Jul. 4th, 2009

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
The scene: Midway Airport, about 1:20 PM on Independence Day 2009.

I walk up to the TSA worker in the "Expert Traveler" line and show my driver's license and boarding pass. She shines the little purple light on it that presumably lights up with the letters "tErRoRiSt" at appropriate times. She hesitates.

She calls one of her colleagues over and they turn away from me, holding my ID and boarding pass and whispering.

I know what it's about. It's never happened to me before, but for a year and a half, my license has said "Chevalier, Timothy Jan" underneath the picture and "F" underneath where it says "sex". It was just a matter of time. I hear one of them whispering to the other "it's one of the things they tell us to look for..." and the other says "...but we're not allowed to ask them..."

She asks me to step over to the desk on the side. A third guy comes up and asks me whether I prefer "Mr." or "Mrs." Choosing for now not to point out the incompleteness of his list, I said "Mr." He looks almost as if he's expecting me to explain, but I don't think I need to explain anything. "But it says here..." I may have cocked an eyebrow at this point. "Is it an error?" "No." [pause] "It's my legal sex." (In retrospect, I shouldn't even have volunteered that.)

"Do you have a previous name you used?" he asks me. I was on the verge of answering, and then the voice in my head said, "Fuck, you don't have to answer that question." I asked "Are you allowed to ask that question?" He said they had to verify my ID. I asked if there was a supervisor I could talk to. He said he was the supervisor -- wrong answer.

After asking me how I say my middle name, he asked me to sit on the window ledge while they waited for a fourth person to come. He asked me if I had another ID. I gave him my Portland State ID.

Fourth person came. "Is it an error?" "It's not an error." "Well, because it says 'F' but you said you prefer 'Mister'..." (Well, what? I think.) I didn't say anything. She and the "supervisor" looked at each other. She said "I think it's okay" and shrugged. She walked away.

The "supervisor" gave me back my IDs. He asked me whether I'd ever had a problem before. I said "no", truthfully. He said "well, you should have that error corrected." (I'd said it wasn't an error, twice.) I said that legally, it was impossible for me to change it. I'm not sure what he thought. He let me go through security.

I was lying when I said it was impossible -- in Oregon, your driver's license can have whatever gender marker you like (as long as it's "M" or "F") as long as you get a letter from a DMV-approved therapist affirming that your gender is really what you think it is.

Read that again: "DMV-approved therapist".

I don't want to give my tacit approval to a system that says it's the state (and its approved therapists), not me, that knows what sex my brain expects my body to be. If I don't change my mind about that, I'd better start budgeting an extra half an hour when I go to the airport.

I think it's important to stand up for your rights. I like an opportunity to kick ass and take names as much as any other guy does. That doesn't mean I relish the threat of public humiliation. I was shaking when I got to the place for taking my boots off and my laptop out.

I have multiple friends (some who are trans, some who are cis) who've been strip-searched for less.

I'm going to Europe in two months. Getting the gender marker on your passport changed is more difficult than getting an Oregon driver's license changed. To change it, I would have to submit a letter that says that I have "completed sex reassignment surgery". Many cissexual women have breast reduction surgery; the surgery that I just had is substantially similar to breast reduction. It's unclear whether the US Passport administration would consider my surgery "sex reassignment surgery", and there are no clear published guidelines that suggest either that they would, or that they wouldn't. Passport change evaluation is opaque.

This is what my boarding pass looked like after the four TSA workers got done with it. I guess the initials "AS" mean "we checked this person's gender and determined they weren't a terrorist based on that."

If you travel by air, do you feel safer after reading this story?

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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

December 2018

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