So I’ve been flying a lot lately, and will be flying a very great deal in the next several months. It was going to happen sooner or later–I went through enhanced screening with my friends at the TSA.
It’s happened twice now, and I’ve been very interested in how it went down, but not gotten around to posting. So here it is–Adventures In Security Theater.
The first time was in Houston, coming back from Aggiecon. I saw the giant machine and my brain immediately went: uh oh. So this is definitely going to happen. Am I going to opt out or not?
The fact is I fly a lot and though I’m aware of how much radiation is involved in a flight, I’m also concerned at the fact that we don’t know the long term exposure effects of this type of radiation and that no one is wearing a badge that might alert them if the machine was broken bothers me hugely. (Well, badges might scare people into not going into the machine!)
I got up to the line and asked to opt out. This was what surprised me: how difficult that was to do. I sort of squeaked a little when I said it. It’s tough to say no to someone in weaponized uniform, to do it in front of a lot of people and in Texas, not a notoriously liberal place. To stand up, even a little, to authority. I don’t generally locate my personal freedom in the ability to stand down guards of any kind, as I am a cynic who recognizes that they could give a shit about me–it’s not personal, it’s just a system, and they don’t think of me as a person. That’s almost natural, given how many people they see every day. I was surprised that it was hard for me though. We talk a big game online, but it’s not nothing to carry it forward to actual action.
Anyway, I squeaked my way into an opt-out and the first guard was very nice about it, though the second, a woman who needed someone to come take her place so she could do the pat-down, got increasingly irritated and eye-rolly as minutes ticked by. She didn’t really look at me or talk to me, and when we went to the special area (right in front of the main terminal walkway–though they do offer a private room) she just went through her spiel.
Now, I have never been sexually assaulted, and I don’t have many issues with people touching me. So it wasn’t so bad. Weird, offputting, and made me feel exposed/like a criminal, but it was fine, as far as pat-downs that involve putting her hands in my jeans and cupping my breasts go. Not fun, but I could stare straight ahead and wait for it to be over. I note that they do some kind of chemical analysis on one’s hands to see if one has touched bombs or whatever–something they don’t do if you go through the machine, so LOLS, I guess. None of it makes any more sense than the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
EVERYONE SWITCH PLACES.
Take 2 was in Chicago O’Hare, and a different story. I opted out again–and it was easier this time. Saying no to authority gets easier with practice. The woman behind me opted out, too, and as we were waiting she asked me about the machines. I said just what I said above–we just don’t know what this kind of radiation can do to a body, there have been no studies, and no one is wearing a badge to make sure excess radiation isn’t being leaked.
The woman shrugged and said: "Well, I’m sure it’s fine." She then walked into the machine, put her hands up, and looked out at me. She shrugged again and said:
"It’s only the first trimester, right?"
Wow. I mean, I’ll just leave it at that because WHAT.
When I got my pat-down this time, the TSA agent was obviously irritated and incredibly rough with me. She pinched my skin when pulling the waistband of my jeans out to run her fingers around it and put her hand quite far down the front of my jeans. But the worst was when she did the "I’m going to move my hand up your leg until I meet resistance" thing. Which she did FOUR times, each leg, from the front and the back. She slid her hand up fast and hard, so hard that when she met "resistance" it felt like a light punch. She hit, well, let’s not be coy, my labia and pubic bone extremely hard with the side of her hand, four times. I winced and jumped–it was so unnecessary, as I knew from not actually having been punched in the junk the last time I did this.
She did the chemical analysis bit and sent me on my way. Didn’t look at me or talk to me like I was a person, either. Both opt-outs delayed me about ten minutes from "No thanks" to walking off. My stuff was indeed out of sight for significant portions of time–something you’re not supposed to do at airports lest a terrorist slip something in, remember? But only once did I feel genuinely violated. TSA agents are just doing their jobs and I’m sensitive to that. But damn, girl, you did not have to be so rough. My labia are not wanted in seventeen states for a series of bank robberies and high speed chases. Fucking ow.
So that’s my TSA story. I’ll be interested to see how many times I have to opt out over the tour. I hate it, and I shouldn’t have to do it, just to avoid unstudied radiation. (
And as to the folk who think an effective protest is for everyone to stop flying–well, fuck right off. Flying is no longer a privilege in this world that we can just choose not to partake of. I have to fly for work, I fly internationally for work, I almost never fly for fun. It’s a big damn country, and a big damn world, and most white collar jobs require us to move around a lot, because nothing is geographically anchored anymore in the business world. Not to mention that families are no longer clustered around the same town everyone grew up in. It’s not 1959. We require a certain level of mobility–which is why airlines can gouge us and the TSA can do whatever it wants. The solution is not to forcibly shunt the country back to the 1940s and laugh while thousands of people lose their jobs when airlines go under. I see this suggested on every website that discusses TSA tactics, and it makes me so mad I could tear a cereal box in half.
I just hope next time my personal physical violation by my government is a little gentler, that’s all. That’s all I really ask. Be gentle while you punch my rights like a pile of wooden boards. Ki-ya.