Skirting The Issues: Transgender Search Authority

Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida
Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida

I absolutely hate airports and flying.

More specifically, it’s really the TSA—what I call the “Transgender Search Authority”—which I detest.

Trust me, many trans folk will immediately know what I’m talking about.

Mind you, it’s nothing personal; I’m sure there are many good, even nice, Transportation Security Administration employees.

However, for transgender people like me who don’t pass 100 percent, the TSA is really a problem. Sometimes it’s even in the personal threat category.

Item: In July 2009, two months after I came out as Ellen Krug (but before I had my legal name change—meaning that my driver’s license still listed my male name), I was flagged for something in my carry-on bag. As a belly-endowed blue-shirted person unzipped my bag for the world to view as it desired, I suddenly remembered that I needed that cute black sweater I had packed.

When I reached for the sweater, the TSA man shoved my hand away and barked, “Step back from the bag, sir!”

His prejudice was palpable.

At that very moment, I was wearing makeup, a skirt and feminine top, and my hair was close to shoulder length.

That man made me feel like crap.

Item: Little more than a year later, I underwent reassignment surgery in Scottsdale. Post-surgery, my doctor provided a very classy terry cloth pouch that contained various sized clear plastic “dilators;” one must maintain vaginal “depth” via a dilator several times a week.

(If this is too much information dear gentle readers, I suggest stopping now and turning the page; you can always catch my column next month.)

On the way back to Minneapolis after reassignment surgery, there was no way that I was going to check my luggage for fear of Delta forever losing it along with my very critical dilators.

Once again, TSA flagged my carry-on bag at airport x-ray.

As I stood at the end of the conveyor line, a TSA man unzipped the suitcase. After rummaging, he grabbed the terry cloth pouch.

Holy shit, I thought.

Instinctively, I blurted, “Ah, you don’t want to open that.”

The TSA person gave a confused look.

“The pouch contains medical dilators,” I tried to explain.

That didn’t help the dude at all; he absolutely had no clue what I was saying.

I then went for blunt.

“Dildos,” I said. “The pouch contains dildos.”

Upon hearing the “d-word,” the TSA man promptly zipped-up my suitcase and set me free.

Once more, I felt violated and like a second-class (or maybe even third-, fourth- or fifth-class) citizen.

Item: In October 2010, I visited a niece in Utah, of all places. Because my reassignment surgery was so recent, I took along the terry cloth pouch and a dilator I had aptly nicknamed, “Mr. Macho.” At the Salt Lake City airport on the way home to Minneapolis—you guessed it—the TSA again grabbed my bag.

This time a female TSA employee took me to an enclosed area adjacent to the security line.

Despite hearing that their machine had x-rayed a personal hygiene item and not something sinister, the woman reached into my bag. She then insisted on actually opening the pouch at which point virginal Mormon eyes (presumably) gazed upon Mr. Macho.

“See?” I said. “I wasn’t kidding.”

Ms. TSA relented and quickly returned Mr. Macho to his pouch and my bag, which I enthusiastically re-zipped. I wheeled away shaking my head at how senseless some things can be.

Item: Those TSA body scanners are of particular concern. I feel so violated standing with my arms raised and full frontal body exposed to some stranger sitting at a computer screen thinking god knows what. Given the chance, I’ll stand in line for an extra twenty minutes in order to go through a metal detector. Most of the time I don’t get that choice.

Instead, after stepping out of the scanner, I’ve had to stand silently as yet another TSA chick pats me down and touches body parts that no one else has touched in ages. (Yes, it’s been months since I’ve had a date.) There’s got to be better ways of getting free feels that don’t involve such public exposure or bad looking women.

Bottom Line: I’m not the only trans person to endure this kind of stuff. The Internet is replete with stories of far more disrespect, degradation, and horror than what I’ve gone through. I’m quite grateful that my negative experiences have been so limited.

And too, folks who aren’t transgender have similar stories; we trans people haven’t cornered the market on violations-of-self.

Still, we’re back to the question of being targeted. I believe that anyone who’s not white, financially well-off, and male also gets targeted. What does that say about our society?

Do the words Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri, mean anything to you?

Hold on. This isn’t another soapbox column. Rather, as I’m apt to do, I’ve simply sought to write about our collective human condition.

With “human” being key.

Basic respect is something all of us crave. As humans, we’re acutely aware of the moments when we’re disrespected.

As the above reflects, those moments stick with us.


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