Transgender Travel Guide: Get Through The TSA Safely

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Warning: If you’re a transgender person you can probably skip this intro section. It’s filled with statistics and information that might be triggering. 
According to US Department of Defense data, a soldier’s chance of dying in Iraq is 1 in 255 people per year. According to the Human Rights Campaign, your chances of being murdered as a transgender person are 1 in 12. Let that sink in for a minute.  One in twelve. That means trans people are 21 times more likely to be murdered while walking down the streets of America than a soldier in the Iraqi combat zone. This is appalling on so many levels.
Despite the jarring statistics, in the past couple years, transgender people have experienced more positive media exposure than ever before. Laverne Cox was nominated for an Emmy. The Transgender Law Center won a highly publicized case of discrimination against an elementary student. And OkCupid announced they are following Facebook and expanding their options for gender and sexuality on their site. With stories of trans  issues hitting the mainstream media regularly, it’s easy to forget the lived struggles that trans people face daily. To learn more about the fear and dangers associated with traveling as a transgender person, read this article from transgender advocate Devin-Norelle. Violence & discrimination against trans people won’t go away on its own. We as a community have the moral responsibility to do everything that we can to raise up and support our trans siblings.
The best way to do that is through empathy, compassion, and education. These three things are important for all people, but especially for groups who face multiple levels of discrimination. Many experience family rejection or employment discrimination and there is intense pressure to “pass” as male or female. Not to mention, the very real fear of violence is a constant threat. As a cisgender person, you can help support by learning how to be a good ally and educating yourself and your community.
As the movement for equality grows, transgender people are being recognized more frequently in mainstream media, policy, and support. With that recognition comes public education and acceptance. As acceptance grows, luxuries like travel become more accessible to transgender and gender nonconforming people. Mainstream representation has pros and cons and comes with major pushback for the community that includes violence.
Transgender Folks Start Here: 
In the travel market, there have been great strides in attempting to protect and support transgender people. This past summer, the first ever transgender cruise set sail for seven days of fun in the Caribbean. Recently, the Fort Lauderdale Tourism Association released a study on the wants and needs of trans people while traveling. According to their research, safety is the biggest determining factor in selecting a vacation destination. The tourism industry has been doing research on gay and lesbian travel for years, but this is the first time anyone has taken an in-depth look at the travel needs of the trans community. Knowing your rights and doing your research are the best ways to be prepared. Below we’ve listed our tips and pointers for having a safe and fun vacation.

  1. Documents

To make flight reservations you are required to submit your full name, date of birth, and gender. In order to decrease chances of being delayed by TSA you should use the information as it appears on your passport or government-issued photo ID. If you no longer look like the picture on your ID, try to get a new copy before you travel. If you cannot, carry a note from your doctor explaining why your appearance has changed.

  1. Traveling with needles

If you are planning on traveling with needles, syringes or hormones you must have proof that they are prescribed. A professional pharmaceutical label and original box must accompany any prescribed medications. Notify the TSA that you are traveling with medication and syringes as prescribed by your doctor. Maintain all of your medical supplies in one bag for easy screening. Ask your flight crew if you can store your hormones in the refrigerator if they are required to be chilled. If not, come prepared with a thermos to keep them at a safe temperature. Keep any pills in a safe dry place and never freeze any hormone vials.

  1. Airport Security

Passengers at most airports are asked to go through metal detectors and the Advanced Imaging Technology booth. AIT is voluntary and travelers may opt out of the imaging process. If you opt out, or one of the machines detects something unusual, you will be required to go through a pat down by a security officer of the gender on your government issued identification. One of the AIT machines being used in some airports is the Rapiscan Secure 1000. It will show the TSA agent an image of your naked body and any binding garments or prosthetics. If you are selected for a screening, you are entitled to a private screening if you chose to have one. Always bring a travel companion into the room with you when you are being screened. You may always ask to speak with a supervisor at any time in the screening process.

  1. Prosthetics

Travelers should never be asked to remove any article of clothing. TSA agents are also not allowed to ask you to remove any prosthetics you may be wearing. If you are traveling with a prosthetic in your carry-on luggage, you may ask for a private screening. If you are a Transman who packs regularly, make sure, your packing piece is free of any metal parts. Also, note that a heavily bounded chest can raise concerns because it may appear that the passenger is hiding something underneath the wrap.

  1. Clothing

You have the right to wear and present yourself in any way that you would like, so long as you do not obscure your face. Be mindful that some clothing will attract more unwanted and unfair attention. Clothing with metal built into it, will set off the metal detector and create more of a hassle. Try to avoid binders, corsets, bras and jewelry with metal pieces while traveling.

  1. Playing Safe

Bringing condoms, lube and other forms of protection with you while traveling is smart practice. If you plan to buy condoms in other countries, be aware there are some differences, try to find brands that are approved by the FDA. The packaging could be in another language and you may not be able to discern specifics of the products you are buying. Bring them with you in advance or make sure you do your homework on the products available in the country you are visiting well before the heat of the moment. In some countries, traveling with sexually explicit material can be used as evidence of sex work which may result in you being detained while traveling. Trans* people are often unfairly targeted, be aware that in recent years there have been a few instances where people have used sex toys to victimize LGBT travelers. One couple was the victim of an alleged hate crime by TSA agents and another couple was arrested in Malaysia for being in possession of a sex toy. Keep in mind that traveling with these items into some countries is illegal. Be very cautious and do your homework before crossing borders with anything you think could be questionable.

  1. International Travel

It’s illegal to be gay in 82 countries. The majority of the world does not understand the difference between gender and sexuality and some transgender people might be identified as LGBT and denied access into certain countries. Study the laws and policies of the areas you are traveling. No one should be forced to miss out on the wonders of the world based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Be mindful of the policies of the country and make the decision that feels best for you.

  1. Travel with Friends

The cliché – strength in numbers – comes to mind here, but it’s true. You are much more likely to feel safe and comfortable if you are traveling with a friend or a small group. Try to avoid walking alone after dark. While it is sad that I have to include tip, it’s reality that walking alone after dark in an unfamiliar place can lead to dangerous outcomes. Use your judgment and opt for taking a cab if possible rather than walking solo. Always carry a cell phone, extra cab money, and emergency contact information. Tell people where you are going and be mindful while exploring alone.
If you’ve experienced unprofessional conduct of any kind from a TSA agent, you can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Liberties .

3 Responses

  1. This is incredible and such an important post. Some of these things I hadn’t even considered would be obstacles for the trans community when traveling. Thanks for shedding light on this.

    1. Thanks! Trans* issues need so much more attention than they are getting. I just hope this helps someone who needs the tips!

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