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The Whore Next Door: Flying While Trans - By - January 6, 2016 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

The Whore Next Door: Flying While Trans

Traveling by airplane can be a serious turn-on, as well as a foolproof coping mechanism. Something about being restrained for hours in close quarters with dozens of strangers while hurtling through the air thousands of miles above the ground, movies and booze at the ready, just fires my brain's slut synapses. As soon as the pilot indicates that it's safe to move about the cabin, I often make a beeline for the tiny bathroom and initiate myself into a Mile High Club of one.

Sadly, most other aspects of contemporary flying are far from sexy. I never knew the golden age of air travel, when smoking was allowed and the attendants — still called stewardesses — wore curve-accentuating outfits. Alas, most of my experiences have been in the post-9/11 universe, submitting to full-body scans while in stocking feet in order to board. A plane ticket is no longer a guarantee of passage, but rather an intention or mere hope of arrival at some point, somewhere close to your desired destination. This holiday season, one of my flights was delayed for six hours, only to be canceled at 1:30 a.m. owing to pilot fatigue. When I finally got on another plane at a different airport five hours later, jerking off was the last thing on my mind.

My experience with the trials of holiday travel was tame compared to the many who face unfair scrutiny from airport security. Many TSA policies and procedures highlight the endemic prejudices of American culture, supporting systematic harassment of marginalized people.

Recently, TSA stopped the multi-award-winning transgender porn performer Venus Lux, subjecting her to 45 minutes of public pat-downs and screenings in a busy, understaffed airport.

“I felt so violated as a woman,” she tweeted on Dec. 22.

Lux isn't the only transgender traveler to speak out about harassment during air travel. Comics authors Shadi Petosky garnered media attention last September when she tweeted about her dehumanizing experience with TSA employees at Orlando International Airport. Apparently, those big body scanners that travelers must pass through at security checkpoints require an agent to tell the machine the sex of the person being screened, which puts transgender travelers at the mercy of that TSA agent and any prejudices they may harbor. Petosky's genitals were marked as an “anomaly” by the body scanner, resulting in a violating pat-down and an embarrassing public encounter with multiple agents who later placed her in a room and attempted to confiscate her phone. (She missed her flight, and at one point, a TSA employee told her “to get back in the machine as a man or it was going to be a problem.”) After her live-tweeting gained enough traction to put the agency on the defensive, TSA released a statement on the Petosky episode defending the process she went through and insisting that the agents present behaved in accordance with TSA's strict guidelines.

While TSA may be at peace with its practices, other are not. In September, the National Center for Transgender Equality joined the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Rutherford Institute in a lawsuit against TSA. Likening scanners to “virtual strip searches,” the lawsuit alleges that, based on a court ruling from 2011, TSA is legally required to open its body scanner regulations to public input and judicial review.

“For four years, the TSA has flouted the court's order, preventing the public and outside experts from scrutinizing their actions as required under the law. This lawsuit aims to enforce that court decision and bring much needed accountability to an agency plagued by lawlessness,” said CEI Fellow and co-petitioner Marc Scribner.

“This is another example of the government employing surveillance technologies regardless of and outside of the limits of the law,” said John W. Whitehead, a constitutional attorney and president of the Rutherford Institute.

The petitioners also claim that not only do the body scanners violate the law and accepted standards of privacy, they are also mostly ineffective, failing to detect threats 96 percent of the time.

“This adds insult to injury from an agency that purports to protect the traveling public by way of highly invasive, costly, and illegal screening technologies,” Scribner added.

Though the miracle of being airborne is still breathtaking, and the feeling in my stomach when we take off or dip into the clouds still makes me tingle, I have to admit that commercial flying feels much more like navigating a temporal police state than anything resembling luxury.

Traveling home for the holidays is hard enough on its own. Regardless of whatever level of terrorist threat we supposedly face on any given day, no one should have to choose between security and dignity when they travel.