Why I Hate TSA

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.

Being a rule follower, I did exactly as asked - even holding my breath.
Being a rule follower, I did exactly as asked – even holding my breath.

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.

Only two choices to make it simple, and nicely color-coded with pink and blue!
Only two choices to make it simple, and nicely color-coded with pink and blue!

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.

75 thoughts on “Why I Hate TSA

  1. no matter what I say I can’t change how you felt in that moment..but think of this as the opportunity to make a difference with TSA. I know that sounds like bullshit but I’ve been in these situations with my ex and it would instantly bring me to tears to see her hurting. So this too makes me upset, but thank you for taking action. much love from this femme.

    • Tinycorners,

      Thank you for your support and love. I am sure that if I had a girlfriend with me, she would have been upset and mad, so it doesn’t sound like bullshit to me.


  2. EVERY person at TSA, including the nimrods who created the 2 button system, need to be given a course of reality. Approximately 2% of the world’s population is “intersex” or having both sexual characteristics. WTF do they have to do/say to get through? I’m sorry you had to go through this. Personally, I never go through the scanner due to cancer scares so I publicly get felt up instead.

  3. solidarity. Have had some very unpleasant experiences with the TSA and those scanners. When they hit the pink button, they see a bump where they don’t expect one and that’s gotten me the extra special attention and a pat-down plus a couple of times. I am having a slight PTSD attack just reading what you went through. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Stand tall. You handled it well, you got through it and got out. Glad you’re going to email the TSA.

  4. I responded on your Twitter and I will expand my thoughts. The TSA puts everyone in a vulnerable position with their questionable security measures. I say questionable because they will be removing body scanners from the airport as early as June of this year.

    You cant stand up to them and voice your concerns because the outcome is you being barred from flying: you are at their mercy.

    I think you should complain using every social media platform at your disposal. I frequently fly within Canada & the States for business and I know between myself and my fellow coworkers we have been put in uncomfortable positions. They need sensitivity training to say the least.

    • Lisa,

      I didn’t see your tweet (maybe you screen name is different?), but I am very happy for you to expand here – always. I did not know they were removing the scanners. I guess that is good… It makes me worry about what is coming next, though. I am complaining as loudly as I can on social media, and you all are helping with your comments and tweets and such. Thank you so much.


      • My screen name is lisamoi. I think Rush sums it eloquently: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. You have to educate the masses when people are acting inappropriately.

  5. That just sucks. They really need sensitivity training in how to deal with “unusual” passengers. But at least they could have been discreet about it and tried to minimize your humiliation, like, “could I see your drivers license and ticket again”? Mostly, I think they hate being challenged to have to think about it. You were slowing down the factory line.

  6. They’ve only gotten it right once for me- but that took a gender-nonconforming TSA woman and a (strategically worn, unfortunately) fitted purple dress shirt…at SFO. I actually wouldn’t mind being asked- it makes it less awkward, given the circumstances, in my opinion. In Amsterdam, they actually had a guy pat me down before I realized what was happening (that was my first experience with the scanner). He found the two yellow squares on my body (with his hands!), panicked and whisked me onto my flight. I really identify with the anxiety that you face in the lineup. I hope they address this issue- kudos for taking this up with the TSA.
    – Jeh

    • Jehna,

      I really appreciate your comment. It confirms for me, my experience, right down to the yellow squares. They have gotten it right for you only once? I think I’ve done only slightly better. I fly all the time,so this is a constant worry for me.

      Damn, it is frustrating. Think there’s a chance that the TSA will listen and any good will come of it?


  7. Ugh, this breaks my heart that you have to go through this. I’ve been through the scanners a couple of times but it was just a generic get in, scan and go kind of thing. There didn’t seem to be any squares etc. that I can remember. I haven’t travelled a lot in the last few years so there’s a lot I’m not aware of, but I am very aware that I, as a cisgendered female who most assume is straight, don’t face the issues you do.

    My confusion and curiosity is this: what do they do about women who’ve had mastectomies (oh wait, I just remembered this: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/breast-cancer-survivor-tsa-humiliated-chest-pat-down-double-mastectomy-article-1.960132)?
    Transpeople in mid-transition or transmen who don’t want bottom surgery? Men who’ve had injuries and had their cocks removed not by their own choice? [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/17/kentucky-penis-amputation_n_929948.html or http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/20/holden-gothia-castrated-boy_n_1610399.html%5D

    Sigh. I’m not sure I can offer words of comfort that have any meaning to you, but I would say if you happened to be flying to NYC, I would offer to meet you for a drink to help you relax after that hell. *hugs*

    • WWG,

      Thank you for your words of support and understanding. I also appreciate the references and articles (just read them all). I travel all the time, so sadly, I have to deal with this every week or so.

      And, thank you especially for the offer of a drink in NYC. I just might take you up on that. XO


  8. I can’t even imagine having to go through that. Ive never had to go through a body scanner and I understand it must be humiliating. Never be ashamed of who you are!

  9. Reblogged this on Dapper, Irish & Butch and commented:
    I just wanted to reblog this awesome post from ButchOnTap, because it sucks that this happens. I’ve been getting called ‘Sir’ a lot more recently, and while it doesn’t immediately bother me, I can see myself reacting in the exact same way should this ever happen to me.

  10. I have really mixed feelings about this. I have had a ton of TSA experiences, (including a pat down after a body scan where they politely asked me if I preferred to have a male or female officer pat me down), and, while I have never been asked if I was a man or a woman, (I would have replied neither), I regularly have to go back through the scanner. The last time the scanner actually didn’t even scan me! TWICE it just refused to work.

    I’ve gone through it packing, (and packies show up the same consistency as plastic explosives), and yes, each time I go through they have pushed the male button. OK. They have two choices. 99% of people physiologically have male ‘parts’ or female ‘parts’. Because society teaches ALL of us just how to see male and female, those of us who fall outside of those norms and refuse to conform to what someone else expects us to be, confuse the hell out of people. Did we not confuse the hell out of ourselves until we began to embrace our unique gender identification and presentations?

    Should I hate or get angry at someone for being confused? If I were a TSA employee, would I not push the button that seemed most appropriate? Would I not then, under their rules for employees, have to ask the person to go back through after pushing the other button? Why yes, yes I would.

    If that TSA employee then makes fun, is sarcastic, rude, or disrespectful, THEN I have every right to get angry. (Though I probably would not because I understand that people fear what they do not know – however I would report it)

    It takes balls, (or vaginas), as big as texas to walk through the world as a gender outlaw. And yeah it is not fun. And sometimes it hurts like hell. But it is who I am. And I also remember that every chance I have to compassionately respond or educate is possibly THE only ‘known’ experience that person will have with someone who is gender non-normative. My job is to treat them as I wish to be treated. To expect them to mind-read and somehow know that this person who looks like what they expect a male to look like is really a female physiologically is absurd.

    Where is the compassion, the understanding, the patience?

    Do I sometimes get nervous going through it? HELL YEAH. Especially when I elect to pack. And when I do, I do so for this very reason…that perhaps I will have a chance to stand in the projections with love and compassion and educate….so perhaps the next packing Butch who goes through and deals with the same TSA agent will be treated a little better…with a little more understanding…. And I am sorry, but I did not read anything in this person’s account that showed disrespect or ridicule… Until society recognizes a 3rd or 4th gender, how can we expect any more than compassionate and fair treatment from those who still see everything in the binary?

    • Toby,

      Thank you so much for your thoughts. I agree that they weren’t disrespectful, per se, but it didn’t lessen the pain of this experience for me. Maybe I need to get tougher. I just don’t feel like I should have to explain myself and declare. Would you please send me your email? I am at butchontap@gmail.com

      I’d like to talk to you about sharing your comment on my blog. Thank you so much.


  11. Hope you don’t mind but I reblogged this post. Like I said, I’ve been getting called ‘Sir’ a lot more recently and while nothing like this has ever happened, I guess I should get prepared. There aren’t body scanner in Dublin airport yet, but it’s only a matter of time… I hope you’re ok now. Those guys are jerks.

    • DapperZ,

      Of course I do not mind! Thank you for honouring me with a reblog. Dublin, eh? Well, maybe you won’t get them at all. One comment says they are starting to remove them here.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Dapper. I appreciate you reading, commenting, and sharing.


  12. Wow! Butch I send you a ton of sweet understanding femme hugs, honey!! Ya just gotta keep on truckin’, Babe! And ya know what! It’s awesome that you sent a letter to the TSA!! As much as we are moving forward in this world and with MTF’s and FTM’s coming out more and more…you’d think they’d get it together.
    Alas, my darling boi..it’s them and not you. Their ignorance. Not your way of being. Not you being butch. Butch on sweetheart! 😉 You’re doing good!!

  13. Morning Butch,

    Let me just say how much I appreciate your blog; love the icon btw.

    I’m astounded that they do this whole male female crap- I’m in Australia and we don’t have many of these scanners yet. I’ve only been through one and it didn’t have the blue/pink buttons. Incredibly it just scanned people….lumps, bumps and dangly bits all in one big category called people. This is surely more reasonable – they’re looking for anomalous materials not flesh….or have there been ‘public safety’ incidents with butch breasts over there??? Hmmn, I know some that certainly qualify…….must install scanner ASAP.

    • Laurton,

      Hi and welcome! Thanks for taking the time to comment. You make a great point. Shouldn’t the scanners really just be looking for plastic explosives and such? Word.


  14. Oh my god, I cant believe you had to endure that! Ok, well I can, as obviously the rest of the world has a lot of catching up to do. I am especially sorry that you had to endure that alone. I find that when my partner is subjected to those situations, as terrible as they are, she finds them easier to deal with when I am there to hold her hand.
    I hope that the world changes its view to encorporate your beauty in it sooner rather than later. Dont be ashsamed or embarrassed about who you are, or how you look, because you are beautiful. No matter what society says.

    • Eldiese,

      First, welcome beautiful! I am so glad to have you here and hope you will comment often.

      Second, what a lovely comment! It would have helped (and has helped in the past) when a partner or friend has been with me. Not the case this time, but I completely agree.

      I appreciate your kind words. :o)


  15. as you are You’re great. We do not know us personally, and yet I say it every Dir (s) of us is unique and we should feel as such and warnehmen. What others say and think it not important

  16. Jeez my little transman is 5 now and we have gone through TSA as a boy with a female name with no issues yet, but we were young makes me cringe thinking of the future. They are definately gonna see a male with no male parts for some time, or is it extra parts they worry about either way sounds so totally degrading. Must be a better way somekind of special card they can swipe so every body (pun intented) gets it… without embarassment.

  17. Thank you for sharing this. As a transman, Airport security checks and bathrooms are my biggest fears (right before spiders and thunderstorms). It seems there should be a way to keep the security and safety of airports high while not stripping anyone of their identity and humanness. I wrote a similar blog post about my own experiences at airports. I don’t know why I didn’t think to complain to the TSA, I think it’s because I am so used to being made less than human I forget that even the TSA should treat me like a human. Thanks for reminding me we are never alone in our experiences and that our voices always matter.
    my story: http://asmyworldtransitions.blogspot.com/2013/01/while-in-transport.html

  18. Oh Butch, I’m so sorry that this has happened. The fact that these machines will only consider you a ‘non-threat’ if your body parts match the button the TSA employee picks is absurd and maddening…so incredibly maddening.

    I don’t understand how gender/sex has anything to do with ensuring that you aren’t a threat. These machines are supposed to be able to see any weapons, right? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be concerned about? Are breasts, penises, and vaginas (or lack thereof) threats to national security now? Why are the machines even checking for that?

    As you described how these machines work, one of the first thoughts that came to mind was a dear friend of mine who underwent a double mastectomy as a result of breast cancer. Going though that was incredibly difficult for her; she felt as if she lost a part of what makes her a woman. She always makes an extra effort to look and feel ‘more feminine.’ The idea that she could be humiliated and made to feel small or less than simply because her body won’t match the machine no matter which button the TSA Agent pushes breaks my heart, and makes me incredibly angry.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say, I follow your blog and I love it; this particular post hit a nerve for me. So much so, that it has taken me a very long time to comment. I fight hard and fiercely for those I care about and anyone I feel is being mistreated/discriminated against, and tend to get very emotional over it. I was so fired up by this that I couldn’t gather my thoughts into words without sounding completely irrational and filled with anger; I can’t even imagine the amount of restraint it took for you handle this situation both as it was happening and after the fact.

    That being said, I think you’re handling it beautifully, love. While the TSA Agent may have been ignorant, (and an asshole, as she could’ve simply had you go through the scanner again pressing the opposite button from the first time) the bigger issue is the TSA’s policy and procedures. I commend you for challenging that appropriately and through avenues that can get results. It’s butch to fight back. 😉


  19. I am a mtf transsexual and after my breasts had started to be fairly noticible, my uncle fell ill and I had to take a trip in guy mode to see him because I love my uncle but my grand parents are not LGBT friendly. I essentially had the same situation as you, but there was no question as to weather I was male or female. They had a male TSA agent thoroughly verify that my breasts were not weaponized, thus resulting in my first time to 2nd base.

  20. Hey – thanks for the piece on the TSA – I read it in the Huffington Post. I’m a fairly masculine gay guy who’s never confused anyone about his gender, so I had to read your piece to even consider what the the experience must be for you. From now on I’ll try to be more sensitive to butch women, femme guys and anyone else who doesn’t conform to stereotypical gender expectations. Though while I couldn’t to the gender-oriented aspect of your account, I totally recognized the awful feeling you felt in the pit of your stomach. As an Arab-american I feel it whenever I travel.

  21. Fabulous article, thanks for writing this. The TSA scam is one of the most horrendous frauds ever perpetrated on the American people. What kind of airline safety do we get from a bunch of high-school dropout thieves? (ALWAYS keep your eyes on your stuff as it goes through the scanner! — lots of robbery tales all over the internet). Moreover, does anyone really trust that the scanners are safe? Why would anybody submit to a voluntary X-ray?

    I am a transwoman who refuses to go through the scanners — always demand the “opt-out” pat-down. You can tell it makes them uncomfortable, which is the idea. Plenty of abuse and and humiliation every time I fly. My only protest is to never, ever speak to those goons — just nod if a reply is needed. Like maintaining one’s dignity through a concentration camp shakedown.

    I’m tempted, though, to make gurgling sounds as they open the waistband of my pants or skirt, and then say “oh, that was wonderful… could you do it again?” That might get you through security in a hurry!

    • Sara,

      Welcome! Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. I hate that this is such s common problem for me and so many others. Ugh. Sharing and educating are all we can do right now. Thank you for helping with both.


  22. Butch
    Seems that you have hit a nerve here. I read the pieces in the Huffpost and in Salon and this seems to be a wide spread experience. Your reader who experiences PTSD symptoms because he is Middle Eastern caught my heart!
    I have never had to experience the scanner because I have several metal parts (think 6 million dollar grandmother), Still I have to get patted down and that is not an experience I can recommend to ANYONE. When I am dressing for a flight I think about who else is going to know what I’m putting on (or NOT putting on as my mood dictates). Also, what do you chat about while someone has her hands up your bum? Emily Post never covered this situation! I sometimes feel that I should add these people to my Christmas card list because we have gotten very close!
    How about this? Can we come up with a way to let these people do their jobs; if we can agree that they are not inherently evil, just ignorant? I have had a couple of ideas and am sure your readers can think of tons of better ones.
    1. How about a bin of cards that you pick to select your gender and hold up for the scanner to see as you step into the box? They could be anything from funny to cute to textbook.
    2. How about putting the buttons on OUR side of the machine and letting US push the one that pertains?
    There has to be a way to retain human dignity and still be safe!

  23. I would really love to hear what the OP thinks would be an appropriate fix to the issue that won’t be detrimental to the security of the rest of the flying public. You can’t just get rid of the body scanners as metal detectors and becoming more and more obsolete and you can’t let people choose the button on their own without the agent seeing due to the fact that they could use that to try and bypass the screening.

    So, OP, on your infinite knowledge of nation security, how would you address the issue other than complaining?

    • Yuki,

      I am the author of the blog. My reply is that simply, it is not my job to fix the problem. It is my responsibility to speak up and share how badly the system is failing some of us – and I have done so. I am not a national security expert.

      But I don’t have to be to know that those scanners are not making us safer. Indeed, they are so dangerous that we are the only country to use them and we will be getting rid of them soon. The scanners, TSA, and Patriot Act haven’t made us any safer. They’ve just forced us to give up many of our freedoms – for no reason other than fear.

      It’s a big mistake. We need to fix it. We pay flocks of people to be experts in these things. I offered to work with the TSA on better training protocols. They have still not replied to my complaint.

      You’ve challenged me here on my blog, so let me challenge you. What are you doing to make our country more inclusive for those that don’t fit gender norms, or safer from terrorism?


      • You said multiple statements that are incorrect.

        1. We are not the only country to use them. The UK, Amsterdam, Australia, Canada, and other western nations use the millimeter wave scanners at their airports.

        2. The TSA will not be getting rid of the millimeter wave scanners anytime soon. They only stopped using the backscatter scanners because Rapiscan couldn’t come up with a privacy filter mandated by Congress.

        3. Metal Detectors are no long reliable forms of screening people as knives and bombs can be made without any metallic substance.

        It’s not just fear, it’s reality. Anyone who has seen the two giant holes in NYC would know that. The world has changed and we need to keep adapting to keep up. In the new era of “globalization”. We can no longer believe that our oceans will keep us safe from outsider threats.

        Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to adapt a system to people that don’t fit gender norms without offending someone, making it less secure, and/or making things more complicated., One person suggested they have their ID on them, but that of course is not a viable option as some people have to keep an id that doesn’t reflect the gender they are. Thus you would still need to ask them about it.

        As for me? I’m out there screening hundred of people and thousands of bags a day. I’m making sure that everyone who flies can do so without the fear of being hijacked or exploding mid-air. That’s what I’m doing. That’s my job and as far as I’m concerned, even if it offends people, I’m more than happy to do a thankless job so long as people get to their destinations safely and no one ever has to deal with losing their loved ones in airborne terrorist attack.

        • Yuki,

          I disagree with you, but I respect your opinion and your job. I’m always very nice and respectful to the agents. I’m asking that there be a change in trek ing or some shift in process that allows this yo be less mortifying for so many Americans. That is all.


  24. Hi Butch,

    Your story reminds me a bit of a friend. My friend is a very dramatic effeminate homosexual who I met when I was 19 and still coming out of the closet. Although my friend could have found ways to conform to society’s expectations of roles and demeanor, he chose to be himself. He taught me that sometimes being oneself despite peer pressure is the highest form of courage.

    I have another friend who has Klinefelter syndrome. Although he is male, he has often times been mistaken for a butch lesbian. He tries to be masculine and still often gets mistaken for a woman. It is tough to be true to oneself when society gets confused.

    Your story does remind me of how far we have come though. 30 years ago when a person’s gender was ambiguous, the person would often be the subject of ridicule and horrendous remarks. At least the people interacting with you treated you in a courteous manner.

    The last person who your story makes me think of is my Dad. At the age of 77, he will drive down country roads at 10 miles per hour looking for berries to pick (he makes awesome jam). He doesn’t worry about the line of cars behind him or that they expect him to drive faster. He is who he is and if someone doesn’t like it, they can pass him by…

    Be strong, be tough and be yourself.


    • JustMe,

      Thank you for sharing those thoughts. I especially love your father! How awesome is that? I’ve got this great image of him driving and slowly scanning for berries with like 10 cars all jammed up behind him. Excellent. Thank you!


  25. Hi Butch,
    I read your story and my heart just cringed for the humiliation I “know” you felt that (and every travel) day. The reason I know your stomach knotted up as you approached the AIT machine, again waiting to see if your image on the screen was “approved” and if the world was going to see big yellow boxes on your private parts, while stoic officers decode what went wrong is because……………..
    I’m a TSA Officer… and our stomachs knot up every time we see someone approaching the AIT that we’re unsure of their gender. Do we ask? Will we offend them? Will we get us the cuss out of our lives (or worse, an official complaint)? Officers begin observing any and all signs that “might” lend a clue to the correct gender (a hair clip, bracelet, money clip, bra-strap, a bulge……) but these observations have to be descrete, we don’t want to make the passenger uncomfortable. Oh, we can get it wrong and have to re-scan. Trust me – we hate it that anyone has to see those yellow boxes, especially when they’re planted smack dab on one’s private parts!
    Hopefully, heartfelt letters like yours and input from vested parties will work to make improvements in some aspects of the system . I just want you to know that we (the officers) don’t all have fangs and suck blood. We do have empathy for what the traveling public goes thru to make a living or see a loved one. Many TSA Officers are compassionate, empathetic and do things to make your pass thru security as painless as possible (listen, smile, clear your “yellow boxes” quickly, get to know repeated passengers…).

    Don’t waste your energy hating TSA or anyone, their not worth your effort – It’s so exhausting to hate; Blog it – Change it – and Move on with your life. You’ve got lots going for you 😉

    • Chaisabeach,

      Your comment is very welcome. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it. I love the reframe and your post has given me a touch of that. Thank you.

      Would it be alright with you if I shared your comment with all my readers?


  26. I’m sorry that this happened to you. I understand how horrible your encounter with those dumbasses must have made you feel. Flying out of Newark “Liberty” Airport (love that irony!)last year, one of the geniuses manning the machine that screens carry-on baggage for dangerous chemicals and things that blow up decided that my contact lens solution was a potential threat to life and limb. I was ordered to spread my arms and legs in front of everyone waiting in line while a particularly offensive TSA Nazi ran her hands over my body. It would have sucked anyway, but it sucked 1,000 times worse because I was sexually abused as a child and NOBODY touches me like that without my permission. But, like you, I needed to make my flight so I did nothing but submit to being groped while my legs shook and tried not to cry. So yes, I get it and now that I know about their stupid pink and blue squares I’m even angrier. You have confirmed my suspicion that the TSA goes out of its way to hire insensitive douchenozzles.

  27. I’ve had many run ins with TSA that have gone just like this. Once I stepped into the scanner and stood there with my hands up for an abnormal about of time till i finally looked at the lady who was operating the machine. She proceeded to say to me “say something” well the kicker is i have a deep voice so i just told her i was a female. The time before that i went through the scanner, stepped out and was approached by a male tsa agent who told me he needed to pat down my chest. I told him i was a female and was then asked to step back into the scanner before i was allowed to go on my merry way without a problem. And last but not least, i went through the scanner with my id in my pocket and had my legs patted down by a male TSA agent. Its a horrible experience that you can do nothing about because at that point you are at their mercy to get to your plane.

  28. I Quit that gig 5 years ago now. It wasn’t a good fit because I am a creative type. I cannot deny the TSA experience can be harrowing if not frustrating or worse for some passengers but I LONG for the media, the GOVT or even the general public to try and see that TSA employees are human too and often dread coming to work -as I did even -especially after I got promoted. I think to illustrate my point I think you should all go to “Glassdoor.com” and do a search under TSA and read what current employees and former employees are saying about the job they do and how they feel about it -and you might be enlightened. I think it hurt the most since I am a creative type -when other creative types and hipsters traveling would insult me because they wanted to act like “rebels” -but if they really wanted to be real rebels and not posers would they talk back to a cop or insult soldier on leave, no. It’s easy to mess with someone when there are no consequences for your actions. I understood people are stressed and hate long lines and stupid procedures that are embarrassing but it’s no fun being on the other side of that either.

    • Thanks for posting. There has to be a better way to do things than how it’s done now. It seems like it’s no fun for anyone involved, really. I’ve also had TSA people be really cool about the whole thing. The tone that someone asks a question with makes a huge difference in how you feel, so I’ve had totally different experiences depending on who is working the scanner that day.

  29. Thanks for writing this. I’m a butch too, and I hate the body scans. My girlfriend likes them better, though, because the underwire on her bra always sets off metal detectors. She has to wear bras with underwire to support her or else it’s really uncomfortable, and her body type is also not considered the ‘norm’ or whatever for these kinds of checks. And of course whoever designs these systems doesn’t think about bras and people of different sizes. So she gets the extra treatment and a lot of confused looks when we go through metal detectors (Every time! They must have seen this before, right?), and I get the extra treatment when we go through the body scanner. Whatever happens, one of us always gets wanded or a pat-down.

    It helped a lot to read your post though and know we’re not alone.

    • Gil,

      I’m glad you like the piece. Hoping to make others feel less isolated was a driving force in writing it. I’m sorry, though, that you and your GF face constant scrutiny. Ugh.

      On a lighter note, welcome! It’s nice to have another butch in the house. Please stick around and comment.


  30. I didn’t have a chance to read all the comments, but in case no one mentioned it: there’s an app called “flyrights” that lets you report TSA abuse or harassment in realtime on a smartphone. It was designed for use by Muslim folks who are unfairly profiled, but it functions well for other kinds of harassment, mistreatment, and profiling (including gender).

  31. I hate TSA with a passion. I didn’t know they had those male/female buttons they had to push. Maybe eliminate those. Flesh is flesh, they should be looking for weapons. But in any case, I’ve had my share of experiences with TSA. While I’m very obviously Female, because I have big breasts and curves, being Butch, I noticed I was far more scrutinized most times than my partner(who is also Butch). She has a much more midWestern look, blonde flattopped hair and blue eyes and flys on by, whereas having obvious tattoos, leather, heavy jewelry and somewhat ethnic Jewish appearing, for those who recognize my Jewish background, I’ve always had a much harder time passing through. I remember I got BOTH the stupid machine, AND THEN felt up by one of the TSA agents. I did not get it, was the scanner not enough? I also worry about the cancer risks as well. This whole thing is overdone as far as I’m concerned. And I am sick and tired of being a lifelong American who is treated like a criminal every time I want to fly these days, which makes me NOT want to fly at all!

    What also pisses me off is seeing elderly and children being treated this way, and seeing a young kid crying when the TSA was pawing all over him! Fortunately I’ve never had to go to one of the rooms, but there’s times I’ve had to go to the cattle chute, and then be WANDED on top of everything else I’ve endured.

    • FeistyAmazon,

      I’m sorry to hear that you so frequently have a bad experience. It’s really an untenable situation and it must change. I’m fresh from another TSA fail as I wrote this.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your experiences. Welcome!


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