Travelling While Trans: Jamie shares his story

The Summer holiday season has got into full swing  and our annual camping trips are coming up fast. We’ve been thinking about the potential challenges of travelling as a trans or gender variant person, inspired by our short survey about trans and gender variant people’s experience of using airports in the UK. We’ve had some insightful responses. 

Below Gendered Intelligence’s Communications Officer Jamie shares his recent experience of flying through an airport in the US. 

In June, I travelled to the US to attend Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. After a short trip to New York, my partner and I flew back to London through JFK.

You might not be aware that all passengers who travel through airports in the US are obliged to undergo a fully body scan as a security check. In times of increased surveillance at airports, travellers from marginalised communities, including trans people, have reported facing an uncomfortable degree of scrutiny while flying.

There is no reason that anyone should find the experience of a full body scanner comfortable, but for trans and intersex people there can be added difficulties. The scanner is calibrated to recognise “female” or “male” bodies. Any body parts that cannot be mapped on to those figures show up as anomalies on the security system.

While you stand inside the machine with your hands above your head, an image of your body is checked by security personnel.  Depending on the system in use, this image is either an accurate representation of your naked body, or a cartoon-like figure.

If an anomaly is detected, the passenger is then subjected to an additional security procedure – which generally means a pat down and a hand swab to check for explosive material.

I had travelled through airports in the US a few times before and gritted my teeth through several scans – for some reason, my body had never registered as an “anomaly”. This time, I wasn’t so lucky. Once I exited the body scanner, a security officer gestured to me to step to the side, instead of passing through to collect my hand luggage.

The security officer proceeded to give me a pat down. As he passed his hands over my chest, a look of surprise registered on his face: “What is that?”. I haven’t yet had top surgery.

“I’m transgender”.  The officer seemed mildly confused. I told him that I was “born female”.  These aren’t the words I would ideally use to describe my situation, but I wanted to avoid further confusion.  It worked – the penny dropped. The officer smiled sheepishly as he swabbed my hands.  He turned out to be kind, and almost puzzled that I had got myself into this position, as if I could have made the situation easier for myself.

Unfortunately, airlines do not provide you with a guide to being “trans at the airport” to navigate the current system.  Travellers who do not match conventional expectations of gender have to rely on airport staff to have sufficient knowledge and act sensitively in response to it.  As the #TravellingWhileTrans (or #TravelingWhileTrans) hashtag attests, many airports are spectacularly far off of the mark.

I found my experience at JFK embarrassing at worst.  If I was more vulnerable, or was treated in a less respectful way by the security offer, it could have been traumatic. We can’t be expected to depend on the benevolence of individual security staff or having had a particular type of surgery in order to feel safe.

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Jamie, GI’s Communications Officer

 

 


 

Gendered Intelligence is planning to take 70 young trans people camping this August. It’s a massive undertaking by our team, but we know that the camping trip has a huge impact on the young people who take part. 

To make the two camping trips happen, we have to raise £12,000 by the 12th of August.We need your support. We’re over halfway there, but there’s still a steep climb until we reach our target. 

Quote by Alex, 16

 

 

 

 

A young trans person shares their story of our camping trip

Gendered Intelligence is planning to take 70 young trans people camping this August. It’s a massive undertaking by our team, but we know that the camping trip has a huge impact on the young people who take part. 

To make the two camping trips happen, we have to raise £12,000 by the 12th of August. We need your support. We’re over halfway there, but there’s still a steep climb until we reach our target. 

Jamie, a 20-year old young person who attended last year’s camp, has written about their experience and why it was so special.

Camping with Gendered Intelligence meant so much to me. I’d only had bad experiences of camping on previous school trips, so I had no idea what to expect. However the GI camp was nothing like I’d ever been involved in before.

Everyone who was there wanted to be there. All the volunteers wanted to help and were brilliant in doing so. If you ever needed advice they’d try their hardest to guide you – even if it was the simplest task like finding the toilets at night!

I was really nervous about the camp at first because I actually have social anxiety, and so making friends and even encountering social situations in general is difficult. However camp really helped me. There was always someone to talk to, and the volunteers made sure that you were never left out. I made some good friends at camp; people I’m still in touch with now – a year on!

I think one of the best things about GI camp is that it is so accepting. You have so much freedom there. No one pressures you to do anything you don’t want to do. You can sit out of activities if you like (although I really liked kayaking!) You can have a timeout from socialising if you need it. No one judges you either. You can wear whatever makes you feel comfortable in the swimming pool. You can use whichever bathrooms you want.

You can talk openly about how you’re feeling. In this protected space you can be yourself, whoever that is or turns out to be.

I think for me, actually leaving to go home was the hardest part of camp. I remember getting asked, rather jokingly, by a family member if I was ready to come back into the ‘real world’ now. I remember feeling like this was such a surreal and ironic thing to ask, seeing as I’d felt camp was actually one of the most ‘real’ experiences in my life. In camp you got a very valuable opportunity to learn and understand others’ identities, and (perhaps more importantly) your own identity. For me, camp helped massively with self-discovery.

Three days may not seem very long but the time I spent with the others, and the memories I gained from this whole trip stayed with me for much, much longer.

Coming back from camp made me hopeful that the ‘real world’ would one day incorporate all the love, freedom, acceptance and self-expression that I experienced at camp.

Name: Jamie(/still discovering)

Age: 20

To donate to the camping trip, click here

Gendered Intelligence’s view of the Government’s Trans Inquiry response

Gendered Intelligence welcomes the Government Response to the Women and Equalities Committee Report on Transgender Equality.

We support the Government’s commitment to review the Gender Recognition Act.

In particular, we welcome the move towards self-determination of gender. The Government’s commitment to address the ‘unnecessary bureaucracy and to assess the need for medical checks’ within the 2004 Act sends a message to the general public that the role of the state and medical establishment in deciding an individual’s gender identity is excessive, and should be reduced.

At its inception, the Gender Recognition Act was a progressive piece of legislation and a reflection of dedicated campaigning by trans activists in the UK. However, there is now a global movement towards legal self-determination of gender and we believe that the government must follow the example of countries like Ireland and Argentina.

Gendered Intelligence works extensively in the education sector including Higher and Further Education. The Government’s response to work with Universities to include trans students in their learning environments, in part by addressing bullying and discrimination, is fundamental to many of our young members.

In 2015, Gendered Intelligence wrote guidance aimed at service providers who work have transgender customers, clients or service users . This guidance was well received by the business community. However, more needs to be done to ensure that trans people can access services without prejudice alongside everyone else. It is imperative that all trans and gender variant people are respected as their self-identified gender while using public and private services.

Recognition of everyone’s right to determine their gender will only come through a wide-spread effort to educate, inform and train members of the public, from students at school to employees in the public and private sectors.

We sincerely hope that the Government will take decisive action on the points it has raised in its Response.

About Gendered Intelligence

Gendered Intelligence is a Community Interest Company, that provides activities, support and resources for the trans community. We work with trans community and all those who impact on trans lives; specialise in supporting young trans people 8-25.

We do Trans Youth Work, Work in Education, Professional Services and Public Event.

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