Coming back from holiday last weekend, I flew from Las Vegas airport. I was constantly misgendered, but this really doesn’t surprise me or bother me. I was returning from a canyoneering holiday in Zion, Utah and wearing dark Jeans, combat boots, carrying a DPM backpack and, in an effort to get bumped to an exit aisle (as has happened on the way out) a green British Army T-Shirt. Whilst I had no problems before as I fitted right in back in Springdale’s outdoor shops and cafés, this was somewhat in contrast to the majority of the female population of the airport who tended to be scantily clad in deference to the heat at the lower altitude of Las Vegas and given that they had presumably spent some time in the shops, bars and casinos of Las Vegas decked out in fashion and jewelery more appropriate to tackling a catwalk, not a canyon or muddy assault course. Generally in the UK, gender ambiguity is less of an issue because if someone is uncertain they just avoid use of gender but the Americans seem to be fixated on calling everyone “Sir” or “Madam”. “Sir” is of course the default, because women don’t generally mind but calling a man “Madam” might somehow impinge his masculinity. This is of course because no woman could ever fight in the army or do hardcore outdoor sports…
Approaching Security at terminal 2, I saw one of them new-fangled Full Body Scanners which are apparently in American airports optional. It seems that in this case, they might be optional but you’re strongly encouraged to use them anyway as they have rope barriers that funnel you away from the metal detectors. When I tried to head for the metal detector, I was herded by staff back towards the full body scanner largely I suspect because they only had one person manning the metal detector – a bloke. I would guess blokes are not allowed to “pat down” women. Personally I don’t mind either way if it’s a bloke or a woman doing it – helps if they’re cute of course but sadly uniforms aren’t my thing!
The scanning process is quite quick and as I’d seen promised before these things went live, the operator who can see the image isn’t present on the floor but communicates with staff by radio and this is where the system breaks down if you’re transgendered. For some reason the image the operator sees isn’t live – you have to wait in a queue of two once you’ve been through the machine and there are designated spots you have to stand on so they don’t mix you up. When you get to the front of the queue, the security officer hears something through their earpiece, replies and waves you on. In my case, the officer said “copy on the female”.
Big oops. I have no idea if the radio procedure is formally documented or if it’s just come about by habit, but there’s clearly going to be a problem that occurs here if someone outwardly passes perfectly and is very femme/masculine. I don’t think the agent would have been particularly confused if the operator had misgendered me, although I’d have been somewhat pissed off. However, if some typical hungover stag-do victim happens to be a transman or one of the more dainty waifs a pre-op transwoman, I can see some major security panic happening as they’ll think people have got out of order. Resolving this is likely to be terribly embarassing to the transperson concerned, particularly if they’re with friends to whom they’re not “out”. It could even be a life-changing incident.
Update: Apparently at the same time, terminal 1 were only using the body scanners on about 1 in 3 people, due to lack of capacity to scan everyone.