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My Adventures with the TSA
gort
catvalente
So I've been flying a lot lately, and will be flying a very great deal in the next several months. It was going to happen sooner or later--I went through enhanced screening with my friends at the TSA.

It's happened twice now, and I've been very interested in how it went down, but not gotten around to posting. So here it is--Adventures In Security Theater.

The first time was in Houston, coming back from Aggiecon. I saw the giant machine and my brain immediately went: uh oh. So this is definitely going to happen. Am I going to opt out or not?

The fact is I fly a lot and though I'm aware of how much radiation is involved in a flight, I'm also concerned at the fact that we don't know the long term exposure effects of this type of radiation and that no one is wearing a badge that might alert them if the machine was broken bothers me hugely. (Well, badges might scare people into not going into the machine!)

I got up to the line and asked to opt out. This was what surprised me: how difficult that was to do. I sort of squeaked a little when I said it. It's tough to say no to someone in weaponized uniform, to do it in front of a lot of people and in Texas, not a notoriously liberal place. To stand up, even a little, to authority. I don't generally locate my personal freedom in the ability to stand down guards of any kind, as I am a cynic who recognizes that they could give a shit about me--it's not personal, it's just a system, and they don't think of me as a person. That's almost natural, given how many people they see every day. I was surprised that it was hard for me though. We talk a big game online, but it's not nothing to carry it forward to actual action.

Anyway, I squeaked my way into an opt-out and the first guard was very nice about it, though the second, a woman who needed someone to come take her place so she could do the pat-down, got increasingly irritated and eye-rolly as minutes ticked by. She didn't really look at me or talk to me, and when we went to the special area (right in front of the main terminal walkway--though they do offer a private room) she just went through her spiel.

Now, I have never been sexually assaulted, and I don't have many issues with people touching me. So it wasn't so bad. Weird, offputting, and made me feel exposed/like a criminal, but it was fine, as far as pat-downs that involve putting her hands in my jeans and cupping my breasts go. Not fun, but I could stare straight ahead and wait for it to be over. I note that they do some kind of chemical analysis on one's hands to see if one has touched bombs or whatever--something they don't do if you go through the machine, so LOLS, I guess. None of it makes any more sense than the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

EVERYONE SWITCH PLACES.

Take 2 was in Chicago O'Hare, and a different story. I opted out again--and it was easier this time. Saying no to authority gets easier with practice. The woman behind me opted out, too, and as we were waiting she asked me about the machines. I said just what I said above--we just don't know what this kind of radiation can do to a body, there have been no studies, and no one is wearing a badge to make sure excess radiation isn't being leaked.

The woman shrugged and said: "Well, I'm sure it's fine." She then walked into the machine, put her hands up, and looked out at me. She shrugged again and said:

"It's only the first trimester, right?"

o.O

Wow. I mean, I'll just leave it at that because WHAT.

When I got my pat-down this time, the TSA agent was obviously irritated and incredibly rough with me. She pinched my skin when pulling the waistband of my jeans out to run her fingers around it and put her hand quite far down the front of my jeans. But the worst was when she did the "I'm going to move my hand up your leg until I meet resistance" thing. Which she did FOUR times, each leg, from the front and the back. She slid her hand up fast and hard, so hard that when she met "resistance" it felt like a light punch. She hit, well, let's not be coy, my labia and pubic bone extremely hard with the side of her hand, four times. I winced and jumped--it was so unnecessary, as I knew from not actually having been punched in the junk the last time I did this.

She did the chemical analysis bit and sent me on my way. Didn't look at me or talk to me like I was a person, either. Both opt-outs delayed me about ten minutes from "No thanks" to walking off. My stuff was indeed out of sight for significant portions of time--something you're not supposed to do at airports lest a terrorist slip something in, remember? But only once did I feel genuinely violated. TSA agents are just doing their jobs and I'm sensitive to that. But damn, girl, you did not have to be so rough. My labia are not wanted in seventeen states for a series of bank robberies and high speed chases. Fucking ow.

So that's my TSA story. I'll be interested to see how many times I have to opt out over the tour. I hate it, and I shouldn't have to do it, just to avoid unstudied radiation. (justbeast  always says he has to save his rads for Mars.) But it's part of the world now, and we all got a very clear picture of how much protest and common disapproval matter to anyone in charge. This happened no matter how many people said it shouldn't. It's done. It will never be undone because no one wants to be the guy who lessened airport security. This is not for our safety. I can walk through any airport in the world with metal knitting needles and it's right as rain. But no one ever thought it was for our safety.

And as to the folk who think an effective protest is for everyone to stop flying--well, fuck right off. Flying is no longer a privilege in this world that we can just choose not to partake of. I have to fly for work, I fly internationally for work, I almost never fly for fun. It's a big damn country, and a big damn world, and most white collar jobs require us to move around a lot, because nothing is geographically anchored anymore in the business world. Not to mention that families are no longer clustered around the same town everyone grew up in. It's not 1959. We require a certain level of mobility--which is why airlines can gouge us and the TSA can do whatever it wants. The solution is not to forcibly shunt the country back to the 1940s and laugh while thousands of people lose their jobs when airlines go under. I see this suggested on every website that discusses TSA tactics, and it makes me so mad I could tear a cereal box in half.

I just hope next time my personal physical violation by my government is a little gentler, that's all. That's all I really ask. Be gentle while you punch my rights like a pile of wooden boards. Ki-ya.

Wow. That's...wow.

This whole thing is so fucking ridiculous.

Ryan works out at O'Hare and has the worst stories of women flat out having emotional break downs. He opts out every time (and with smoke breaks, that's a lot) and they resent that he does it at all ("you work here and it's easier if you just go through the machines, sir"). He brought up the whole leaving the bags unattended several times and they bark back that they know what they are doing. And then one time they told him he lied about which bag was his and it was a 30 minute ordeal. It's the women being treated roughly that makes him the angriest and he's asked other travelers who say O'Hare is the worst for the patdown.

Elle flies this summer and I'm so torn what to do. No way do I want her to go through the patdown, but I don't want the radiation on her either.

It's horrible to have to choose, and I don't know what to tell you. I mean, a woman will do her pat-down, but as I've said, the woman I got basically /made/ an assault where one didn't have to take place.


And this is why I no longer fly.

I've opted out every single time I've gotten put in a line with one of those machines. They enrage me, for so many reasons. Just looking at them brings a hateful tear to my eye. This was not hyperbole the first time I met one in person; I actually cried and had to walk out of line for several minutes to compose myself. Serious rage!face.

It was hardest the first time, when the TSA fellow had specifically pulled me from a standard metal detector line after my bags were already in the machine, but I stood my ground and opted the fuck out. The female agent who patted me down was brusque but professional and I didn't feel abused by the experience.

I hate this. I hate the stories that come out about the people who are humiliated and hurt by their experiences in the security theater. I hate the politicians who are so entranced by the idea of Keeping the Country Safe that they turn travel into hell for so many people.

I have a lot of rage regarding this. Obvs.

I'm sorry you got junkpunched, too. Stickchrist, what a way to start a flight. D:

What the defecating fornication?

Also - so tempted to buy one of these for going through the scanner, and to talk about it loudly.

You and me both. I fly for the first time since the introduction of the porno-scanners in a few weeks (and do so wearing a utilikilt), and have no qualms giving very loud play-by-play if my business is gotten up into.

Wow. Fuck that shit. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

I have no words about this. It's just so beyond and I don't understand how so many people put up with it. Fuck the authorities!

I keep hoping this ridiculous practise will somehow disintegrate soon and people will stand up for themselves... *sigh*

Ok, the first trimester woman is insane; that's when you can hurt the baby the most with radiation...

Anyway, I've flown once during this pregnancy (currently 6.5 months), and I've opted out both ways for the same reasons that you did, except that I have an actual fetus in me. I found that telling the TSA agents that I was both pregnant and that my doctor had ordered me not to go through the machines (a lie, but a mild one) made my pat-downs relatively gentle. They were especially careful around my stomach and also my pubic area, since I expressly told them that I have symphsis pubis dysfunction, which is a pregnancy condition I do not wish on my worst enemy.

It wasn't pleasant, per se, but it wasn't as bad as I expected. I'm sure that the TSA is going to love me when they hear that they have to pat down both me and the actual baby next time I fly, but there's no way in hell I'm exposing a 4 month old to unstudied radiation. =)

In England, you can't opt out, pregnant or not. Awesome, right? The US is pretty awful, but we've got plenty of company.

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This is why I wear a handgun-shaped padded cup when I fly.

We just flew to Puerto Rico and back with a baby, and I was very surprised to find that contrary to expectations, flying with a baby is MUCH easier and more pleasant than flying without.

I made it very clear to my husband that none of the three of us would be exposing ourselves to unclear amounts of radiation, and if we had to get a patdown, so be it. We were grimly prepared for it.

But I was holding an adorable eight month old baby, and when I told the TSA official that I didn't want to expose her to radiation, they just smiled at the baby, and waved all three of us through without any additional screening.

I even got to take a bottle of water (NOT a baby bottle, a regular Poland Spring bottle) through security. I know, crazy, right? I meant to discard it before security, and forgot.

Security guard: Is this for the baby?
Me: >shifty eyed< ...yes.
Security guard: Then you can take it through!

What I've learned, traveling with a baby, is that none of these rules seem to be as ironclad and strict as they insist they must be. Unless they assume that those traveling with a baby are less likely to commit terrorist acts?

I'm definitely not complaining about having a less aggressive traveling experience, but it's a puzzle why they can be so nice and accommodating to me, just because of my daughter, and so unyielding all the other times.

You have a child. It short circuits their responses.

D:

I'm fortunate that, though the TSA employee at LAX who handled my opt-out was a bit verbally aggressive when I pointed out one extra tray of belongings of mine that needed to accompany me through the checkpoint, the patdown itself was pretty much perfunctory. They didn't even ask why I wanted to opt out (twofold: one, like you, I don't quite trust the machinery; two, despite all the TSA assurances, I do not trust the DHS' bona fides on data protection, especially since they've made such a pig's ear of other forms of security-related data-gathering).

My beef, though, isn't really with the employees as a bloc as much as with their higher-ups and the whole fear-industrial complex that keeps this security theater running long after most reasonable people would've asked it to back the hell off.

And very much agreed about the futility of the "don't fly" argument. I'd love to see more long-haul rail, but that should be an alternative to, rather than a replacement for, flying.

And much as I love rail, it takes forever, is often late, and costs as much if not more than a plane ticket.

But no security of any kind, just in case you thought any of this meant anything.

Re: pregnant woman--WHAT THE WHAT? Gaaaaahhhhh.

I so don't look forward to having to make this choice, and I think it's completely ridiculous that we "have to" do this. Seriously, no one should have to make the choice between being groped and getting exposed to radiation.

Hearing about you getting punched in the junk makes my elbows itch, because I'm pretty sure I'd have involuntarily cold-cocked someone who did that to me (and I am not a violent person).

Goddamn. Fuck big brother, fuck dubya, fuck the whole fucking lot of it.

Ugh. And just ugh. Sorry you got an unprofessional asshat. I have been raped and know I'd have a very loud and likely corresponding reaction to that kind of treatment. One thing to be frisked thoroughly and professionally, quite another to be left bruised in the process. I haven't had to fly since the scanners were put in place - not looking forward to it.

Oh geez, that sounds so rough to deal with. I'm sorry.

(I still haven't had to deal with this because the BWI scanner is always broken so we just walk through the metal detector (all new version of security theater!) and San Antonio only has metal detectors-the last time I was in Boston only metal detectors.)Thank you for telling us what happens, cause I'll be on the opt-out train soon enough, I think:/

Trimester?! OMG WHAT.


Plus a giant yes to your stance on flying. Thank you, I've been arguing about this too.

Again, so sorry that you and so many have to deal with this garbage.

Damn, so sorry that had to happen to you, and that you have to look forward to it again.

But ...

Honestly, I don't think anyone suggesting "fly as little as possible and make them hurt until they do something about it" is wanting people to lose jobs, and I kinda support this as "best available option if you don't HAVE to fly". If I did have to fly, I'd risk the radiation by preference, and I have no PTSD issues. That's just a gross violation that shouldn't be happening, and since most politicians of both parties are all for it there's really no way to vote them out, and if you suggest the masses show up at people's offices and threatening violence you're risking arrest (and anyone who does show up doing that is certain to be arrested, and if you say "fuck you touch me and I'll hurt you" at the airport) you're going to jail, so, really, it's ridiculous to take the one option that might get something done and want get anyone thrown in jail off the table. Not the fault of those people, it's the fault of the assholes in gov't who want a police state and the masses of people who are so easily manipulated/don't mind a police state. Plus, you seem to be assuming the rules won't change before the airlines go under.

Gah. Sorry. I only just friended your journal but reading about this sort of thing makes me FURIOUS (and, real quick-I don't think it gives much if any additional protection against terrorist attack and even if it did, i'd rather risk the attack than face the certainty of groping). I truly wish I could afford to bail on this entire country and elsewhere.

Since I'm reading (and writing) in a hurry, wanted to make clear that I have no problem with people who DO fly, and I'm assuing the people you advocating not-flying are talking about for optional purposes, and not suggesting people lose jobs/not go to sick friends & relatives/lose out on huge amounts of money/etc.

I was only taking issue w/what sounded like a dismissal of the "hurt them in the money, that's what they care about" tactic, for reasons stated above.

After Boston, I said no more, and I have the privilege to be able to say that because unlike you, I only fly for pleasure. But I can't handle it. Security theater makes me freak out, and then freak out more at the thought of What they might do to me if I just start crying or shaking or otherwise Acting Fucked Up. I almost stopped breathing in the machine and I don't let strange cops touch me so I just suffered through and felt gross about it. My fear is doubled and tripled because I travel alone. I know rationally it's unlikely for me to Disappear, but you can't tell clinical paranoia a goddamn thing.
No one should have to put up with this, but it's done, as you say.