TW: transphobia, gender dysphoria
Traveling is a stressful experience for visibly queer people across the globe. The whole ordeal is riddled with activities warped in the gender binary and can be triggering for people who are gender non conforming. In this piece we attempt to share a few tips that may help.
Tip 1- Do not use ID cards that mention a gender
Using a driver’s license or PAN card for your ID verification at the airport is helpful for some trans people as these don’t mention gender on them. This helps you completely avoid the “what [gender] are you?” conversation with airport officials. Also refrain from showing an ID card unless they specifically ask for one. Most smaller airports probably won’t ask for one.
Tip 2- Pick a queue according to how you’re comfortable being frisked
Usually airport staff will ask you to leave and join a different queue according to what they think you should do. You can politely ask them to let you pass. You have the legal right to choose a queue according to your needs.
Tip 3- When in doubt avoid the “women’s” section unless you pass as one. Security in general are more finicky and scrutinising about “women’s” spaces than “men’s” spaces (sigh TERFs!).
If you’re a trans man on hormones and you’ve started to pass it’s suggested that you go through the ‘men’s’ queue.
If you have not had a top surgery, you can wear a binder and an extra layer of clothing, so you are comfortable while being frisked around the chest in the ‘men’s’ queue.
Tip 4- Try and speak to the staff at the desk beforehand. Airports are subjective experiences and what is true for some airports might not be true for others. It is suggested that you get there early and reach out to the staff at the desk once before going through security, if you’re in doubt. They ideally know the airport well and can help you through the process. Even if the staff present isn’t supportive, they’re still obligated to help you through the process.
Tip 5- Whenever possible find a travel partner. Some trans people we spoke to said that they usually travel with another person and that helps ease the tension while travelling and also ensures that there’s another individual there in case things go haywire.
Tip 6- In case things do get tense, have a response ready. Have a prepared response to possible questions like why you picked the queue you did etc. Be as direct and calm in your response as responsible. If the security agent continues to be uncooperative, you can file a complaint later. Prioritise your emotional safety over all else. If you’re in therapy, discuss your anxieties with your therapist and arrange an emergency appointment as and when needed.
Travel can be a daunting experience as a gender non-conforming person. The constant reinforcement of gender roles throughout the process can be exhausting. Make sure to check in with your therapist, post the journey, or at least speak with a friend.
Here’s what Swarnim had to say when we asked them what they wished was different about their experience and how things could have been better.
“Lesser scrutiny, both by the other passengers and the security staff. Flying alone is usually quite distressing for me. For some reason, because of my gender expression, I am needed to be checked more thoroughly at security because I’m a potential threat. And then there’s the confusion of the staff. At times I’m called ma’am which immediately changes to sir as soon as they hear my voice. It doesn’t help my gender dysphoria at all. Something that could have helped is Trans-friendly staff. People who are more sensitive towards varied gender expressions out of the cis-normative box. Security check is specifically one of the scariest points of air travel for most trans women. Proper sensitization would save a lot of us much humiliation.”
Rayyan echoes Swarnim’s thoughts on sensitisation training.
“So legally speaking, it turns out that you can choose whichever line you want to go in. But like everything else, it really depends on the human beings present in these security lines and checks. What would be most ideal would be a neutral line where it’s not just for queer people or genderqueer people, but anybody who just doesn’t want to stand in a just male line or a just female line can choose to go into that line that would work. Gender shouldn’t be considered such a key identity marker. For the most part, there isn’t that much research out there or data about these kinds of experiences and how genderqueer folx go about it. Which has quite a lot of us probably masking their gender identities while traveling. I have heard about trans women who would present as masculine just to avoid the embarrassment. I wish that there was a lot more access to the fact that actually it isn’t just a binary system at the security check and the entrance, and that the law and the government recognizes beyond the binary. Wish that this information was not just made available to other queer people like myself but actually trained and made available to all of the staff and security at the airport.”