There are many horror stories out there about airport security and the TSA (which should probably be abolished). But here’s one heartwarming story to come out of it all, from Amanda Sapir, who’s gender nonconforming:
And then there was the time that I had the most socially conscious TSA pat down ever. After exiting the body scanner I told TSA staff, “The scanner is going to flag my crotch with a big yellow square.” At that exact moment, the scanner results indeed showed the yellow square.
“Happens every time,” I say.
“Why do you think?” she says.
“Because I wear boxer briefs.”
“Oh, what is the gender you would like to be identified as?”
“Well, I consider myself gender nonconforming. I am female and also trans masculine.”
“Let's see what happens when I tell the machine you are male,” she says.
She sends me through the scanner one more time. The yellow square disappears.
Though a yellow rectangle has now appeared across my chest. We both start laughing!
“Now the machine is wondering about…”
“Boobs,” we say in unison laughing some more.
She asks me how I identify so that she may pat me down accordingly.
“You get to decide how you are identified,” she says.
After the screening and pat down, which confirmed I pose no harm and I am not hiding anything anywhere, I let her know, “Thank you. That was the kindest and most socially aware TSA experience I have ever had. Your thoughtfulness really means the world.”
“I love people,” she says, “We should be kind to everyone.”
The story is a beautiful display of humanity — a TSA agent defying expectations set by past experiences with the agency.
But it’s an unfortunate rarity for the TSA, which has long been plagued with issues over how it treats transgender and gender nonconforming people.
Last year, for example, the story of Shadi Petosky, a trans woman, went viral on social media after she live-tweeted her mistreatment at the Orlando airport. These problems are so common that the National Center for Transgender Equality maintains a guide for airport security, and issued a 2015 report calling out the TSA for outing people “against their will only to face bias and harassment.”
It’s also telling that Sapir had a good experience because the TSA agent she dealt with took the time to work around the agency’s equipment — a sign that the tools the TSA uses are inherently unaccommodating to people who identify as trans, nonconforming, or nonbinary.
Still, Sapir’s story is a rare great moment for the TSA — and it demonstrates how the agency can get it right.