Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

The Securitization of Gender

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | September 13, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Brooklyn College, Paisley Currah, political science, Securitizing Gender, Social Research, Tara Mulqueen

A fascinating article is coming out in this Summer/Fall's edition of "Social Research." Written by the highly-regarded Brooklyn College political scientist Paisley Currah along with Tara Mulqueen, it makes the point that use of gender by the Transportation Security TSAScanners.jpgAdministration reduces security not only for transgender individuals, but also for the TSA and the nation.

Gender is one of the few pieces of biometric information currently in use, and biometric information is seen as the "holy grail" of securitization. Thus, TSA has been unwilling to drop the use of gender from identification schemes despite the fact that it causes major problems for transgender passengers.

Currah and Mulqueen make the fascinating point that use of gender in securitization produces less security, rather than more. The purpose of the TSA securitization program is not to verify identity, but to compare passengers against "no-fly" list and ensure that the passenger is not on the list. TSA claims that including gender is going to assist in identifying passengers who belong on the no-fly list because a lot of foreign names do not code as gender-specific to TSA agents.

As Currah and Mulqueen document in careful detail, securitization seeks to crystallize a state of affairs, as found at the time of the creation of the identity document, and produce a warranty that no change will occur. Theoretically, at least, this will ensure absolute verification of identity. But because gender is, among other things, a performance, inherently unstable, absolute verification is an impossible project, a logical impossibility. The securitization project produces only the image of certainty. By providing a false sense of security, it increases danger because it represents that intelligent observation can be replaced by concentrating on an ambiguous data point on a piece of paper.

TSA has attempted to avoid this problem by suggesting that transgender passengers carry a letter from their doctor attesting to their trans status. Aside from being a major invasion of privacy, the idea that an unverified letter is going to solve the ambiguities of gender is obviously ridiculous.

Here's Dr. Currah describing the paper at a conference:

Paisley Currah and Tara Mulqueen, "Securitizing Gender: Identity, Biometrics, and Transgender Bodies at the Airport," Social Research 78:2 (Summer 2011): 556-582. (Abstract)


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****TSA has attempted to avoid this problem by suggesting that transgender passengers carry a letter from their doctor attesting to their trans status. Aside from being a major invasion of privacy, the idea that an unverified letter is going to solve the ambiguities of gender is obviously ridiculous.****

This transwoman is suggesting that the problem can be remedied by having TSA employees carry a certificate that they have completed Diversity Training and are aware that everyone is not just like them, and they are fit to work in a social context.

Beyond clarifying the problem of invading the privacy of transgender people, it will guarantee to the traveling public that the TSA agents are indeed qualified to perform the job function, for which they were hired, in a professional manner.

This transwoman couldn't agree more, Dalmax.

I third this! Make the qualified one's wear a little rainbow pin so we know who to go too.

Also I think that every major hub SHOULD have several Trans TSA agents working. We do have a population that is higher than 1 and so many of us NEED a job. Hiring someone Trans would help in those instances of a person who's traveling mid-transition.

By providing a false sense of security, it increases danger because it represents that intelligent observation can be replaced by concentrating on an ambiguous data point on a piece of paper.

Interesting observation/assertion, truly.

Also, interesting is how much time Curragh spends describing sex characteristics, conflating them with "gender characteristics". The fact that some people are born with mixed sex characteristics and some acquire primary and secondary sex characteristics later in life leaving them with mixed sex characteristics should not become an opportunity to validate post modern theories of gender.

Curragh mentions the man who made it through security until the presence of his gonads were noticed? It would be interesting to have a few more details on that one. This issue is a very complicated one because there are many genital/gonadal possibilities generally having to do with intersex variation, not transsexual medical care. A woman who is born with a vagina and resistant to testosterone will have undescended testes that help her feminize. Removal of her testes will impair her ability to feminize w/out hormone replacement therapy. These are sex issues, however. The man with the gonads that conflict with the rest of what, I would have to assume, are his sex characteristics, primary or secondary, might have a story that is similar in some ways.

Then there are transsexual people whose sex characteristics are going to be mixed, inevitably. In females there won't be a uterus or ovaries. Obviously, since the beginning of time there have been people assigned male and female with mixed sex characteristics. It is the nature of sex that makes things this way. I would agree with the commenter that what is needed is diversity training. I think understanding the diversity of gender expression and the need for self determination would be a necessary component of that training. I think what most people need even more, is sex education that is up to speed with science and developments in medicine in the current times.

Confusion over the way legal sex is defined from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, particularly where it is defined as immutably the way it is assigned at birth should not be something that is used to argue for gender recognition without regard to the realities sex diverstiy and the mutability of sex. Sex can be changed. Sex, has in many cases, has been mis-assigned at birth. The Christiane Volling case in Germany is a prime example of this reality. Volling's case was not that unusual. After much resistance she was awarded a large settlement for the non-consensual surgery she had performed on her. The resistance in her case might have had its roots in religious prejudice but the issue immediately at hand was the way her sex had been assigned by a doctor at birth, a sex that was complicated before she ever developed a gender presentation. One wonders how stifled she might have been in developing a gender presentation congruent with her most inner feelings, her sense of self which would have conflicted with the conditioning involved with a male upbringing because the realities of her sexual nature were dismissed. Regardless, I don't think it is well understood how much stake the medical community has in making birth assignments immutable, particularly pediatric endocrinologists and urologists because of potential liability concerns. A lot of encouragement for manipulating the sex/gender dichotomy comes from that quarter, as evidenced by the approach taken by WPATH, which has an unholy alliance with the Endocrine society.

I could spend more time on this, discussing the men with the enlarged breasts on Howard Stern's Small Penis Contest, which there is a video available of on YouTube. People with unusual bodies and mixed primary/unusual primary and secondary sex characteristics are not all that uncommon. In a two sex society none of this diminishes the significance of a person's primary sex characteristics.

I can't see anyone's purposes being served by making laws that are complicated by the fact that there is so much conflict from jurisdiction to jurisdiction by essentially validating sex assignments made at birth by making distinctions between those who are assigned a sex at birth and those who reassigned, either through medical transitions or by providing evidence significant physical ambiguity at birth. People who have transitioned, the former category, have been singled out this way in the federal ENDA. Enough said, for now, but this issue is extremely complicated because of the nature of sex which goes way beyond gender.

Edith, I agree with everything you said.

He uses an example of "women lack developed breasts" as something unique or problematic for transwomen. Really?

More poor us ~ TSA issues/hassles occur for everyone.
Hurry up, take off your damn shoes and stop worrying.

thanks for making me feel not so "out there", Geena. I could link to the Volling case but there is so much there and so many ways it has been the target of misinterpretation. There is an awful lot to draw from in her situation - from the way Zagria follows her annoying convention and uses a male pronoun to describe her past to the Big Gay Headline entry found on Google. She was born with ovaries and a uterus but the judge refused for the longest time to refer to her with female pronouns. Curtis Hinkle, as usual, incisively points out how differently the judge would have ruled, if she were found to be a Swyers syndrome woman, with a uterus capable of carrying a baby to term through embryo implantation after in vitro fertilization, but with undeveloped breasts and an xy karyotype. If the judge followed the rationale of his opinion, with its over reliance of sex markers that, especially his reliance on the presence or absence of the "y" chromosome which can frequently be at variance with a person's phenotype in a way that will vary in intensity, he would have ruled that she could one day become a pregnant man . . . ridiculous or what?

Volling's case is unusual but not that much so. You don't have to be from "outer Mongolia with moles on (their)[your] right ear(s) (could), on every other leap year,[when] (spontaneously change into beautiful women if)[and have] the moon is in the seventh hour[I thought it was house in the song?]" to have atypical or mixed sex characteristics. Howard Stern proved this without even recognizing he did with his Small Penis Contest. I don't think you would have to look too far in the NYC area but only if people were willing to reveal themselves to those for whom it isn't any of their business.

The TSA issue is definitely a privacy issue. I'm going to go way off the wall and compare it to the way drug testing has been allowed into the lives of ordinary people and how it is now considered routine. There are huge implications,there. TSA screening will inevitably reveal many atypicalities which are certainly violations of medical privacy issues or other privacy issues. I fail to see, however, how this becomes a huge "gender" issue. The guy in the women's underwear seems to be able to travel freely. It falls more under the category of Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Had No Business Asking.

"Your paperz pleez"... (said by a TSA agent, with the best well-practiced SS accent that they teach them in... "Diversity Training.")

History repeating itself?

Oh... that's right, I forgot... it's wartime.

jami