Packing for my flight
July 6, 2015 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm a trans man who is flying (domestic US flights) tomorrow. Can I wear a packer through security?

I know that the body scanner things have gotten less detailed in their imaging, but have they gotten so much less detailed that it would be safe to wear a packer (if it matters, it's this one made of Cyberskin) through the scanner, or should I leave it in my carry on bag? Will it be problematic to have it in the carry on for some reason? I am flying with coworkers who I am not necessarily out to, so I'd like to minimize the likelihood of an awkward public scene at security. If relevant, I will be going through security in Albuquerque, Dallas, LaGuardia, and Phoenix in the next few days. I will not have any checked bags.
posted by cheerwine to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have personal experience with this. However, I think any object that is not your flesh will come up on the full body scanner, which will require a pat down from the TSA agents, which will probably raise questions. I can't imagine any issue that would arise if it were in your carryon, but there's always the possibility that your carryon will be searched by hand. In a hand search they might pull things out of your bag and/or root through it while others are standing around.

Could you make an excuse and separate from the group before security? Say you need to use the bathroom and you'll meet them at the gate? Something like that? At Dallas, LaGuadia and Phoenix you can walk to another security checkpoint, go through, then walk back to your gate (you might be able to do this at Albuquerque too, I just don't know as much about that airport as I do the other three).
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:57 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Modern body scanners do an automated, software analysis and only indicate to agents general "areas of concern" which lead to a pat-down. Human agents see no detail at all - they see an outline of a generic body.

If your packer does trigger the scanner, you have rights, including the right to a pat-down from a male agent, the right to a pat-down in a private room, and the right to not reveal or remove a prosthesis.

Getting a brief pat-down after the scanner is pretty common - in my experience, at least 1 in 3 will trigger some part of their body, and the crotch/stomach region are common areas. It should not raise questions for your travel companions if they fly frequently.
posted by muddgirl at 7:03 PM on July 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Modern body scanners do an automated, software analysis and only indicate to agents general "areas of concern" which lead to a pat-down.

Know also that you can opt out of the scanner altogether in favor for a metal detector + patdown combo. If your piece will trigger a flag in the scanner and you'd have to have a patdown anyway, might as well skip right to that step and avoid any potential scanner awkwardness completely.
posted by phunniemee at 7:05 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

The TSA actually addresses some trans concerns on their website, but for your purposes it seems kind of useless. Nice of them to try though. Also as you doubtless know TSA official policy and TSA officer reality don't always match up.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has a more comprehensive page here. It sounds like your best bet if avoiding the risk of a scene in front of colleagues is a priority is just to check it. The program, after all, is still looking at your image it's just the image output to the screener that's less detailed, as I understand it. Many trans people report being flagged for additional screening due to "anomalies" much more often than their cisgender friends.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:05 PM on July 6, 2015

If I was worried, I would just put it in my carry-on bag ahead of time. Then when I'm through security say that I needed to hit up the bathroom before we board and re-insert the packer then. It's not a bad idea to empty yourself out right before you fly and then you can completely avoid the chance of any awkward incidents if you do wind up triggering a body scanner. I definitely don't think they'll comment on it in your carry-on luggage; from TSA's perspective, it's probably a sex toy and no one wants to take that out and fondle it in public. (You and I know it's not, but that's how they'll think of it.)

If you do wear it through security, the worst thing that might happen is that you get the option of a, erm, localized pat-down to make sure it's nothing big. They'll ask you if you'd rather do that in private or off to the side and get you a same-gender officer to pat you down. And you could play it off as something like "apparently my dick is just unusually large" or "damn, forgot my belt buckle" or "man I knew that piercing was a bad idea" or whatever if you wanted. Like muddgirl, my experience is that no one finds it particularly unusual to have someone trigger the scanner when going through, especially in the general pockets and hips areas.
posted by sciatrix at 7:06 PM on July 6, 2015

You can also opt entirely out of the body scanner and receive a pat-down if that is your preference. This is what I always do. This is probably not the path you want to take to be least conspicuous with your traveling companions but it's also a simple "Yeah this always happens, old fishing injury..." or whatever and then you can just go straight to the patdown. These are a little invasive (they'll run their hands up your legs to your crotch but my experience is that people are always professional) but you can have it done in private with a male agent.

And yes TSA does have reasonable discretion if they think they are dealing with sex toys so putting it in your carry-on would not lead to any public weirdness.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 PM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, I have never had the experience of being male and receiving a patdown, but I always opt out of the scanner and can tell you that for women, the patdown in the pelvic region consists of two fingers run inside the waistband of my pants, back of hands run down inner thighs starting about 2" below the crotch, and a very light back of hand skim along the front, back and sides of my pants. There's no groping or exploratory prodding in the area. I expect that men receive a similar treatment (can someone confirm?) and that your penis wouldn't raise any concern.
posted by phunniemee at 7:11 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Triggering the scanner is definitely not unusual - I've done it by being sweaty. The only thing that I want to add is that at some shittily set up airports, random people can see the screen of the baggage X-ray, and that could be another problem point.

So I agree with the "fishing injury"/etc idea. "They always make me show them the scar, I don't like to do this in public, catch you guys at the bar?" Just a thought.
posted by ftm at 7:11 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Won't help you for tomorrow, but for the future you might consider joining TSA precheck, which among other nice things lets you skip the full-body scan and go through a regular metal detector.
posted by goingonit at 7:21 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Worth mentioning: I will almost certainly get pulled for a simple pat down anyway as I haven't had top surgery. The pat down, usually, goes smoothly without any outing and I have very little problem with it at this point. If it seems likely that I'd just get my crotch lightly patted down and then be able to move along without invasive questions or anything, that's a fine outcome for me since I'd already be getting patted down. (God, I shouldn't be so used to this. I think I fly too much.)
posted by cheerwine at 7:38 PM on July 6, 2015

Tell the agent that you would like to opt out of the scanner and get the pat-down. If you've been patted down after scans for anomalies before, it's likely to happen again, so just do the opt out. I travel extensively and have never been through a scanner yet!

To phunniemee's point, Mr. Bedhead's experience at airports is similar to the lady pat-down. His karate-chop to the crotch varies by screener and airport. If you are concerned about the pat-down outing you because of the discrepancy between not having top surgery and packing at the same time, leave the packer in your carry-on when going through security.
posted by bedhead at 8:06 PM on July 6, 2015

I've had a voluntary patdown as a cis male, and it's about the same as phunniemee's description. I honestly can't even remember what they did down there - probably a light brushing with the back of the hand at most. They did examine my inner thighs, but stopped short of genitals. They do also check along the inside of the waistband if that matters. I think wearing the packer is fine, and you might as well request the patdown.

On preview: yeah, what bedhead said.
posted by O9scar at 8:08 PM on July 6, 2015

Also, I have never had the experience of being male and receiving a patdown, but I always opt out of the scanner and can tell you that for women, the patdown in the pelvic region consists of two fingers run inside the waistband of my pants, back of hands run down inner thighs starting about 2" below the crotch, and a very light back of hand skim along the front, back and sides of my pants. There's no groping or exploratory prodding in the area. I expect that men receive a similar treatment (can someone confirm?) and that your penis wouldn't raise any concern.

In contrast, I had a recent (January) pat-down experience as a cis female where the TSA agent audibly questioned my pelvic bone. I guess I was standing with my hips thrust more forward than usual? Her exact words were "What. Is That." And I was all "Um. That's my crotch. Would you like to try again?" And so she did the skimmy back of the hand thing once again but like, slightly more vigorously. It did not escape my notice that if I'd been a trans man packing the whole thing would have been a very, very uncomfortable interaction, though at the time I mostly found it hilarious because hello, basic anatomy.

On the other hand (wow, I guess it's TMI day for me on MeFi), the one time I've traveled with particularly, um, naturalistic sex toys, I had a medium density silicone dildo cause my carryon luggage to be pulled aside, and the offending item removed for hand palpation through its carrying case, directly in front of a 95 year old man. I don't think they asked me much, but the TSA agent and I engaged in a pretty intense eyebrow-raise off.

Given the choice, I think I'd go for the pat-down, but unfortunately, TSA can find a way to make shit unnecessarily terrible either way.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:18 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Transman who travels while packing here. (And did so before top surgery.) When it's easy I opt for the x-ray but in the several (5? 7?) times I have gone through the body scanner while packing my crotch only raised the alarm once. TSA did a professional and brief passage of the back of their hand on the area and I went along my way. I figure I'd rather have my junk on me and explain it to an agent in a private room if it ever gets to that (bad and scary as that sounds) then have my junk casually on display during a search of my carry on luggage. YMMV of course.

When I'm feeling stressed about the situation I think of the scene from The L Word where TSA finds a strap on dildo in her carry on, always lightens my mood.

Before I had top surgery I had an agent notice my binder and ask about it and I just said it was "a binder, for support". He let it go at that.

Feel free to PM me if you have any follow up questions/thoughts. Best of luck friend!
posted by rip at 9:44 PM on July 6, 2015 [17 favorites]

I read this blog post a little while back from someone who went through TSA while packing. The author describes calling the TSA in advance and getting put in touch with someone at the airport (the same process the TSA offers for people who may have special security screening needs because of disabilities) to meet at the airport. This was a passenger who identifies as non-binary rather than trans, and arranging a TSA escort isn't exactly discrete with your coworkers, so the situation was slightly different, but reading about that experience might help you know what you might expect here.
posted by zachlipton at 10:12 PM on July 6, 2015

Cis female who opts out of the scanner a lot. You probably already know this from your own travels, but I believe the script (for men and women) is that they run the back of their hand up the inside of your thighs until they "meet resistance."

So you could always just straight up opt out from the get go. I don't trust those new machines, so you could use that as your reason.
posted by salvia at 10:27 PM on July 6, 2015

.joining TSA precheck, which among other nice things lets you skip the full-body scan and go through a regular metal detector.

This may depend on the airport - I have Precheck and have never had that option.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:32 AM on July 7, 2015

If I were you I would opt out of the body scanner for the sole reason that when you get a pat down they pull you far enough to the side (or to a private room if you want) to be out of earshot from coworkers. Opting out for reason x (exercising privacy rights, due to health concerns, because its total bs, whatever) can be used everytime you fly with them, so it won't seem odd. The pat down takes longer than the body scanner ( 90% of the time they make you wait to the side for 5-15 min) so you can tell your coworkers not to wait for you and you'll see them at the gate. Usually when you opt out the tsa agent will explain your rights and ask if you have "any sensitive areas or medical devices". If you want to disclose this would be an opertunity to do it discretely. Honestly, barring some sort of a dramatic turn of events your coworkers will be so busy taking on and off their shoes they prob won't even notice where you went. Good luck!
posted by KMoney at 5:02 AM on July 7, 2015

Another vote for Pre-Check (especially if you fly a lot and this isn't just a one off). I fly 6-8 times a month in airports both large and small and I haven't had to go through a body scanner in ages. I think of it as a time machine to the days before TSA madness took hold. Regular metal detector! Shoes stay on! No baggies full of toiletries!
posted by fancypants at 5:06 AM on July 7, 2015

If you want to know how this has worked out for other people flying out of Albuquerque, the folks at The Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico can probably tell you.
posted by yohko at 11:04 AM on July 7, 2015

Best answer: In addition to reading up on policies and best practices written by both the TSA and NCTE, it may be helpful for you to rehearse what you want to say in the event that you are chosen for a pat-down, regardless of your choice of whether to wear the packer or not. Similarly, you have the right to request that your carry-on be searched in a private area, and may want to prepare what you're going to say beforehand so that you don't accidentally out yourself to your colleagues if caught by surprise.

For the record, I have traveled several times by domestic airline while wearing a packer, and have always gone through the scanner even before they were altered to be less invasive. No one ever stopped me or asked me any additional questions. I nonetheless rehearse a brief sentence or two each time I get ready to go, in case I need to quickly request a private search if an agent wants to take me aside for any reason. It makes me feel more secure.
posted by Urban Winter at 1:19 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: got a chest pat down, but no crotch pat down while wearing the packer through albuquerque body scanners. Currently smoking a cigarette in Dallas, so we shall see how this one goes. I woke up this morning and felt like experimenting with the packing through body scanners instead of worrying about it, so I preemptively came out to the coworker. Thanks again for all of the guidance, everyone!
posted by cheerwine at 1:27 PM on July 7, 2015 [13 favorites]

Glad it worked out for you!
posted by corb at 3:42 PM on July 7, 2015

Response by poster: Final update: flight got delayed in Dallas, so I went through security twice there (I smoke a lot of cigarettes). No problem either time with the packer, chest pat down one of the two times. At Laguardia, the scanner flagged both the chest and crotch areas, and I got the world's most half assed pat down with no incident.

If anyone in the future reads this because they have the same question, if you use corn starch or baby powder for storing the packer when it's not in your pants, be aware that they will pull your bag to check the powder if it's more than 8 ounces. They won't take it away or anything, but I've found that it's challenging to explain unexpectedly to a travel companion why a childless adult man has a big thing of baby powder in his bag.
posted by cheerwine at 10:24 PM on July 10, 2015

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