Once Again Through the TSA Gallows

“We who think we are about to die will laugh at anything.”
― Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

I’m at the world’s tiniest airport today, traveling home from running the gauntlet of family visits for the winter holidays. All flights leave through the same gate. There are two computerized check-in kiosks to print your boarding pass, but neither works. After a two-minute wait in line to check your bags, you walk 15 feet over to the security line and hand your ID and boarding pass to the TSA agent while you’re going through the metal detector. She actually set my boarding pass on top of the x-ray machine that straddles the conveyor belt in order to mark it up with her little scribbles. There is no TSA pre-check line here, as there is really no difference in screening procedures. As I walked through the metal detector and the agent handed back my boarding pass and ID, a red light flashed.

“I’m sorry sir,” she said, “You’ve been selected for additional screening.”

At a large airport, this sometimes means that your hands are swabbed to check for chemicals. But at such a rural airport in farming country, there are no new-fangled electronic hand-swabbers. Even if the airport could afford them, half the waiting room has most likely been in contact with industrial fertilizer in the last 48 hours judging by the number of Carhartts and Stetsons I count.

I was directed three feet to the left to stand on a rug with footprints printed on it. A bearded man stepped up to me and asked me to place my feet on the footprints. He said he needed to do a pat down from my waist to my knees.

As a trans person, who often travelled in a breast binder prior to chest surgery, I loathe pat downs. At this point in my life, I have have no reason to have any concerns, which is an incredible privilege, but memories of consistently being harassed and molested by TSA officers when my chest tripped the alert on the body scanners don’t fade so easily. Today’s officer said we could complete the pat down in a private room if I preferred. I wondered 1) who would possibly see us in the deserted airport other than my husband, Sam, who had gone through the metal detector just ahead of me, and the TSA screener who had checked my ID as she waved me through the metal detector, and 2) how being in private where there were no witnesses could possibly make me more comfortable.

I told him, “Here is fine,” and he proceeded to run the backs of his hands over the outsides of my thighs, my butt, and then up the inside of one leg from my knee to my crotch–then the other.

I resisted the urge to tell him that I generally expect a fellow to take me to dinner before I let him get to third base because, 1) I’m sure he hears that one all the time, 2) it’s not true: I’ll put out for anyone, and 3) with this asinine government shut-down he is working on Christmas Day without any guarantee that he’ll be back-paid for these hours. In the benevolence that I’m told the holiday requires (I’m an atheist), I managed to bite my tongue.

A slight furrow passed over his brow as he ran his hand up my second leg, but he straightened up and waved me onward. I grabbed my coat from the conveyer belt and rounded the corner into the single tiny waiting area of the only gate. Sam’s eyebrows were raised, silently asking me how it went. As a fellow trans man, he knows all-too-well how uncomfortable TSA pat downs can be.

“He didn’t find anything,” I smirked, “including a few things he was expecting.”

Sam sniggered, “It’s a fun life, isn’t it?”

Malo is a queer artist who oscillates between the fear of being discovered and being forgotten.

Dear Heather, (Or, A Mental Healthcare Manifesto In Response to Ignorance)

Dear Heather,

We the people with mental illnesses are all natural variations of humankind1, whom some have chosen to deem abnormal/unstable and in need of care. Historically, the mental healthcare system – the very system that claims to care for us – has caused us significant harm.

The field of psychology is an inexact science with a flawed, even sadistic, past and present. So inexact and sadistic in fact, that gays and lesbians were (and quite frankly still are) subjected to “conversion therapy,” and being transgender and the ordinary experiences of transgender folk was (and still are) considered mental illnesses, among many misguided treatments and diagnoses.

I’m sure you are aware of these inexplicable transgressions within your field.

We the people with mental illnesses are simultaneously told that our mental illnesses do not define us, yet here we are, with these diagnostic labels receiving treatment. For many of us, these diagnoses and experiences of hospitalizations become facets of our continuously transforming identities. These identities related to mental illness intersect with our preexisting notions of self and those aspects of our being that have yet to be uncovered, formed, or accepted.

My intersectional identities (at this moment) are as follows: gay, bigender/nonbinary, Jew(ish) and sexual assault survivor.

So why, you may ask, am I linking history and identity? Well, if you’ve truly acknowledged history and done the research, then it is apparent that the forces of white supremacy and the various forms of prejudice (including but not limited to racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia) mainly and historically produced and/or upheld by white people are at the root of the struggles marginalized communities face. In fact, these forces are responsible for constructing the identities that non-white, non-cishet people are forced to function and navigate the world within.

I believe it is your responsibility to create a safe environment for those who are unsafe in this world, a world that has prioritized and valued the experiences and feelings of white, cishet men and women over any and all other experiences. For those who fit into this category like yourself2, it is pertinent that you recognize your own privilege when providing much needed mental healthcare to the various and intersecting marginalized communities, who (because of racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) are more likely to be mentally ill. It might seem like an impossible task to undo and undermine the dangerously constricting falsities imposed by those who came before us, but it may just be the most necessary and worthwhile of pursuits.

As a queer, trans person who just so happens to be mentally ill, I believe that you and every other mental healthcare professional ought to correct the wrongs of those before you and make a diligent effort to prioritize the mental health of marginalized communities. Unfortunately, when it comes to some of our interactions and discussions, you have not only perpetuated these wrongs, but have defended and made excuses for your decision to do so.

Therefore, I find it crucial to reinforce the following:

  • People with PTSD shouldn’t be called paranoid.
  • Transgender and nonbinary people should not be questioned or compared to cisgender people.
  • LGBTQAI people should not be stereotyped as being predatorial.

I know nothing of your upbringing or life experiences but I do know this – you have chosen a profession that falls in line with a grand and endless humanistic pursuit.

Never stop reminding yourself of that.

All the best,

Annette Covrigaru

  1. As are all people, of course.
  2. Please do feel free to confront me and correct me on your identities if I’m mistaken, as one regretful mistake I made when discussing the topic of privilege with Scott was assuming he was heterosexual.

Annette Covrigaru is a gay/bigender American-Israeli writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. They were a Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Voices nonfiction fellow and writer-in-residence in 2014 and 2017, respectively. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kaaterskill Basin Review, TQ Review, Stitch, Emerge and Cosmonauts Avenue. Annette is currently completing a master’s degree in Holocaust Studies through the University of Haifa. See more on Annette’s website.