The following day, I attended a workshop about preventing gender violence, facilitated by Katz. There, he posed a question to all of the men in the room: “Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?”

Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, “Nothing.” Then Katz asked the women, “What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?” Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:

“I don’t make eye contact with men when I walk down the street,” said one.
“I don’t put my drink down at parties,” said another.
“I use the buddy system when I go to parties.”
“I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction.”
“I use my keys as a potential weapon.”

The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men’s side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life — including my mother, sister and girlfriend — and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender.



Honestly, this whole TSA Scanner debacle is irritating me to no end.

So, is my gynecologist violating my rights too? Should I be scared that they’re getting off on poking my privates?


I wasn’t going to blog about the whole TSA thing ‘cause I keep reading the same things about it over and over again, but I’m going to go ahead and do that now because there are a lot of points that don’t necessarily occur to people. I might regret my delivery, since I’m a little tired and a little cranky, but the points I make are ones that I think are perfectly valid.

I’m by no means an expert on air travel or security, but I come from a multicultural/multinational background and have spent my entire life flying at least once a year. My family still lives overseas, so flight is how I visit them for Christmas. I won’t appreciate being treated like a criminal at my airports, and here are the reasons why:

1. Girl, be real. That TSA officer is not your gynecologist. You know your gynecologist, you get to choose your gynecologist, and you can safely assume that your gynecologist has had years and years of studying and training. Also, your gynecologist is taking your money, and probably wants your vagina to be healthy. On the other hand, that TSA officer is probably not going to care much about your vagina’s well-being. That TSA officer is probably concerned with finding whatever it is you’ve potentially hidden up your cooch.

2. TSA screens are not consistent across US airports, and in the past 3-or-so years I’ve been traveling alone, they never have been. I’ve been able to travel with gigantic sewing scissors; I’ve had tweezers taken away. I’ve heard stories about really nice TSA officers at certain airports, and I’ve heard stories about real assholes who take advantage of their uniforms. Basically, TSA policy appears to be a hot-ass mess that isn’t necessarily enforced depending on whether or not your officer has had her coffee that morning. Or whether or not you’re a “cutie.”

3. Terrorists are not dumb. As though, in the age of the wireless world, terrorists are still going to be trying to smuggle weapons onto planes. The aim of the terrorist is to use terror to sabotage our nation. It’s right there in the word “terrorist.” Keeping us afraid is exactly what they want. It’s not about kills, it’s about the fear generated.

4. For that matter, how many terrorist attacks has the TSA prevented? Slate published an article late last week asking the same question, and telling the story of army vet Kevin Brown (emphases mine):

In April 2008, the TSA touted the arrest of U.S. Army veteran Kevin Brown at Orlando International Airport as a victory for its behavioral detection program. Brown was arrested after trying to check luggage containing pipe-bomb-making materials. Airline officials insisted passengers were never in danger, since Brown didn’t intend to assemble the bomb on the plane. Moreover, he did not have ties to organized terrorism, and it’s not apparent what he wanted to do with the hazardous materials after arriving at his destination. Brown fits into the category of troublemakers that [security expert Bruce] Schneier says the TSA does catch: random nut jobs. (Not professional terrorists with thought-out plans.)

The Bruce Schneier mentioned in that quote coined the term “security theater” to describe the TSA. Security theater is the concept of making people feel safer while doing very little to actually improve safety. Security, as manifested in American airports, is an illusion (tricks are what a whore does for money). If it were to disappear, and if we were to go back to the simple metal detectors and passport checks of pre-9/11 travel, how much less safe do you think our airports would get? Does it make you feel safer as an American to be seen naked or have your genitals touched by a stranger?

5. Actually, being groped or seen naked is a big deal to many Americans. For survivors of sexual abuse, for instance, these things can be emotional triggers. Transgender people, especially during transition, often have a very tough time letting anyone see them naked or touch their genitals, let alone strangers at an airport. If you’ve survived a disease, you may have prosthetics (like this breast cancer survivor/flight attendant does) or other devices that help you function more easily (like this bladder cancer survivor who carries a urostomy bag). Do we want these survivors to be humiliated in a public setting just so that the rest of us can feel a little bit safer?

6. It’s 2010, and “just don’t fly” is, for many, not an option. The world is only getting smaller, and people have family all over the word. My family lives in Tokyo, which is on the other side of the Earth from Boston, where I am now; believe it or not, Greyhound will not bus my fat white ass there. I’ve had people suggest I travel by boat or just Skype with them. To which I say fuck right off and don’t come back until you’ve recognized your privilege. I recognize my privileges that I get to experience a multi-national identity, and that I get to come to the United States (with full citizenship, no less) and try and make a better life for myself than I personally would have gotten in Japan. Now recognize your privilege that you don’t need to travel for 24 hours to be with your family.

8. Nobody likes these new policies—neither the travelers nor the TSA. Air travel blogger Steven Frischling recently got in touch with 17 TSA officers (he contacted 20; 17 replied), and each expressed deep discomfort with what they were now being forced to do at their jobs. The responses include language like “I felt like vomiting,” “painful and demoralizing,” and “I do not want to be here all day touching penises.” I feel these reactions from the TSA officers are totally valid—the same way I feel travelers’ reactions to the TSA screening procedures are totally valid. Nobody wants their genitals touched/seen by strangers, and nobody wants to touch/see a stranger’s genitals. And all this is happening, again, just to make us feel safer.

I know it’s cheesy and passé to be quoting founding fathers (like, those guys have been dead for a hundred years, you know? They lived in a pre-9/11 world, what do they know about America) but that long-haired dude on our $100 bills wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We can’t keep giving up our civil liberties for the temporary feeling or illusion of safety; soon, there’ll be no civil liberties left to give. The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights promises us guard against unreasonable search and seizure. Is a choice between being seen naked by a stranger and being groped by a stranger reasonable? Are the new TSA screening procedures constitutional?

The refrain of our national anthem christens our nation “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” What’s free and brave about security theater? What’s free and brave about making sure people stay in their homes, afraid to see the world?