learn more about the gender requirements in the Secure Flight program, and how they could potentially affect you, check out this FAQ from The Center for Transgender Equality.
UPDATE: Please also see GallingGalla’s comment which discusses further grave risks posed by the new TSA requirement, including the direct threat of violence, including but not limited to sexual assault.