No, TSA, we do not all have the same parts

Charles Fettinger
Tristan Higgins details in the Huffington Post how she was made to suffer for failing to conform to a TSA screener’s gender stereotypes. Tristan says, “I stepped out and waited in that spot where we all wait while some anonymous stranger decides whether we are a threat, whether our body scan matches up with expectations. Well, it turned out that mine did not.”

The TSA’s machine told Tristan Higgins that her body was unacceptable, therefore she was unacceptable.

The TSA’s pointless obsession with figuring out what our bodies look like under our clothes is unconscionable. Millions of people have bodies that don’t conform to the TSA’s regulations in all sorts of ways. It’s disgusting that the TSA has decided to pass judgment on whether or not our bodies are acceptable.

This really has nothing to do with gender presentation. The problem is that the TSA forces innocent travelers into machines that scrutinize and classify our bodies as okay or not okay. Human bodies come in many shapes, sizes, and variations, and people with non-normative bodies often don’t display their differences openly. The TSA’s pathetic charade of security focuses on non-normative bodies and “outs” people whose body differences can be otherwise shielded by clothing.  Humiliating passengers because they have mastectomies, ambiguous genitalia, non-normative gender presentation, tumors, or implanted medical devices does not prevent terrorism!

TSA apologists have repeatedly claimed that having screeners examine nude images of passengers was kosher because, “We all have the same parts.” No, we do not. We do NOT all have the same parts. 

The TSA intentionally exposes and shames people who, for a multitude of reasons, have bodies that do not conform to the TSA’s standards. I know a wonderful woman with a prosthetic leg who abandoned her lucrative consulting career because she could not tolerate letting strangers physically assault her over and over.

I recently tore my ACL and have had to wear a knee brace for the past six months. I’ve been intensely stung by myriad thoughtless and cruel remarks about my injury. If I could have waved a magic wand and made that brace invisible I would have jumped at the chance. All difference and disability is socially stigmatized. People with non-normative bodies are marginalized, pitied, and even blamed for their conditions.

The TSA mistreats disabled travelers in defiance of the Americans with Disabilities Act; the TSA has shirked its responsibilities under ADA as under so many other laws. The TSA’s inappropriate focus on uncovering each traveler’s body morphology violates our human dignity, and has serious repercussions for anyone whose body is labeled unsatisfactory by the TSA’s judging machines.

Any one of us, even if our bodies now pass TSA inspection, might be one injury or illness away from finding ourselves in Tristan Higgins’ shoes.

(Photo: Charles Fettinger/Flickr Creative Commons)

  • LeeAnneClark

    There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t even know where to start.

    First of all, the requirement that the scanner must know whether you are male or female in order to be able to accurately identify if you are a so-called “threat”. That right there shows how useless they are. Human bodies are way too varied. Example: I know plenty of men who have way bigger boobs than I do. So if the TSA clerk presses the “male” button for a guy with substantial man-boobs, is the scanner going to indicate a threat on his chest? Is he going to have to get groped? Doesn’t anyone see how wrong that is?

    And then there’s the idea (expressed with eloquent sarcasm by RonBonner above) that we are relying on uneducated, ill-trained Walmart rejects to select the right gender button. Really? These low-wage government clerks who were recruited off pizza-boxes…we’re expecting them to be able to make such determinations? Come on.

    It may be uncomfortable for sheltered middle-Americans who’ve never left their small town to accept this, but the fact is that gender is not so cut-and-dried. Never was. Just from a basic physiological perspective, there have always been humans born with ambiguous genitalia. That’s certainly not new. There are also those with gender identities different from that which they were born into (as in Tristan Higgin’s case) – also not new. And more recently there are those who’ve gone through gender reassignment surgery, or are in the process of it.

    And we’re expecting uneducated, ill-trained Walmart rejects to be able to even understand these complexities of the human condition? And then, when they can’t, we give them unfettered authority to publicly question us, shame us, and actually physically PAW us?

  • RonBonner

    My comment is not about the use of Strip Search Machines by TSA. That discussion should be a separate thread.

    Tristan is apparently upset that a TSA clerk couldn’t determine her gender when being screened by a TSA Strip Search Machine. I think we are going to have to go back and consider the poor TSA Clerks issues with this.

    First off, if someone presents at a TSA Electronic Strip Search screening point and their gender is not readily apparent we have to understand that TSA clerks may have the lofty education of a GED. Then they have to make a decision of whether to push the “Man” or “Woman” button to make this 21st Century technology work. I have no doubt that the typical TSA clerk is deeply in question of choosing which button of the two to push regardless of circumstance. Please remember these TSA clerks are likely not qualified to operate the Fryolator at your favorite burger joint so being giving this overwhelming task of choosing one button over the other is likely to confuse even the most intelligent TSA clerk.

    If we present at a TSA checkpoint and give even the slightest doubt of gender to a TSA clerk and then fault them for making the wrong choice I think we have to blame ourselves for expecting more out of TSA than they are capable of delivering.

    If you consider all of your interactions with TSA with these thoughts in mind I think you will come to understand why things happen they way they do at TSA checkpointsF

    • But what happened to Tristan can not be separated from the issue of the use of strip search machines. There is no reason to require passengers to conform to a gender binary in the absence of the machines. The requirement that a male button or female button be pressed is precisely the source of the problem.

      • RonBonner

        I thought I had the sarcasm dial turned up to high but apparently it didn’t come through.

        • Sorry for missing it! You and others are getting far too good at role-playing AFS’ers.

          • RonBonner

            Clues, strip search machine, clerk, etc.

        • LeeAnneClark

          LOL Ron, it took me a minute to pick up on the sarcasm as well…but then I went back and re-read it, and it’s genius. Good show.

    • Daisiemae

      I got your sarcasm. Unfortunately, I read this exact same argument (without any sarcasm) posted numerous times on another site. Blame and scorn were heaped upon Kristen for “creating” the problem herself. It totally read the same way as your post…without any mention of the mental challenges John Pistole’s “highly trained professionals” experience when deciding what gender we are.

      • LeeAnneClark

        I saw that too, Daisiemae. And it just made me ill.

        But then think about who the people are who are making these comments. They are the same people who want to deny basic human rights and equality to anyone who doesn’t fit their narrow view of “acceptable”. For example, they consider gays to be deviants unworthy of the same rights as the rest of us. These are the folks who feel they have a right…nay, an obligation…to foist their version of morality, behavioral standards, and religious faith on the rest of us. So of course they are going to attack someone like Tristan, who forces them to face the FACT that we are not all the same, we are not all like them, and we don’t all believe what they do.

        That is just too threatening for people like that. They have to believe that they are right…and anyone who challenges that has to be silenced, or changed. They need to force us all into the same box in order for them to feel safe…and any deviation from that box is, to them…well…deviant! They can’t accept that others don’t feel, believe, or behave as they do, because that introduces the concept that they might be…{{{shudder}}}…wrong!