National Security Threat: Boy Tits at the Airport

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The sagging sagas of the boy tits continue… I’m on tour in the USA and it seems the new body scan machine has replaced the old metal detector Xray machine in most US airports. For the second time this week, my boy tits raised the alarm on the body scanner.

Security guy:      “Sir, I’m going to need to pat down your chest. Arms up.” (Pat. Pat pat pat…. Pat pat pat… pat pat pat) Sir, what’s this at your chest? Are you wearing a jacket or something under your shirt?”

Me:                  “no.”

Security guy:    “arms back up” (pat pat pat pat pat PAT PAT PAT PAAAAAAATTTTTTTTT).

Me:                  “look, I’m transgender (insert basic transgender 101 definition using cis-sexist language I would NEVER use to describe my body).

Security guy:    “oh”  (literally leaps back, says hurredly to security lady) “maybe you should get this one”

Security lady: “but….”

The security lady and guy do perfectly synchronised head movements as they stare first at my face, then at my chest, then back at my face, followed by matching drop of their jaws, then coordinated nudges, each trying to push the other one forward to deal with me. They really couldn’t have choreographed this better if they’d had months to train. Not since I told my male gym teacher in high school that I had my period have I seen such confusion and discomfort on the face of an authority figure.

Security lady mutters to security guy:        “let’s just put… (mumbled pronoun)… back through the scanner”

Second time through the scanner, yup, these boy tits are still perilous. A scuffle ensues between the security guy and the security lady – clearly they are unsure who should give me the second pat down and finally the security guy turns to me, face bright red, and says “keep moving. Next!”.

Did I just find my new “get out of gym class” card?! “Mister, I have my period” doesn’t work any more since this cis-sexist world wouldn’t believe it possible that I could have or ever have had a period. It might be time for a change of tactics: “Mister, my boy tits are sore”.  In that moment when the security guy asked the first time what was under my shirt, could I have just said “boy tits, I’m a transsexual”, rather than awkwardly let him go back in for the second pat down with my futile hopes that he’d decide my chest was just gorgeously chubby?

I’m curious how the body scanner machine works. I’m assuming the security guard must press a button to get it to either scan you as a “man” or “woman”. But many cisgendered (non-trans) men have man-boobs, so do they get pulled over and patted down too? I doubt it, or there’d be long hold-ups in the security line. So I guess the machine must look decide what proportion of your body should be chest vs stomach vs thighs etc. So who decides what the right proportions are? And how do we each participate in this, even without meaning to, buying into these ideas of what a “man’s body” or a “woman’s body” should look like?

After my first year on hormones when my body shape radically altered (my ass and hips flattened and I had to start wearing a belt like for reals) I was still a little insecure about the “love handles” on my waist, thinking that they would give away my trans-ness in situations where I didn’t want to be identified in public as trans. But when I started scrutinizing cisgendered (non-trans) men’s bodies, I began to notice such a massive variation in men’s body shapes. So many men have love handles, curvy hips, chunky asses and pear shapes. How many men actually have the “normal” man’s body? I’m gonna say probably not that many, particularly considering that the “normal” body is also seen as white. In the media and dominant racist cultural narratives in Canada, the USA and Australia (and beyond), white men’s bodies are just described as “bodies” compared to other men’s being described as “Black men’s bodies” or “Asian men’s bodies”, for example.

And in what different ways are different men treated for not having the “normal” man’s body? Well, it’s likely due to my whiteness that the airport scanner situation drew out the security guards reactions of confusion, embarrassment and awkward fear, rather than the racist hostility and violent fear that may have been dished out to Black or Arab trans men, for example, in the same situation. (See a beatuiful and harrowing poem by Amir Rabiyah – Transexual Militant).

I’d love to hear people’s ideas on how we can work, from the ground up, to transform our conceptions of bodies and make more space for a whole myriad of beautiful bodies. Because someone(s) clearly just made that shit up, so surely we can make up new ways of seeing bodies for all our glorious differences and our beautiful human fleshy similarities.

Some other popular blog articles:

Racism is to White People, as Wind is to the Sky

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Boy Tits in the Locker-room

the Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection

2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

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9 thoughts on “National Security Threat: Boy Tits at the Airport

  1. Paisley Currah and I wrote an article about this a while back. It’s unbelievable, really. And horrible that so many people are subjected to this kind of treatment. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a modified version of it: (http://criticallegalthinking.com/2011/10/03/disrupting-links-gender-identity-and-security/). I can send you the full piece if you want! There has also been some advocacy going on as well (but I’ve not kept up with it very well): (http://transequality.org/PDFs/NCTE_NCLR_TLC_121710.pdf). The U.S. government even acknowledged the problem in their own review of the TSA, but it seems nothing has been done about it…

  2. When traveling in the states recently, I ( a trans woman) went through a body scanner just ahead of a cis female traveling companion. The scanner gave me an OK, and held up my plus sized friend, and I could see the scanner had highlighted her body rolls as the area of interest. IRONY! I’m a skinny one who needs a bit of padding to fill out her figure, which was worn at the time, and the scanner clearly preferred my artifice. A brutal commentary on how these machines are programmed.

  3. I appreciate this article Sunny, thank you. For myself, I am planning a trip to Australia next year and will be flying direct from Vancouver to Sydney in order to avoid US customs, which scares the sh*t out of me. I’m fairly ignorant in the ways of international travel, since I have never done it before, but I get the sense that Canadian and Australian customs are not as heavy handed as the US, although I fully admit race most definitely plays a role in that as most people who I have talked to about traveling have been white.

    As for challenging body assumptions, I just did a workshop on Thursday where this was a theme. I talked about my experiences with gay male culture, which is very phallocentric and in fact can be quite hostile towards bodies with vaginas. I guess the ways that I challenge this is by being vocal about my body, the choices I have made (and the privileged accesses I have had) to change my body and the reasons for doing so. I certainly try to call people out when they make body assumptions, especially if what they do/say is misogynistic. I’m thinking the next step for me is to become comfortable with my nudity in public, but safety is certainly a big concern. I have been in conversation with my photographer friend about doing a nude series, and right now we are figuring out how we want to convey the specific message we have.

    I love the work you do Sunny, keep at it!

  4. I get patted down for my scars on my chest frequently. I no longer have boobs, but I don’t think that it matters. Obviously I don’t have a penis either, but they have yet to pat me down for what isn’t there….

  5. I don’t have much direct experience w/trans issues or body issues, so I apologize if I offend anyone with vocabulary choices, but after living in Hawaii – where a lot of the population is mixed-race – the idea of body type correlating directly to ethnicity is… increasingly difficult, I guess. Sure, if someone is 100% Native Hawaiian, they’re probably going to look a certain way. But for a lot of people, if you’re trying to describe them, you *are* going to be describing a collection of body parts of different sizes and shapes, various skin shades, etc. So it’s less of “that Asian guy at the bookstore” and more of “that guy with the gorgeous tattoos at the bookstore.” There’s not an automatic categorization going on, which is nice.
    Hope that made sense.

  6. Hi Sunny, really appreciate your views; I ran a queer film festival in regional Australia for a number of years (www.queerfruitsfilmfestival.org) and this has led to researching a PhD into transgender representation in films that I am currently doing; your comments on cultural ‘norms’ and body types are highly relevant – I would be really interested to hear what you think about the body types/portrayals that are being depicted in films with transmale characters – particularly
    indie films. Do you think a stereotype image of a trans body is emerging / being depicted ? Also happy to be contacted/dialogue off blog if you want further information, I ran a transgender forum at the 2012 festival that was well-attended by local guys and filmmakers; I will be seeking the views of as many guys as possible during the research : a.ford.30@student.scu.edu.au
    Cheers, Akkadia.

  7. Hah. Thank you for making something so enraging into something so freaking entertaining .

    I also love the thoughts on transforming our conceptions of bodies. One way that I found when I was younger to to do this was to spend time in platonic nude spaces with people of various ages by attending nudist resorts. The problem with implementing that as a tool for everyone is of course everyones safety and comfortably, which can’t usually be fully expected at traditional nudist resorts or all hot springs, as there is definitely a predominantly cis, white, heterosexual crowd. So, it would be really rad if there were specifically body-positive, gender-varient, queer spaces where everybody could just be naked and make a day of it to just fall into the comofrt that exist when you recognize, as you said “our glorious differences and our beautiful human fleshy similarities.” I’m stoked about the upcoming Queer Springs event in the Bay Area (even though I can’t attend!!Gah!), because it’s totally opening up as a space for that! Vital. https://www.facebook.com/events/436965313085996/

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