Reduce your anxiety about TSA security checkpoints! Gender non-conforming traveler Lindsay Cale provides helpful travel tips for transgender and nonbinary folks to consider before their next trip to the airport.
Despite significant leaps in the screening process over recent years, airport security better known in the U.S. as TSA remains one of the most stressful parts of travel for trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people. From verbal and physical harassment to missed flights because of extreme delays getting through screenings, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a trans traveler who doesn’t have a bit of a TSA story to tell. That fact is so significant that many trans travelers note airport security concerns as the number one thing holding them back from booking travel.
While it may seem like there are a million things to consider when traveling while trans this guide will talk you through current TSA policies, provide essential tips to navigate security checkpoints smoothly, and help you get your first or next big trip off the ground. Because if I’ve learned anything through travel it’s that visibility matters and queer people deserve to see the world.
One thing you should know is that the TSA has made notable progress in implementing gender-neutral screening procedures to create a more inclusive environment. Since April 2022, TSA PreCheck enrollees can now self-attest their gender, regardless of their assigned sex at birth. They’re working towards improving full-body scans so they are no longer based on gender, minimizing any potential discomfort or misgendering. Plus, the TSA is working with airlines to promote and educate their staff on the use of “X” gender markers and gender-neutral passports. These measures aim to ensure that transgender travelers are treated with dignity and respect during the screening process.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Before your trip, familiarize yourself with the TSA policies and regulations, especially those specific to transgender travelers. Knowing the rules and following them eliminates potential additional scrutiny and unwarranted attention. Well-known transgender travel influencer Julie Vu emphasizes the importance of being well-prepared when traveling through TSA checkpoints: “Being prepared and confidently knowing the expectations of airport security can eliminate some potential anxiety, it gives you one less thing to worry about and keeps you informed if anything out of the ordinary does happen.”
Carry Valid Identification
It’s crucial to have proper identification. Ideally, the identification you travel with should match your gender identity, but I’m aware that’s not always possible. If you no longer look like your identification image, ask your healthcare professional for a note explaining your transition to take with you while checking in. Keep copies of the note backed up on a cloud drive for safekeeping.
Opt for clothing that makes you feel comfortable and reflects your gender identity. However, avoid excessive metal accessories or clothing that may trigger additional screening. It’s essential to be mindful that binders and prosthetics may trigger body scanners. My biggest clothing tip is to avoid binders with any metal clasps or zippers and for prosthetics anything that is warmed up to your body temperature is less likely to trigger a body scanner.
If you are asked for an additional screening it is your choice to have the screening in the security or a private screening area. If you choose to do it in public, please note that you are entitled to bring a friend with you into the screening room.
Be Prepared for Questions
While it is not required to disclose your identity, it’s important to be prepared for potential questions. Familiarize yourself with your rights as a traveler and understand that the TSA personnel may not be familiar with their own rules and regulations. Providing calm and respectful answers to their questions will help you to de-escalate potential issues in a stressful situation.
TSA can be stressful enough, try not to have fear of missing your flight add to an already potentially stressful situation. Anticipate that you may be asked for additional screening and provide yourself with plenty of time to make it through before boarding.
TSA PreCheck or Clear
Enrolling in TSA PreCheck or CLEAR can expedite your security screening process and provide a more predictable and less invasive experience. With PreCheck you pay a fee of $85 (many credit card companies off this as a perk) and an initial screening but after that, you’ll have access to shorter lines, leave your shoes on, and most importantly go through a metal detector rather than a body scanner.
Travel with a Trusted Friend
Sometimes in high-stress situations, it’s hard to find the right words to advocate or stand up for yourself. Traveling with someone you know can step in and advocate for you is a huge benefit, especially for newer travelers. For this same reason traveling with an LGBTQ+ tour group can also be a great way to feel supported.
With some preparation and self-assuredness, trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming travelers will make their TSA checkpoint experience easier to navigate and hopefully less stressful.
Stay Informed to Travel Safely
In a world of boundless horizons, every step forward is a triumph, and the evolution of airport security policies stands as a testament to the resilience of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming travelers. With a focus on preparation, education, and self-assuredness, this guide illuminates a path through TSA checkpoints that not only ensures safety but also celebrates identity. Embracing your true self should never be hindered by security procedures, and as the TSA continues to refine its approach, the sky becomes the limit.
Armed with awareness, confidence, and the camaraderie of fellow travelers, transgender and nonbinary individuals can soar to new heights, charting their course across the globe with hope and excitement. So pack your dreams and embark on your next adventure—because in the tapestry of travel, your identity deserves to shine brightly and boldly.
Additional resources for Transgender and Nonbinary Travelers
TSA – Gender-Neutral Screening
ACLU – Four Ways the TSA Is Making Flying Easier for Transgender People
USA Today – TSA to adopt gender-neutral screening to be more inclusive
The Washington Post – Trans travelers call for change in airports, TSA protocol