LAX TSA undergoing transgender sensitivity training

It’s not a bad idea, and it ought to include how to treat transgender passengers, in addition to transgender employees. I did find this passage of the AP story particularly interesting:

When she showed up for training, Yang was told that according to TSA regulations she would have to pat down men and was offered a position working with baggage. She insisted that part of the job’s appeal was working with people.

She was then told she would have to cut her long, highlighted hair, follow the dress code for male agents and use the men’s bathroom, she said. She obtained permission to wear a wig instead, but was told to buy one with “a more male look.”

Yang said she settled on a short Afro, but passengers and co-workers weren’t convinced. Because of her feminine appearance, she sometimes received inappropriate comments from men who were surprised to find a woman frisking them, Yang claimed.

She said men made comments like, “I haven’t had a girl touch me for a long time,” or, “Does this mean you are going to buy me dinner?”

Agents who did not know she was transgender would call her over to search women.

Telling her to man it up is obviously a problem. But what about the issue of same-sex pat downs? I appreciate the argument that a transgender person’s gender is what they say it is. But the same-sex pat down rule is not just for the benefit of the TSA agent, it’s also for the benefit of the passenger, who might be uncomfortable being intimately touched by someone of the opposite gender (though, even that point is a bit absurd since I’m a gay man and had one hell of a pat down by a security man getting on a Delta flight coming out of Amsterdam last year – he touched everything).

If the policy is in part to address the passenger’s sensitivities, the passenger would probably be more comfortable having the same-sex appearing TSA officer patting them down – meaning, women would perceive someone who they believe to be a woman doing the pat down, so if they just let the transgender woman pat down women it probably would have been fine. But what if you told those women being patted down that this woman was transgender and pre-operative (it’s possible someone would know her in line and tell the person next to them)? Would the passengers be more or less comfortable, and is it even relevant how they feel at all (though that is, I believe, part of the rationale behind the policy, how the passenger would feel). Then the issue gets interesting, in terms of how you actually implement it.  Then again, in the 1950s or 1960s, I bet some white people didn’t want to be patted down by black airport security agents (if we had airport security at that time) – okay, how about being patted down by black cops?  Would it have been okay to pander to prejudice and make sure that white men pat down white men and black men pat down black men?  I doubt anyone would find that acceptable.

In the end, I don’t think we’re even talking about gender. I think we’re talking about sexual orientation. The idea is that you don’t want someone feeling you up who just might be turned on by it (though it’s absurd to think that some TSA agent who does hundreds of pat downs a day is getting off on it). Nonetheless, I think that’s the rationale. So shouldn’t it be based on sexual orientation of the patter downer, and not the apparent gender? Now, having said that, I’m more comfortable stripping down in front of a male doctor than a female one, regardless of sexual orientation (theirs or mine), and I think I might have been more disturbed had a woman touched my “junk” that day in the Amsterdam airport than had it been a man (though I’m not sure it would have mattered – and hell, I could see some men preferring a woman touching them than a man (cooties!), and that’s a whole other issue). But that still might be the odd cultural bias that’s bred in to me about “oppose genders together equal sex,” regardless of my orientation.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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