When barbara and I went to Ottawa last month, to visit my mom, we had to fly, it being the only way to get there. Airport security has always been a bit tense for me, though picture I.D. has saved me from questions like: “Who’s identification is this and where did you get it?” or comments like: “It is illegal to use another person’s identification.” It’s better since, when push comes to shove, my I.D. does match how I look. But we never get to that point without several rounds of “SIR” which I feel I have to correct because it’s airport security and I try not to look like I’m trying to trick anybody.
Since having three joint replacements, it has become more complicated because if you set that bleeper off, and emptying your pockets doesn’t fix it, you have to be frisked by a guard with a “wand,” a thinnish electronic billy club. There were two guards, a woman and a man, and the man stepped forward and told me to raise my arms out from my body, he would need to “pat me down.” I repeated, for the third time, that I was a woman and wanted to be patted down by a woman. They stood frozen, looking at one another and kind of furtively glancing at me.
Only when barbara strode into the tableau saying, “This is my partner and she is a WOMAN,” not loudly really but very firm, that the man guard turned away with a shrug, smirking with relief, and went on to his next traveler pat down.
The woman guard was not happy and obviously not convinced. She approached me with very hostile “Fine then, have it your way,” kind of resolve. She pressed her billy-club over and over my bleeping joints—-hip… knees…back to the hip…back to the knees and then suddenly, right up between my legs and hard into my crotch. We can all only guess what she was thinking to find there. (snort).
I felt that scalding sting of humiliation, but I didn’t protest, just stayed standing there with my arms still stretched out wide in a bizarre caricature of “welcome with open arms.” Then she started on my upper body and again pressing hard and repeatedly over my chest and breasts with her club and hand…like she can’t believe they really are breasts. Finally she finished.
She never met my eye and didn’t speak till she pointed to a nearby chair and said, “Take your shoes off.” She left me there and went away with them. I waited obediently till barbara found my shoes over on the x-ray conveyor belt and brought them to me.
We bolted out of there as fast as we could. I was shaken way beyond my usual crabby relief to be done with that particular joy of travel.
I felt humiliated, and I felt like a failure for feeling humiliated. I’m supposed to have a handle on that stuff now. It’s not supposed to bother me beyond annoyance or impatience, and all with a real feeling of it being “their” problem, not mine. And, of course, with my wit still intact. I have a lot of support and very active acceptance in my life. At these moments I feel shamed at having let that support down.
But this episode has kept coming back to me. And always with a ping of failure which I realize is the humiliation still hanging on.
I realize, too, that there is a certain level of their disbelief that makes me feel that I AM a freak. It’s like a line gets crossed and at least I have to wonder what is so unbelievable about me being a woman? What is it these people see?
Sometimes I think that my own sensibilities on the subject might cause me to over-read the “You couldn’t be a woman” message, but on this one, barbara got the same hit from the whole thing. As barbara put it, it was like the guard never really believed it and felt she was being “had” in having to pat me down. Really, the kind of humiliation that a scenario like that would evoke, would account for her abusive level of anger. All brought on by her own trans phobia, thinking I was really a man who had suddenly decided that HE was a woman,”like they do nowadays,” and trying to pass. Though I must say I don’t see my style as one that most would chose to that end. But it is maybe proof of the increase in trans consciousness: she thought I was trans and in the old days she would have just seen me as a more unspecified, free-floating weirdo.
I prefer the stories where I score the perfect “bon mot,” and leave my challenger feeling sheepish or embarrassed, and me looking witty and completely together about who I am and how I look. And just when I think I’m impervious and won’t get stung, it jumps up and bites me in the ass.
Not that I really thought that would happen, the being impervious part. But writing the stories in Mistaken Identity and having them published and having this blog to add chapters whenever have given me a whole new power over the potential insults and a whole new joie de vivre in the flaunt of it. I almost look forward to potential theater for good “copy”; I hone my witty comebacks. So much better than a state of semi-dread that I might need a washroom, not a pretty picture for a woman of my middle, post-menopausal age.
It has been great to get this off my chest and I really do feel quite differently about the whole thing. So my thanks to you all for listening. I love having a blog, really.
I love the total bonus visibility provides, letting others who feel/look/act likewise find me if they want, and then of course, I have found them.
I remember how doing the Still Sane project about being locked up for being a lesbian opened up a whole new world to me. Before “coming out” as a survivor, I had no idea how many dykes had been abused by psychiatry and it turned out to be very empowering to find out.