Alex Blaze

Gender doesn't matter when it comes to airport pat-downs

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 22, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

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I'm back in the US but I haven't been subject to one of those full body scans yet. With a new invasion of privacy, a new piece of security state theatre meant to do nothing but force people to submit to random authority once again in the name of "terrorism" (they actually did make us so afraid of traveling that we're abandoning our basic principles... how can we say they haven't won?).

airport-full-body-scan.jpgAnd, of course, it comes with a round of crazy. Last week while I was gone, Peter Labarbera, an internet homophobe who's made a name for himself in some circles by being a clown. When he clowns, some of us clown back, and we feel better, like we won some sort of skirmish in this LGBT war. Otherwise, he's a nobody.

But he did make a point last week, a fairly obvious point that got him mocked although I don't really see how people can disagree with his premise (although his wording and conclusions are back in the silly category):

Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano went out of her way yesterday to stress that the TSA pat-downs are "same-gender" - mostly to reassure women that men will not be groping them at airports in the name of safety.

"But what about homosexual TSA agents?" AFTAH President Peter LaBarbera responded. "Isn't it just as inappropriate for a 'gay' male TSA agent to pat down male travelers as it is for a normal, heterosexual male TSA agent to pat down female travelers?

It doesn't seem like a complicated point: TSA patters-down are to be of the same-sex as the pattees-down so as to avoid the appearance of sexual inappropriateness, but such a system assumes, among other things, that the population and its actions are 100% heterosexual. That's not the case, so their gender segregated patting-down is inadequate.

It is possible for both travelers and TSA agents to be gay. They can also be bisexual. They can be straight with some tendencies and attractions to members of the same-sex. They can be closeted and may never come out. That can't be controlled, and it shouldn't be.

Because sexual orientation, to most people, doesn't really matter. Labarbera seems to be implying that an act isn't gay if straight people do it (just two bros helping each other out, nothing queer about that), but an overtly sexual act like genital touching is, to most people, an overtly sexual act. Newsweek has an article that addresses that indirectly, on how rape survivors are dealing with the new security measures:

For women and men who have already been sexually assaulted, the new screening rules--or just the threat of these rules--present a very real danger. They can be triggering events, setting off a posttraumatic-stress reaction. "I started crying. It was so intimate, so horrible. I feel like I was being raped," an anonymous rape survivor recounted on a Minnesota blog. Melissa Gibbs, a spokeswoman for We Won't Fly, a group protesting the new regulations, says that a rape survivor she spoke to had a panic attack as an agent began touching her leg.[...]

Passengers have the right to have an agent of the same gender perform the pat-down, but McEwan notes that any kind of unwanted touching can trigger an event. Moreover, men who are sexually assaulted are often the victims of other men--"but saying, 'Hey, I want a woman to do this' could lead to a whole other set of problems," Maltz says. Survivors and women's advocates also worry about the potential for bad actors, poor communication (as in Chase's case), and abuse of power will make an already bad procedure worse.

Erin Chase, a blogger who was subjected to one of these pat-downs, doesn't seem to care much about the gender or sexual orientation of the TSA agent:

I stood there, an American citizen, a mom traveling with a baby with special needs formula, sexually assaulted by a government official. I began shaking and felt completely violated, abused and assaulted by the TSA agent. I shook for several hours, and woke up the next day shaking.

Here is why I was sexually assaulted. She never told me the new body search policy. She never told me that she was going to touch my private parts. She never told me when or where she was going to touch me. She did not inform me that a private screening was available. She did not inform me of my rights that were a part of these new enhanced patdown procedures.

When I booked my ticket, I was given no information that the TSA had changed their wand and unintrusive patdown procedures to "enhanced" patdown procedures that involved the touching of all parts of your body, including breasts and vagina on women and testicles and penis on men. I was not informed by any signs on the front side of security about the new procedures. I had not seen any media coverage about the issue, so I had no idea that this was a new government sanctioned policy.

Same-sex pat-downs doesn't assure much of anything, or because even if a TSA agent is completely professional, the entire procedure is already invasive. Chase's account, why it felt like sexual assault to her, wasn't because the TSA agent was a lusty lesbian looking to cop a feel, but because she didn't properly inform the victim passenger what was going to happen. That was one person's line in the sand, what about other people?

The point is it doesn't matter in a security state. People are being trained to give up their personal limits, what makes them different from one another to go through a machine that's getting more invasive and requiring more compliance to rules that simply don't work for everyone.

The result will be a population more willing to accept such invasions and follow such orders as we all get used to these new security measures. The procedures are likely here to stay, and we'll hear less and less about them as we come to accept them. As throwing away your drinks and taking of your shoes to go through a metal detector is being used in non-airport situations now, these measures will expand as well.

Whether it's someone of the same gender doing all these things is irrelevant if we're all supposed to act like machines without desire or reactions to intimate contact. All you have to do is eliminate a little bit of your humanity to get along. What could go wrong with such a system?


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I never liked flying anyway but did it when necessary... Now I will never fly again... All this TSA stuff is more about intimidating the populace than it is about real security...

It makes no difference which party is in power they all want to limit individual freedoms and gather as much power as possible into the hands of the government...

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin --- Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Unlike BobbieJane, I love to fly! To wake up early on a winter morning, take a quick taxi to the airport, relax for a few hours in a plane, and roll outside again to warm sunshine and palm trees is an exquisite pleasure!

I was also born physically deformed, and have been poked and prodded so often, and put through so many surgeries, that I have lost any sense of personal modesty.

So my question is: If I don't want to be exposed to more x-rays, can I insist on a PUBLIC stripsearch? Can I initiate it by putting my top in the tray and loosening the tie on my sweatpants? Can I remove breast pads from my bra to reveal -- wait for it -- breasts? And is there anything sticky that I can shove in my panties, for closer inspection?

I'm thinking beyond the poor inspectors who sheepishly do whatever they're told, to the larger issue of personal liberty. Nudity is a great way to express one's liberty! If it is a choice.

It seems to me that the vast majority of perpetrators are men regardless of the gender of the victim. So I can see why men would not be relieved to know that they are going to be felt up by someone of the same gender the same way some women might be. But gender is the least of most concerns here. Even having all "enhanced" gropes performed by female TSA agents would not solve the problem. In addition to the fact that women perpetrators of sexual assault certainly exist, as you point out the procedure is invasive in and of itself. Many people will feel violated regardless.

it's interesting that when muslims are harrassed at airports, no one gives a damn. but now that security measures inconvenience the rest of us, a big stink is made about personal liberties.

For reference some of us have been complaining about that the whole time as well, but it's definitely a reflection of societal oppression that the media doesn't seem to care when minorities are subjected to it (not just Muslims, do you remember the post 9-11 TSA memo suggesting extra scrutiny for trans people because terrorists might put on dresses to try to avoid scrutiny?).

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 22, 2010 5:54 PM

Not really on your particular facet of the topic, but what drives me up a wall are all of the suggestions, most of them from self-styled "conservatives", that all we need to do is emulate Israel in screening/security measures. Uh-huh, lets see: up to 45 minutes of interviews per passanger. Then let's compare the total number of boardings on Israeli domestic flights at all of its airports, plus boardings on its international flights, with those in/to/from the United States.

Can you estimate the increase in the number of federal employees to do that?

Ok, this is rank Cis-Gender privilege!

For one thing, I am Intersex and Transgender and a survivor of both childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault.
Because of my military experiences, I've been exposed to Alpha, Beta and Gamma emitters as well as numerous RF emitters.
I don't want any more exposures. I won't let anyone touch me. ...actually, those few who I let touch me knows how much it takes out of me. Those who don't know me and still touch eventually heal.
Guess I'll just loose this job if they tell me to fly to a work site.

Thanks for posting on this Alex... I know I'll be flying to Orlando for baseball's Winter Meetings in two weeks, and that's going to be my first exposure to the new procedures. I'll be going in with low expectations, and expect to ask for a private search to just cut to the chase, since I seem to get hauled out for extra attention as a matter of course.

For the first time since I booked my surgery, I'm feeling apprehensive. Not about the procedure, though, just getting there.

I'm flying to Bangkok for vaginoplasty in barely over a month from now. Going down there, I know that, like it or not, these screenings are going to be difficult. Coming back, well, hopefully not, but then again, I'll be fresh from genital surgery, so that's not likely to be too comfortable to be felt up like that.

I don't know. I just don't know anymore...

Melissa Dunagan | November 23, 2010 5:05 AM

We all need to quit flying and put the airlines out of business. I do not want any one seeing my body or touching me.

Paige Listerud | November 23, 2010 2:10 PM

I want to be patted down and I want it to be done by the most attractive security personnel on staff.

I demand that all security personnel be height-weight appropriate, wear perfume or cologne (but not too much, okay?), and have lush, bountiful hair impeccably styled. Of course, professional models, actors and beauty pageant winners would be the most appropriate candidates for this position, but experience in those fields would not be required, provided all other standards of beauty and attractiveness apply.

Now, I prefer personnel of any gender or race to pat me down, but for the sake of the rest of the passengers, all races, ethnicities and genders should be on hand so that passengers may select their preference.

I demand that all security personnel be trained, not only in delivering the most thorough pat down, but also the most lingering and sensuous one as well. I demand that this be done to me in a beautified environment with dim lighting and the mood music of my choice. Chocolates passed out to the passengers at the end of the pat down would be an excellent final gesture from security staff to passenger. If cigarette smoking were still allowed in airports, then cigarettes would also be an excellent souvenir of the experience--but alas!

I may even request that several security personnel, of a variety of gender expressions, pat me down with coy avidity. Make me feel like a whore and I'll make you feel like one, dearie.

I'm ready for my pansexual pat down, Mr. De Mille.

Take the Train,drive,walk,or ride a horse! My S.O. and I were thinking about taking a cruise out of New Orleans this summer? We will get there some how with out having to fly on any of the major airlines. Maybe we can fly in and out of one of the local small airports? Maybe a private charter? At the worst we will drive there again. There is no need to put anyone through the measures of Molestation or extra radiation that seems to be the norm at the airports! The US should ground all airline Passenger service into, out of, and around the USA.

Take that you Terrorists!

We may be winning the battle but we have lost the war!
Especially since it would be easier to have passengers walk through a Explosive detecting tunnel! We can easily detect the smell of explosives! even if we use a dog! No, the TSA has become the closest Terrorist Organization most of us will come in contact with!

Groping is groping. period. If someone damn near puts their hand up my vagina, it's not like the TSA agent can look up and be like "Oh, it's cool, I got one, too. I ain't gay or nothin", and I'd be like "OK, cool. Continue to molest me." If it's bad enough to be considered sexual between a straight man and woman or a gay man and a man, then it's wrong. period.

The music has died. Good-bye Miss American Pie.

If I'm going to be felt up, I expect them to finish the job to my satisfaction! (GRIN) Really, I don't give a shit if some TSA person sees a pseudo x-ray of my body. So what! Get over it, people! For the people who think that's too invasive, you think a full pat down/feel up is going to be any less?? However, I can certainly sympathize with the people who have experienced sexual assault in their pasts and how this might trigger PTSD. Bottom line is, if that's what it takes not to get my ass blown up at 35,000 feet, then so be it.

No one seems to refer to just how much radiation is in these whole body scans, like comparing it to a routine chest xray. Radiation is cumulative. It stays with you. How much radiation are frequent flyers going to be exposed to? When are the lawsuits going to start from radiation side effects?
Where is technology. Things like implants, screws, plates, pins, heart valves, all show up loud and clear on an exray. Why can't the machine just be adjusted to blur living tissue? Also how about ultrasound? Then that would at least eliminate the radiation hazard?
I want to fly safe, but there must be better ways.