By Alissa Bohling
Monday, 16 April 2012
When Zev Al-Walid walks through an airport security scanner, he more or less willingly parts with his belt, his shoes and his pocket change, just like any other traveler. But by the time Walid – a man who was designated female at birth and later transitioned – is ready to reclaim his personal items, there’s often an extra hurdle blocking the path to his gate.
Walid, who travels frequently to the United States and countries around the world from his home in Western Europe, remembers a particularly bad trip through a US airport’s backscatter scanner machine.
“I wasn’t really privy to what the picture looked like or anything,” said Walid. “I could just hear the guy, in front of me, talking on the radio, presumably to the person looking at the image. And he was like, ‘Yeah. No. He’s right here. I’m telling you, he’s a man. I’m looking right at him.'”
“I felt physically ill after that,” said Walid.
Man, Woman, Terrorist
Since when did travelers’ gender become the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) business? Since at least September of 2003, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an advisory warning against “Al-Qaeda’s continued efforts to plan multiple attacks against the US and US interests overseas.” The advisory included a list of potential terrorism targets, a mention of recent arrests of unnamed terror suspects and this warning: “Male bombers may dress as females in order to discourage scrutiny.”
Maybe there was verifiable intelligence about male terrorists who like to slip women’s wear over their explosive devices. Or maybe the wardens of the security state read one too many spy novels. But either way, bringing gender into the security arena has major consequences.