Some days are worse than others. I’ve talked a lot here about what I experience as a butch. Specifically, how people interact with me because I do not conform to gender identities that they expect. I feel all lined up on the inside. I am a woman physically, and I feel like a woman. But … I don’t always look like a woman – or at least what you (the societal you) expects to see on the outside. The expectations go like this:
Big and tall = male.
Short hair = male.
Strong, unapologetic presence (aka, swagger) = male.
Soft face = female.
Woman’s voice = female.
Breasts and no Adam’s apple = female.
All of this adds up frequently to confusion, at best, and hostility at worst. There have been really great pieces written by various butch bloggers about the horrific bathroom stories us Butches routinely experience. The bathroom really seems to bring out the worst in everyone, doesn’t it? I have also written about how my femme girlfriends have experienced this; it’s unpleasant, ranging to infuriating, for our femmes, too.
Why am I ranting today?
You may remember that a few days ago the gay flight attendant called me sir. Right, duh. Anyway, whatever. Indeed, today as I am writing this on a different plane, the flight attendant called me sir, and didn’t even acknowledge me when I corrected her. Dumb people suck. But, the reason for my rant today is TSA. I am going to tell you why I hate them. [Hate is a very strong word and I never use it casually. Indeed, it’s a bad word in my house and the kids can't use it either. So, I use it here today to really convey the depth of my anger...]
On at least 3 other occasions, I have gone through the body scanner at security and had to wait a moment longer, or be rescanned. I know that this is because they thought I was a guy, but my naked body scan showed a body other than what they expected – boobs and no penis, to be specific. Waiting in the security line, when there is a body scan has become quite anxiety producing for me. Will they get it today? Will they ask themselves while looking at the scan, “Where is that guy’s penis?” Or, “Why does he have boobs?” Ugh. How embarrassed will I be?
Today, I prepared for the security as I always do. I am a rule follower. And, I don’t want anyone to have to wait for me. Get it right. Liquids out. Laptop in the bin – all by itself, nothing on top of it. Briefcase directly on the belt. Shoes and jacket off. Bracelets, rings, watch, wallet, and belt removed while in line and put away. I saw the body scanner so I also took my charms out of my pocket (they don’t set off the metal detector). Though stressed, I was ready.
I was sent to the body scanner. I stood there making sure to shadow the drawing on the wall in front of me with my arms up and holding my breath. 3 seconds. Rule follower. I step out and wait in that spot where we all wait while some anonymous stranger decides if I am a threat, if my body scan matches what it’s supposed to. Turns out today that it does not. I knew it was coming because I saw the two squares of alarm show up across the male picture on the screen where my boobs would be.
The guy keeping me from my plane – you know, the one who stands there right in front of you and tells you when you are free from that little pen – he asks, “Would you mind going through again?” No, I reply, with dread rising in my stomach and chest (where my womanly boobs are – right where everyone can see them). I turn around and wait for the person behind me to be scanned. From this spot I see that the woman running the machine (not an anonymous stranger here, here she is a stranger in plain sight) has to push a button on the screen before it starts. Now, I see I was right. There are only two buttons on the screen – “MALE” and “FEMALE.” The two buttons are even color coded to make it idiot proof, I suppose. What colors do you think they are? Blue and pink. So, so creative and forward thinking of TSA.
The passenger behind me is lucky that he’s all lined up as a man. She hits the male button, zip bang boom; he gets to step out and heads on his merry, male-identified way. Now it’s my turn. Whee!
She signals for me to step back inside and then, the kicker, asks me, “Would you mind if I ask you if you are a man or a woman?” Really? Yes, really.
Well, hell yes, I mind. Wouldn’t you mind? Hey, are you a man or a woman? Are you a freak because I can’t tell? Hey, do you have a penis to go with those breasts? Yes, I mind. I would mind. And, today I did mind.
But, remember that I am in a little pen, waiting to get to my flight. I can’t get to the rest of my day without answering. And, if I make trouble for her – by I don’t know… yelling at her OF COURSE I MIND YOU IGNORANT FOOL! – then I won’t be making my plane. And, on top of that, there’s a flock of people there who aren’t friends of mine. People who will assume I’m a terrorist, or a jerk, or whatever they assume, but who would certainly be irritated that I was causing a delay – making a scene.
In case you are thinking, “But Butch, you are a big tough outspoken butch. Why didn’t you give her a piece of your mind?” Have you ever been pulled over by a cop for a traffic violation that you didn’t do? And you know it’s because of profiling, or you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe the cop is just bored? Well, did you scream at the cop? Did you refuse to give the cop your license? No. You can’t do that or you would get arrested. And, if I did anything like that here, I would most certainly have been removed to a private room and strip searched, or detained. No matter what, I would not have been making my plane.
So, I didn’t say what I wanted to say. Instead, I simply said, “No. I’m a woman.” With that, I was ushered into the machine, where I stood, again, making sure to shadow the drawing on the wall in front of me with my arms up and holding my breath. 3 seconds. Even when hurt and angry, I am a rule follower. This time she pushes the FEMALE button, it’s easy to find being pink and all, and my body lines up. No little squares on my chest now. The machine now validates my very existence as a woman, “She’s a she and she’s got bumps where she should and none where she shouldn’t.” Whew. What a relief.
Are you kidding me? I laugh and I write here to try to work through the pain of it. How crappy is this? I can’t explain really adequately how much I hate TSA on this day.
I wait for my belongings to come out of the belt, and I walk over to the bench after I’ve collected them. I am numb, no, not numb – because I am feeling lots of things. Bad things. Painful things. I am in shock. I am embarrassed and I cannot believe what just happened. I walk through life proud and tall. I am certainly insecure, but I am never ashamed of myself or apologetic about who I am. Not Ever. I won’t apologize for not looking the way you think I should. And, if you don’t like it, you will not be in my life, or if you must be in my life, you will get the barest possible minimum of involvement from me and certainly, none of my heart (unless you read my blog… plenty of heart here).
But this situation is different. I can’t tell the idiot calling me a “Dyke!” from across the street to “Eff off!” or even better “Thank you!” I don’t have my friends with me, or a girlfriend to squeeze my hand and whisper, “It doesn’t matter, baby. It’s ok.” I am without coping mechanisms in this situation. So, what do I do?
First, I tweet out how angry I am. Including to TSA. Then, I take a few minutes and call a very good friend for help. She is on my side and I tear up as I tell her. Sigh. It can’t be right that it goes this way. And, I write, of course. It makes me feel better immediately. Thank you for listening, by the way.
I am filing a complaint with TSA. They need to know what this feels like. They need to make some changes. There should be another way to do this. Another way to handle those of us that don’t conform to gender stereotypes so that we don’t feel less than human. I’ll let you know what TSA says. How awesome would it be if something came of this?
Until then, I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating… It’s butch to be yourself – no matter the cost or what a stupid machine thinks of you. Be Butch.