TSA outrage critical mass: Angry White Guy Syndrome


Since 9/11, disenfranchised groups have been trying to get traction about our eroding civil rights while traveling, without much luck. That's why I was delighted to see angry white guys finally reach the tipping point. They are even more potent a force in creating a media frenzy than Missing White Woman Syndrome. Now that white guys are being objectified, scrutinized, touched, and considered guilty until proven innocent, they are finally getting a taste of what an encounter with authority can be like for other groups on a daily basis, and not just when traveling. Welcome to our world, dudes!

Even before 9/11, transgender people were especially susceptible to delays and humiliation because of gender-segregated screening. The Real ID Act and similar legislation are especially onerous for trans people, since successfully changing your legal name and sex depends on the state and even the judge. Back in 2003, I wrote a short piece called "Gender Terrorists" (I myself have been called a "terrorist" because of my style of political activism. It's the new "communist"). My piece was in response to a NY Times article about the Pentagon screening The Battle of Algiers for military and DHS higher-ups. Read on for more about how this is a war on non-assimilation, and why it usually takes assimilated people to cause a media frenzy.

If you haven't seen Battle of Algiers (which I consider one of the best films of all time), here's the basic plot: the French occupation force in Algeria faces insurrection from Muslims tired of 130 years of colonialist rule. As tensions mount, the Algierians are forced to submit to greater restrictions of free movement, including more rigorous security checkpoints and additional government identification (sound familiar?).

The French soldiers resort to increasing violence and intimidation against the Algerian Muslims, which leads to terrorist activity in the European parts of the capitol, Algiers. The film is among the first to detail the cell structure developed by the French Nazi resistance (currently employed by al Qaeda), as well as the counterterrorism methods (aka Guantanamo Bay-style torture) employed against cell structures in Algieria by the French, who were now in the role of the occupiers.

One of the recurring themes is the freedom that assimilated women have in moving around the city. There's a scene where Muslim freedom fighters get rid of their hijabs and cut and color their hair to "pass" as Francophilic Muslim women. The scene is shot in a very intimate fashion, and it is designed to show the sacrifice of their "true" identities for the greater good.

By flirting with guards at checkpoints and by bringing children, the attractive women are allowed to move through carrying bombs and messages without waiting, while the unassimilated men get harassed. There's also a scene where the male leaders of one terrorist cell put on hijabs in order to escape a dragnet. They are given away by their boots, once again showing how men are hopelessly lost when it comes to accessorizing.

All of the fear shown in the movie will feel very familiar and is about the invisible threat. I have often used an illegal immigrant metaphor to discuss trans political status. The people in our community who don't assimilate are easily ghettoized and face incredible difficulties, but what really freaks some people out is not genderqueer people, but those who "pass," especially attractive trans women.

If you happen to be trans and are reading this, the Transgender Law Center continues to lead the way on fighting for the rights and dignity of trans travelers. Trans travelers can file a report. Here's their summary:

If you are traveling this weekend or in the future, here is what you need to know:

Full-Body Scans and Pat-Downs
Airports are increasingly using full-body screening technology ("Advanced Imaging Technology" or AIT) to screen passengers as a primary or secondary method of screening. This screening technology reveals the intimate contours of travelers' bodies, including breasts and genitals.
The screening may also reveal any prosthetic device or binding materials, including a "packy," binder, breast enhancement material, etc., that you are using.
You have the right to choose whether or not to be screened using the full-body scanner.
If you opt out of using the full-body scanner, you must submit to a pat-down search instead. Many people find the pat-down search extremely invasive, as it may involve TSA officers using their palms and fingers to touch underneath and between breasts, inside thighs, and in the groin area and buttocks.
You may be selected for additional screening including an enhanced pat-down, for other reasons, even if you have successfully passed through the full body-scanning machine.
If you are selected for additional screening you may not opt out.
If you are selected for additional screening, you may request that the screening be conducted in private. A companion may accompany you during the additional screening.
According to the TSA, pat downs are conducted by a TSA agent who is the same gender as you. Please let us know if they do not respect your gender identity.
Although media reports show conflicting practice, according to the TSA these invasive pat-downs are not to be used on travelers under the age of 13.
You MAY NOT opt out of BOTH the full-body scanner and the pat-down search. If you refuse both options, you cannot fly.
Once you reach the security checkpoint you must complete the screening process or you may be fined up to $11,000.

If you are non-trans and have had an issue that needs redress, we can all file a complaint with TSA. I recommend not just leaving it in their hands, since they are self-regulating. Contact your local lawmakers and media outlets, whether you are an angry white guy or not. But especially complain if you are an angry white guy, as it's clear that you will be taken more seriously by the media more quickly and effectively than trans people have been in almost a decade of activism. Know your rights, and exercise them!