From TSA checkpoints to border crossings to bathrooms,
travel can be, and often is, particularly fraught for the transgender
community. Travel is also an area where that community is set apart from its
peers in the overall LGBTQ community and where it faces unique challenges.
"Traveling while trans is very different than traveling
while gay," Mara Keisling, executive director and founder of the National
Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), said during last month's International
Gay & Lesbian Travel Association Annual Global Convention.
For transgender people, the top priority when traveling is
Many trips begin with TSA checkpoints, which can be
distressing. In fact, Keisling knows many transgender people who don't travel
simply to avoid them.
The body scanner has been particularly problematic.
According to Keisling, to operate the machine, a TSA officer determines whether
the subject is male or female and hits a blue or pink button to let the machine
know. The machine expects certain physical characteristics, and if anomalies
are detected, the traveler requires additional screening.
"They have to check you, and that's another whole
dangerous -- and embarrassing, but mostly dangerous -- thing for trans people,"
Transgender people can face scrutiny at border crossings,
too. She told a personal story to illustrate how harrowing it can be.
About a year after transitioning, she was in the Czech
Republic with a friend and her friend's 80-year-old mother driving across a
border to Poland. Her friend, also a transgender woman, handed their passports
to the agent. For 45 minutes or so, he and another agent kept their party
waiting in the car while he held their passports inside his guard station.
"We were making plans on what to do if they were going
to detain me," Keisling said. "There was no real reason for them to
detain me, and we knew this was probably a trans thing."
At the time, her passport had a stamp on it indicating that
she had changed her gender. (This was one of the first practices the NCTE,
primarily a policy organization, lobbied to have eliminated in 2010; it was
successful.) While Keisling didn't know if the guard could read English, she
suspected the issue was because she was transgender. In the end, the guards let
them go, but she called the experience "terrifying."
Keisling considers herself a brave traveler, but because of
the issues transgender people face, "I still worry about travel all the
time, and my mother and father really, really worry about me and traveling,"
she said. "When you're thinking about maybe marketing to trans people,
that's really important."
Also important, she said, is actually talking to transgender
people to get their perspectives and better understand their experiences.
"As you're thinking about marketing to trans people or
involving trans people in travel projects of whatever type, please consider
talking to some trans people first," she said. "We at the [NCTE]
would be so happy to help you."