by Connor Maddocks
With summer nearly upon us, and so many places to explore in the world, it’s time to think about those fabulous vacations you’ve been planning. While Trans folks love traveling and flying off to exotic places as much as anyone, there are some very real considerations when planning your trip.
Let’s suppose you want to visit the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. I was there a few years ago, it’s very beautiful with lots to see and do.
Unfortunately,Tennessee has now become a place of hate and discrimination against the Trans community. They have passed 14 anti-LGBTQ laws since 2015, more than any other state in the country. They have declared that your birth sex is immutable for life, and these laws prohibit lifesaving medical care for our Transgender youth and youth who are currently on hormones or the hormone blockers have one year to wean off. Tennessee also recently banned Drag performances in any public place, stating they must be performed in age-restricted private places. The list goes on and on.
First of all, personally I never want to spend any of my money on anyone from this state. You might say, well the people don’t agree, or it’s not fair to punish the fine citizens of Tennessee, but excuse me!! These fine citizens voted in this Governor and all state legislators, so yes they are supporting this insane bigotry. I am sure there are plenty who don’t support it, but I have to take the state as a whole, there is always a price to be paid. So traveling to Tennessee is out of the question. Besides the monetary concerns, let’s think about safety.
In a state where the government and people actively seek to harm their own children, do you think they would care about you there? What if you were stopped by the police and they assumed you were Transgender, though the federal laws in our country don’t allow discrimination based on our gender identity, when you are in podunk backwoods places, those officers can pretty much do anything they want to you. What about stopping for gas? Buying supplies along the way? Enjoying a picnic along the route? Anyone of those folks you interact with could be the devil on earth and do harm to you, either mentally or physically, because people from these anti-Trans, anti-LGBQ states could very likely be the ones who encouraged their lawmakers to do their evil work.
What about healthcare? Accidents happen, sickness can come out of nowhere. Even though I doubt anyone would assume I was Transgender, I wouldn’t trust the medical community in these states to care for me once they found out. I wouldn’t trust that the person traveling with me would be allowed into the ER or be able to speak to medical personnel about my care if we were not related. If you are a same-sex couple or even legally married, some hate-mongering staff person could just blatantly decide that you are not allowed to participate in the decisions or even see your spouse.
Some states have passed bills that allow any medical personnel to refuse to treat us based solely on their own personal religious beliefs. The damage is done in the moment, lawsuits come after the damage is done.
So I encourage you to plan your trip very carefully. Even driving through a state, or a particular area in any state, may have bad consequences as I have previously mentioned. Do your research; read articles by Travelers Associations, the Federal Government or even on a state’s website. Check for what laws have been passed that are filled with Trans hate. See which bills are still pending. Join a blog and ask if others have been there and have some tips for you. Research the specific city, town or area you want to visit.
So now we have decided to fly to our fabulous destination. What could possibly go wrong for us while traveling? Actually plenty. Not all airports are friendly to our community. Research the specific airports you will travel through (and your destination airport) by their name with a search of anti-trans/LGBQ incidents that may have happened there or local government laws, like bathroom bills and healthcare discrimination, in that city.
No matter how you travel in the US, either by road, air, train, or even just for use at home, you should download the app called Mobile Justice. It is designed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to help you whenever trouble happens.
The app will allow you to record any encounter with a public official, lawmaker, law enforcement, or TSA agent, and it will at the same time stream to any contact you choose, as well as the local ACLU where you currently are. It will be useful to report abuse by any person with authority directly to the ACLU. The app will also empower you by having the latest information about your rights and activities in the area you are in. It will also give you news on the current happenings in the U.S.
So now the elephant in the room, airport security. According to the Federal Government’s TSA website here are some things you must know.
First, when booking your flight, make sure your airline ticket has the exact same name as the official identification you will be using. It can be a passport or driver’s license or ID card from your state of residence.
TSA will not be looking for a gender marker, which may be different from your identity, anymore. As of 2023, the X marker on your ID is a valid gender marker for TSA. You can check with the airlines if they have that option for you, but it’s not a dealbreaker on domestic flights. Abroad you can certainly have the X marker on your passport, which is also new this year.
In 2022 TSA changed procedures to make it friendlier and safer for Transgender folks going through security. They have changed the algorithm for the AIT full body scanners to now be gender neutral rather than gendered, although the process at this time might not be on all TSA scanners across the country. If the scanner picks up a “hot spot” and the alarm goes off, the hot spot could be where clothing is bunched together or perhaps a prosthetic, or some other anomaly the computer reads. The TSA agent should show you the hot spot on their screen so you know. You have the right to ask for a supervisor at any time during the screening process; you also have the right to ask for a screener to be the gender you feel more comfortable with. TSA agents should only use the backs of their hands for a pat down, and you are not required to lift up any clothing. You also have the right to ask for a private screening area.
Agents have the right to go through your bags at the checkpoint, but you are allowed to ask for it to be done in private, if you have any items that might be embarrassing for you in a public setting.
Which reminds me of a friend who was on her way to give a workshop on sex and all her toys were in her carry-on bag. She was not embarrassed but she told me the TSA officer sure turned red.
Also, be aware that if you are flying home after an international visit, you could be subject to a more scrutinized screening and pat down. So if you are traveling with wigs, packers, dilators, or other potentially embarrassing items, it would be best to put those in your checked luggage if you have one. All your medications, including syringes, should be in their original bottles or boxes with your name and prescription information on them. It’s always a good idea to keep these with you at all times.
The big takeaway here for us is to not be too nervous about it, always tell the truth when asked a question, and try not to get emotional, as this tends to make the whole process worse and they might see your behavior as suspicious.You have the right to bring in a witness with you to a private screening room.
Again you have the right to ask for a supervisor at any time. If a TSA person is treating you disrespectfully or harassing/sexually assaulting you, be sure to get their name and note the day and time of the incident. You should always file a complaint against any TSA agent who acts unprofessionally and with malice against you.
It’s ok to say, I am transgender (or non-binary) and my body may be a little different than most men/women, or just identify yourself as Trans or Non-Binary, of course this should only be said if they require a more extensive pat down.
The best way to protect yourself and have an enjoyable trip is to arm yourself with knowledge! Know your rights and don’t be afraid to speak up.
Visit any or all of the websites I’ve listed here and learn more about your rights. You can even print out your rights from the NCTE website and carry them with you.
I hope this will help all your vacations and trips go smoother!! Happy summer everyone. Meanwhile, I am traveling to Ireland as you read this, so I will let you all know how that goes.
–Connor Maddocks (he, him, his) is a Transgender activist, trainer, speaker, and advocate. You can reach him at [email protected].
- ACLU – Four Ways TSA is Making Flying Easier for Trans People | bit.ly/3BZ5lzZ
- TSA Screening Procedures | bit.ly/3oJ1OCR
- ACLU news article, April 5, 2022 | bit.ly/3oJ2d8l
- NationaACLU website’s Mobile Justice App | bit.ly/3BWOOwF
- HRC Press Release March 13, 2023 | bit.ly/3BZ5lzZl Center for Transgender Equality – Know Your Rights Airport Security | bit.ly/3oJ2hVD
- US State Department – Before You Go, re: LGBTQ+ Travelers | bit.ly/3BXZT0i