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End of Gender: Public (Trans)portation

When the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rolled out airport security scans that double as peep shows, some would-be travelers opted for a "staycataion." For transgender travelers, being outed at the airport could comprise safety, but with recent advancements, could things be looking up for gender-nonconforming globetrotters?

  • In June 2010, the State Department began issuing passports that reflect a person's current gender when either a previous passport or other identity documents reflect a different gender. Now transgender people can obtain passports that reflect their identities by submitting a letter from a physician confirming their "clinical treatment" for gender transition (specific information about whatever constitutes "treatment" doesn't have to be mentioned).

When the TSA announced a new line of body scanners that were supposedly less-invasive, gender-nonconforming folks excitedly packed their bags. The new millimeter wave machines locate "anomalies" on a traveler's person and superimpose them onto a generic, "gingerbread man" image of a human form, leaving images of the traveler's naked body out of the picture. Sounds like another score for the "end of gender," right?

But when a traveler prepares to be scanned, security staff must press one of two buttons: "blue" for "men" and "pink" for "women."

The archaic, color-coded gender divide reeks of baby showers, but according to Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), that's not the only reason why gender-based scans are a bad idea.

"Let's say they hit the blue button," Keisling told Truthout earlier this week. "There's three kinds of people for whom they might hit the blue button, all of whom the TSA agent perceives to be male. And the person might be the person who has stereotypical genitalia... But the person might be somebody who has disproportionate, or unexpectedly large genitalia; or unexpectedly small, or no genitalia."

That means that anyone whose body doesn't conform to expectations of their perceived gender may come under special scrutiny.

Treating gender-nonconforming bodies as threats to national security puts transgender people in the uncomfortable position of having to explain ourselves, and sometimes, that poses new problems. Being singled-out by airport security can out transgender people not only to staff, but to co-workers and other fellow travelers who might not be aware of our histories.

The paperwork might be easier, but don't be fooled. According to the TSA, gender warriors can safely travel only if we leave our bodies at home.

Previously: Melissa Harris-Perry's "Being Transgender in America" Roundtable, Boys Will Be Girls Will Be Boys

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But how else is the TSA

But how else is the TSA supposed to make it work? The concept of body scanning is not inherently discriminatory, and while it can be uncomfortable for some people, it's a necessary step for insuring safe air travel.