So, I decided to sell my soul to the Department of Homeland Security and apply for a Nexus card
. Both US and Canadian citizens can get one, and it makes it simpler to cross the US/Canada border either by air or land. I was also under the impression that having one is one of the ways to be considered a "trusted traveler" and thus use TSA PreCheck lines at some airports in the US, so it's useful even when traveling within the US. Also, some PreCheck lines are scanner-free and walk-through-metal-director-only, which means no scanning and no groping. Not all of them are, but I figured anything that helps, helps, under the principle that I want to choose who touches certain parts of my body (you wouldn't think that principle would be so radical, but hey).
I applied online back in August, and eventually (they don't send notifications so I had to do this by manually polling the web site online) was invited to appear in person to interview for the card. The only locations where you can do this are near the border, so for me, the closest location was Seattle. The soonest appointment was February 1, 2013; later I tried to see if I can change it as a different date might have been more convenient, but I was offered June as the next available appointment, so I decided to keep it February.
Lesson number 1: if you're applying for a card in Seattle, Sea-Tac is *not* the place to go! I read it quickly, thought "oh, the Seattle airport", booked a hotel near Sea-Tac for the night before, and... the night before, realized my appointment was actually at Boeing Field/King County International Airport (which is also, by the way, a 20-minute walk from the nearest public transit stop). This isn't an issue if (unlike me) you have reading comprehension skills, but don't go to SEA, go to Boeing Field.
I arrived 15 minutes early or so for my appointment, but basically as soon as I sat down in the waiting area, the DHS agent showed up and offered to take my passport and driver's license so she could pull up my file. After a few minutes she came back and brought me inside for the interview. She was very quick and efficient. I had worried about getting asked weird questions relating to the fact that I had two previous legal names, both of which connote a gender that I'm not, but she just asked me to verify that I'd used those names before and I said yes; no comments or weird looks or anything. So that was professional of her, and should hopefully reassure any of you who are trans if you were thinking about applying.
She asked me if I'd ever been arrested, ever been turned away from the border, ever had a DUI, or ever had to go before a judge. I said no to all of them, but more about that later. She explained very briefly how the Nexus and PreCheck programs worked and then took a digital scan of my fingerprints (all ten fingers! Serious business. No toes, though.)
I was told to bring a print-out of my "conditional approval" letter inviting me to apply, so I did, and was never asked for it. It turns out that I also didn't need my car registration, which I brought; being a US citizen, I also didn't need any proof that I live at the address that I claim. (My driver's license and passport were apparently sufficient.) I had been told I would need the car registration if I wanted to cross the border in my car, but the agent said that was outdated info, and I would now be able to cross the border in any car so long as every occupant of the car had a Nexus card.
Then she escorted me outside to wait for the Canadian border agent, who came out to greet me within a few minutes. The Canadian agent was much less friendly. He asked me where I work and for a business card (which I knew to bring, so I had one ready) -- so, if you have business cards, bring them! He asked me why I wanted a Nexus card in sort of a skeptical way -- I explained I was going to Vancouver for job training for about two and a half months, and he ended up asking me a lot of questions about that. So he said "but why do you want a card if you're just going once" and I said I might go to Seattle a few times for weekends to visit friends, which is true, and also that I wanted to use PreCheck lines within the US. He said "but you don't fly!" so I guess they know that? I didn't want to get into the whole "I'm trans and I don't like being groped" thing so I said that I'd been driving and taking the train more because of security lines, and if I was able to get through security quicker, I would fly more (which certainly wasn't a lie, just incomplete).
Then he asked me the same questions about arrests, courts, etc. that the US agent did, but when I said I hadn't been to court, he said, "are you sure?" I said, "Well, I had to go to court a month ago to sue my landlord," and he said, "is that all?" "Well I had a few traffic tickets around 2005, but they were dismissed." "Is that all?" "Well, I also had a misdemeanor around that same time where I had to appear before the judge, but the charges got dropped." "And what was it?" "Hitting a car in a parking lot and leaving the scene. The case got dismissed." "Anything else?" "Yeah, I changed my name, so I had to go to court for that." I said that was really all and he was more or less satisfied at that point. (I don't know what he was seeing in the records.) I'm pretty sure I wasn't forgetting anything! Anyway, the lesson learned here is to say everything in response to this question. I thought at first I didn't need to mention stuff that was dismissed, but I guess it doesn't hurt to say so.
He asked me if I had a letter explaining what the purpose of my training visit was, and I said yes, but only on my laptop (I hadn't thought to print it out since the copy that got shared with me was still a draft) and I tried to pull it up on the screen, but wasn't able to because it was in Google Docs and I didn't have a wifi connection. So, another lesson learned: I should have printed out the letter. I tried to avoid giving too many details about my work visit since the administrative people at my work are still dotting the t's and crossing the i's at this point -- basically just saying that I had been informed by the legal team at work that I wasn't going to need a work visa given the length and nature of the visit -- but he did ask a fair amount of questions about it.
Then he told me that based on the interview, I was eligible, and should be receiving the card in the mail within 5-8 days. The unfortunate part, which I didn't know, is that the US DHS offices don't have the machine to scan your irises; you have to go to Canada to do that. So I'll have to make *another* trip to Vancouver (or, I guess, just do it when I get there for work) to get my irises scanned, which I need to do if I want to use the card at airports (I won't need it if I'm crossing the border overland, but I'm not sure yet if I'm going to drive or fly there for my work visit).
I was not asked whether I'd ever used recreational drugs; based on googling other people's experiences, and also on the security clearance application that I once filled out (which never got processed since I quit the job that required it), I thought that might be a question that would come up. But it didn't -- the only legal things that got asked about were DUIs, arrests, court appearances, and being refused entry to a country.
I also think it was a good decision on my part that I decided to wear my "Stop AIDS Project / Department of Homoland Security" T-shirt
yesterday and not today. (I wasn't sure what to wear, but ended up going with an incompetently-ironed (by me) button-down shirt and black khakis, no tie. That seemed to be okay.)
I guess it might seem funny that I was willing to put up with all sorts of indirect privacy invasion in order to buy myself a chance of getting out of the direct privacy invasion of having a government contractor feel up my crotchal area. I feel like it makes sense, though (as a compromise in the horrible society we live in) because I'm privileged enough to have very little to hide (from an illegal-activity point of view); on the other hand, having a cis stranger discover unexpectedly that I have a transsexual body puts me at risk. It's not the same kind of risk that a woman with a transsexual body would undergo in that situation, but it's a risk nonetheless, and one that I claim agency in doing what I can to avoid.
(And also, because I haven't mentioned this: yeah, I'm going to be in Vancouver for about 10 weeks, starting this March 11! I'll be working at the Mozilla Vancouver office and learning about linkers, profiling, build systems, debuggers, and other awesome topics from the one and only Graydon