Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TSA, Gender and trans folk trying to fly....

Last week the TSA started to implement new regulations.

It's called the Secure Flight Program.

Secure Flight matches the name, date of birth and gender information for each passenger against government watch lists to:

  • Identify known and suspected terrorists
  • Prevent individuals on the No Fly List from boarding an aircraft
  • Identify individuals on the Selectee List for enhanced screening
  • Facilitate passenger air travel
  • Protect individuals' privacy

After matching passenger information against government watch lists, Secure Flight transmits the matching results back to aircraft operators.

From the TSA website 8/18/09

When you purchase an airline ticket you now need to provide your gender.  There are only two boxes: female and male.  At the airport, the TSA will not let you thru security unless both the name and gender on your legal ID (drivers license, passport, etc.) match the name and gender on your ticket.

The idea is to increase the accuracy of the watch list.  Say there is someone on the terrorist watch list who is named Kerry Anderson and that person is male.  This would prevent all Kerry Andersons who are female from being pulled out of line and going thru extra security screenings.  Frankly, although it's annoying, it makes some sense.

Of course, this is going to add an additional layer for folks who are trans and going thru security.  Hell, it could make stuff a little dicey for anyone who's not gender normative. Of course going thru security or customs as a trans person wasn't easy before.

I flew yesterday.  I'm cis gendered, but when I was going thru security at the Boston airport I asked a few questions.  

Here's how the conversation went.

Me: "Hey, can I ask you a couple questions about the new policies in relation to gender and IDs?"

TSA agent:  "Sure"

Me:  "I have a lot of friends who are trans gendered - their gender appearance doesn't match the gender on their driver's license.  What should they do?  What will happen when they hand you their stuff?"

TSA agent (looking a little bit nervous, but willing to listen):  "Well if we have any questions, first we'd call over the supervisor"

Me:  "Would it help if they brought a Dr's note?  You see, my brother is on testosterone and he looks like a guy, but on his driver's license his name says Judy and his gender says female"

Other TSA Agent steps in:  "Hormones don't change certain facial structures like your nose, or the shape of your eyes.  That's the stuff we look at.  It'll be fine for him.  We understand.  And we don't judge."

Which was nice to hear.  But I was in Boston.  In the first state in the nation where same sex marriage became legal.  And the second agent was clearly better educated on trans stuff.  I'm willing to bet the reaction would have been a little bit different in, say, Alabama, or Idaho.

I also sent an email to the TSA and am waiting to hear back from them.  I'll let you know what I hear (if I hear back at all).  The National Center for Transgender Equality has been in communication with the TSA about the new policy, so the TSA is aware of the issue.  But I doubt that will filter down to every agent checking IDs.

Here are my suggestions for getting thru security if you are trans and your name and gender on your DL don't match your gender presentation.  These suggestions are based simply on my years of experience in working with bureaucracy, federal programs and folks who are on the front line enforcing policies.  These are not suggestions from the TSA or any other organization.  They may not be politically correct, but they are designed to get you thru security with as little drama as possible.  The NCTE has some suggestions that may be more politically correct - click here for those.

1) Buy your plane tickets under the name and gender on your driver's license/state issued identity card (DL).  Double check your itinerary to make sure everything is correct (I saw a guy this weekend who had to go back to the ticket counter because his name on his license and his ticket didn't match and I'm pretty sure he wasn't trans). 

2)  Use your DL as your ID.  I've noticed the TSA agents spend more time examining other documents - even passports.

3)  Check your DL picture.  How much does it not look like you?  If it's really different (significantly shorter hair, major weight loss, etc.), think about "losing" your DL and getting a new one with a picture that looks more like you.

4) Get a letter from a medical professional on letter head that states you are transgendered and documents your legal name and gender. 

This  what I'd suggest for the text of the letter:

****** was identified as [gender] at birth, but now identifies as [blank].  ***** has undergone medical treatments in order to have their appearance match their gender identity, but they have not yet legally changed their name or gender.  As their medical provider I can attest that this person is legally ****** and [gender].

If you can have the clinician cut and paste a current picture of you into the letter, that could help.

Most cities have a sliding scale clinic where you could get a letter such as this.  

And yes, I know that you may identify as a gender other than male or female.  The TSA agent needs a box to put you in so that you can get on your plane.  Give them a box.  Fight the battle to eliminate the gender binary when you don't have a plane to catch.  Or a cavity search to avoid.

5) Self disclose when you hand the TSA agent your info - I recognize as a cis gendered person  I do not fully understand  how scary that could be.  People from a group which is marginalized are not the folks who should be responsible for doing the education, but in this case, I think it will save you a lot of trouble and drama.  A very simple, "I know my appearance doesn't match my legal gender, I'm trans.  This is my legal name and gender.  I have a letter from my doctor here as well,"  could help prevent a delay and reduce the amount of time you have to spend dealing with a legal system which marginalizes all folks who don't fit easily into a gender box. 

If you are some one who doesn't identify as trans, but presents in a way that is outside of dominant culture gender norms, check your DL.  If the picture of you is from when you were a girly sorority girl and now you are a muscly butch with a shaved head - "lose" your license and get a new one with a new picture.  A lot can change in the years between DL pictures.  Even more between passport pictures.  Hell, things have been a little faster for me at the airport since my DL picture now has my pink hair.

If you have any problems, please contact the National Center for Transgender Equality at 202-903-0112  so that they can follow up with the TSA 

***btw - Owen's birth name is not Judy.  He doesn't choose to share his birth name with many folks, so I don't either***


Sarah said...

These are some fantastic ideas. I'll ask when I fly through Milwaukee next week to see if they react the same was as they did in Boston.

Mina said...

This was awesome... thank you for sharing! Seriously, this is great info!