Traveling to and in Europe for a Trans Woman
February 15, 2015 7:25 AM   Subscribe

I am a Trans Woman and will be traveling to the UK and France for three weeks in May/June. I have a few questions about what to expect.

1. I am flying to the UK through Atlanta. Is there anything about going through the international gate in Atlanta I should be aware of or prepare for? I don't assume I'll have any issues, but I am curious.

2. I am arriving in Heathrow. Is there anything special I should prepare for there? Again I don't expect any issues, but again, I am curious.

3. I assume London is pretty cool with trans ladies, but I also have this hard to shake feeling that I need to know a thing or to about what to expect there.

4. I am taking a train to Glasgow for a weekend. I've looked up stuff online, but I don't really know what it's like "on the ground" for an out trans woman in Glasgow. If anyone has any experiences or anecdotes to share that would help me understand how awesome it is to be "TEH TRANS" in Glasgow, or how to avoid potential problems I would like to hear them.

5. I assume Paris is totes cool with trans ladies. Am I correct? Are there areas I should stick to, avoid?

6. Re-Entry to the US. This is where I assume customs may be a hassle, but again, I'm completely ignorant here, any information, tips or advice would be very helpful.

posted by Annika Cicada to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Entering through Heathrow should be fine. Last year, they had automatic passport gates that could be used by British citizens with machine-readable passports, so I didn't have to talk to anyone. I don't know if there are/were plans to expand that to everyone. Even if they have, I assume you'll still have to talk to someone--it's the standard how long are you staying, business or pleasure, where are you going kind of questions. Have the information for your hotel bookings and your return flight handy. You almost certainly won't have to show them, but you never know when the UKBA decides to get picky. (It's easier to change the gender marker a UK passport than a US passport, so if your US passport isn't changed, I suppose it's plausible they might ask about the gender marker (which they're probably officially not allowed to ask), so maybe rehearse a line in your head.)

You will go through immigration in France as well as at Heathrow (France is the Schengen Zone, the UK is not). I haven't been through in France in more than a decade, but Schengen immigration elsewhere is usually more relaxed than entering the UK. The Schengen Zone has exit controls, so you'll go through on your way out as well (but no exit controls in the UK).

The UK has tons of (single-user, gender neutral) disabled toilets, so you can largely dodge the bathroom situation if you want/need to.

If you think you'll be perceived as visibly trans, I'd exercise some caution in places where there are liable to be a lot of drunk people roving around (e.g. late at night in places where there's not much to do but drink). It's the sort of caution I'd apply in Austin in the vicinity of a Sixth Street full of drunk people.

That's all super vague. Get a hold of me if you want something more specific.
posted by hoyland at 9:44 AM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do your passport, credit card you bought your ticket with, and your ticket agree as to name and gender, and does your passport photo reasonably resemble how you plan to present yourself while traveling? If not, fix those documents, or at least bring some medical documentation along if inconsistencies lead to any questioning.
posted by MattD at 11:13 AM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

MattD asked exactly the same questions I was going to ask. If your identity documents match your current gender presentation that makes a big difference. (And the experience of those with passing privilege can be very different from those without passing privilege.)

I have had friends who don't have passing privilege and who haven't updated their identity documents, but they go through TSA checkpoints without any trouble. (TSA policy is supposed to be trans-friendly; actual practice can vary.)
posted by QuantumMeruit at 11:55 AM on February 15, 2015

I went to the UK 20 years ago, so this may be out of date and it was an entirely subjective thing anyhow... but I found Londoners to be surprisingly sarcastic, aggressive people. Seriously, people were kind of mean to me all day long. Not every single person, but way, way too many people just seemed to hate me on sight and if I did something dopey (like take too long getting off the bus or whatever) they were quick to pounce on it and make way too big a deal out of it. This extended to near-fights, on a couple of occasions. It seemed like my American-ness was a super big deal. (I should say that I am a quiet, shy person and do not conform to the stereotype of the boozed-up, brawling American. And this was pre-War on Terror!)

All that being said, I am a major Anglophile and adored my time in the UK. It is a gorgeous place, full of history and awesomeness. Everybody seemed so smart compared to the US, it was like the whole culture was pitched at grownups. And to be fair, there were some wonderful, friendly people! (And again, this was 20 years ago now.) But I went to Europe expecting to meet friendly English people and rude French people, and I was surprised to find exactly the reverse. The French people were lovely, but the UK people kind of scared me.

All of which is to say that while I have no idea how English people of 2015 would treat a trans person, I don't think you should go there just assuming they will be more trans-friendly than people in the US. Perhaps they are. But don't assume it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:37 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, and to clarify, I was not out as trans at that point, and presented as a young, tall, scrawny cisgender dude with facial hair and stuff.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:57 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

The U.S. Department of State actually has a whole page with info for LGBT travelers. The country-specific information pages will have exact info for LGBT travelers under the "Local Laws and Special Circumstances" section for each country you visit. No idea if you're American, but the info should hold true for most travelers. Hope you have an awesome trip!
posted by whitewall at 6:54 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

My experience of travelling internationally through Atlanta (going to/returning from Amsterdam and the UK) is that TSA agents are rude and aggressive and inquisitive to returning travellers to an extent that's far beyond what you'll experience going through customs and passport control in the UK or France. Experience of UK/French/Dutch passport control: "yes, I'm here on holiday, I'm staying X days and have reservations and blah blah" *glance at passport, check photo, stamp* "enjoy your holiday!" Experience of TSA on return: "where did you go? what did you do? did you use any drugs while you were there? what do you do for a living?"

And I'll second some of the other responses: if you're *visibly* trans it's best to exercise caution and situational awareness in some places, especially if you happen to be in any areas with a large number of pubs in the evening; drunk arseholes will be drunk arseholes, and UK drinking culture can be rather...problematic. (In some places being visibly or audibly American may be as much of a reason for some people to be unpleasant as being trans, which is something else.)
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 8:22 PM on February 15, 2015

3. Just stay away from football matches, and you'll be fine pretty much anywhere a tourist would go.

take too long getting off the bus or whatever

Yeah, that will generate some hate (but that's for everyone who does that). Move quickly, stand right / walk left on escalators, don't block people, and avoid travelling with your luggage during rush hour, and then you'll be fine.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:13 PM on February 15, 2015

I used the bus thing as a random example of fumbling behavior, and I can't even remember if that really happened. (It's been 20 years.) But my point was that I felt like a target, and if I screwed up in any way people would sure let me know about it. Lots of unmistakably hostile remarks, as part of daily life. Maybe it's gotten worse in my memory, but I do know that I almost got into fistfights a couple of times, and I'm not a fighter.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:53 AM on February 16, 2015

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