One of the first times I took an overseas flight, I accidentally scared the crap out of a young security officer. After the metal detector had signaled me as a potentially dangerous person, he gestured me to let him search me. I went along and watched him while he was searching and patting my body. When he reached my chest and casually patted it, the look in his eyes changed from confident, over confused to plain fear. Had he been patting down a woman? Little did I know at this time that it always has to be someone of my gender who searches me and it might have been better if I had been informed about lesbian travel and genderqueer travel. It happens a lot that the official just let me choose who should do the searching, probably because they don’t know.
No matter the country you’re traveling to, misgendering happens everywhere. Although the countries that are more progressive, usually have a better trans visibility. Therefore people are more used to interacting with genderfluid people. Depending on your looks, you will still be judged and labeled. We all do that. There’s no escaping the labels. That’s why it’s very important to learn how to deal with it and have decent responses ready. If you’ve had hormone therapy or surgery, you should have a card that explains why your looks don’t match your passport gender. Use it whenever needed and try to keep calm.
The USA body scan appears to be an issue for a lot of trans people. The officials need to choose the blue or the pink button, based on your gender appearance. If this official misgenders you, trouble awaits. Your body shows anomalies, usually in the chest or groin area. You could also be in transition and have anomalies in both areas. The scanner will signal you and you will most likely be searched by someone who has the same gender as you. Feeling the annoyance already? Keep reading to know the rules and regulations. Learn how to make it through airport security unscathed.
These are the rules!
Airport security screening
Officials have to tell you what they are about to do before they do it. No one is supposed to start touching you without notice.
You are allowed to choose who frisks you. Let the official know if you’re not ok with the person who will search you.
They can ask you to adjust clothing to make the search easier
In the USA, Europe, Australia, and Canada, they can not ask you to reveal or remove any prosthetic items. This applies to binders, breast prosthetics or other prosthetics.
Carry on luggage
The medical supplies and prosthetic items you don’t plan on using while flying should better be checked in. If you decide to take syringes and medication vials in your carry-on luggage, make sure you have a prescription for them. This way, no one can decide to take them away. If your carry on luggage contains items that are medically necessary, they are allowed in the airplane. You might need to prove that they are necessary: bring that prescription!
These rules apply for all airports in the US and Europe. Airport security systems in other parts of the world might be different and unpredictable. If the country has no set rules about these, officials can basically do whatever pleases them. However, having a prescription might save you here as well!
Things that are vibrating in the luggage cart, will be examined and might not make it on your flight. Best practice is to remove any batteries from vibrating items, such as razors and other appliances.
Otherwise, most appliances can be transported in your checked luggage, unless they are illegal of course!
Tips to make it through security unscathed
Stay calm and polite
If you wear prosthetics, print the TSA card and give it to the officer before the body scan in the USA. For Europe and the rest of the world, there’s no TSA card. You can choose to make a card of your own or print the US version here.
If you don’t agree with an official, calmly ask to speak to a supervisor. This is your right.
Don’t assume you’re being picked on. The airport officials are just trying to do their job well.
If you are being picked on, calmly ask to speak with a supervisor.
Metal items are pretty much unwanted on flights. Wearing prosthetics with metal parts is not recommended. If you do wear items with metal parts, it’s a good idea to bring a document that describes the item or a prescription from your doctor. This isn’t obligated, but it may help you get through security easier.
Have complaints after all? Document your complaint. You can report it later.
When your physical gender doesn’t match your official documents, things can get tricky when traveling.
In theory, your gender must match the gender on your official documents. Most Western destinations in Europe, the US, Canada, … are open-minded and won’t give you any trouble if these don’t match. It’s definitely a good idea to carry a document that proofs you’re transitioning. A lot of countries already offer a third gender option in official documents.
Countries outside of the previously mentioned may be more difficult to convince. Make sure to look up the information of your destination, before you fly in. Since this information is different for every country, you need to look them up every time. You can always check our destination guides for LGBT travel information.
Visiting public restrooms is a common drag. We dedicated an entire post on this matter. You can read it here. There is also an interesting app that you can use to find safe bathrooms. Refuge Restrooms is a great initiative and you can contribute to the map yourself. If you find a refuge restroom, add it to the map!
Know your rights
It’s always a good idea to know your rights and make sure officials or other people don’t get into your personal space. The US has a transgender rights website, which is very convenient. Of course, we won’t all be traveling to the US. So what about our rights when traveling abroad?
European countries that belong to the Schengen area, basically have the same rights for traveling transgenders. Living in a country and applying for government services can vary, but when it comes to travel, Europe has listed a few rights that apply to all human beings. It’s called the right to privacy and you can always call on that to get into a private space to discuss any issues.
The Transgender Europe website holds a lot of information about rights for transgender people.
A lot of countries have laws against LGBT people and traveling to these countries is at your own risk. Personally, I refuse to travel to countries that have laws against LGBT, because I don’t want to support their economy. That might narrow the list of countries to go to, but yes… That’s the way I see it. Check out this IGLTA map to see the countries I won’t travel to. Countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia and a lot of African and Asian countries are practically promoting homophobia and crime against LGBT. So they probably won’t be very tolerant towards transgender. You’re still free to travel there, but I’d recommend being very careful.
Have a look at our LGBT destination guides for more information on human rights and LGBT rights. Our database will expand in the future, so don’t hesitate to come back later and check out the countries we added to our directory.