I have been thinking about air travel and the implications of the security systems in place in airports since I read "Trans-portation" by Terre Thaemlitz in Passing (173-185). Specifically I am thinking about the security checkpoints that everyone has to go through before being admitted into different terminals at the airport and subsequently admitted onto a plane. Now, these measures are in place to prevent "terrorists" from boarding a plane and then hijacking said plane, or blowing it up, or using it as a means for some destructive, anti-American, extremist goal. I see a lot of problems with the way that the US seems to view this "constant" terrorist threat, but for the purposes of my engagement here, I will just say that I do agree that keeping weapons and people carrying them off of planes is a pretty good idea. However, I think there is another reason that security is so strict in regard to air travel, and that is for the purpose of filtering people who are allowed/not allowed (wanted/not wanted) into and out of a country. So it's not necessarily just about the safety on board the plane itself, but there is also the customs aspect that serves as a filtration of desirable visitors and citizens. For a trans person, this plays out in the form of gender/sex intelligibility and matching up in the way that gender is displayed on the body with the "legal" gender on your passport or ID. There are a lot of issues within this:
First, the fact that in order to have a passport issued it is mandatory to choose a gender, along with race and other identifiers. Essentially, to be issued a document from the government confirming your legal citizenship status, it is necessary to ascribe to one gender. This says then, that to be a citizen belonging to any country, just exist as a legal resident somewhere, there must be the clarification of gender and then the display of that gender as well. This puts trans people outside of the realm of being able to claim/be granted citizenship as their true self. What does this say about nationality? Is having a nation to which you can belong appealing if this is the means to achieving that? What happens to those who refuse to assign themselves one or the other sex/gender, where do they fall?
The second issue I take with this international, airport security, customs issue is that this security measure of matching up a person to their ID is a "security" issue and yet at the same time it is a guise covering for interest into the unintelligible. The security measures ensure that there is nothing unknown about the people being let into a country, because only certain people are welcome in that country. Although we live in a time of complete globalization and diversity thanks to the internet, air travel and technology, there is still a fear of the unknown, the foreign. Clarifying the exact truth (or fruitlessly searching for an exact truth that may not exist) is the way to deal with that fear of the unknown. Security is set up for actual security and as a thinly veiled effort to control what sort of people are let into a country.
Another interesting part of this article is when Thaemlitz mentions that trans people or people in drag should be on the radar of security officials because of the possibility that they are terrorists who have cleverly found a disguise through gender altering. "In Oct 2003... the US Dept of Homeland Security issued an alert to law enforcement agencies, urging authorities to be on the lookout for al-Qaeda suicide bombers dressed in drag," (Passing, 174). This is a disturbing link between seeing someone in drag as foreign and a threat to the cultural norms of mainstream society and a terrorist, someone who is foreign and a threat to our physical well-being. This is a dangerous liaison between foreign (makes me uncomfortable) and foreign (makes me uncomfortable and so must be investigated, punished). What is the effect of this alert that warns to have a watchful eye on those in drag? What else does this say about our concept of acceptable citizen versus foreign threat?
What does this passage say about the national boundaries for transexuals and queer people versus hetero?
Queerness/Transsexuality as identifying travelers as possible terrorists= what does this mean?
What does the difficulty traveling say about nationality, gender and the need for visibility under the guise of security?