A Trans* Guide for Staying Safe While Traveling
As trans* people gain more acceptance in the cultural mainstream, travel is becoming more accessible for our community. Mainstream success means more targeted advertisements and marketing for the trans* community, as exemplified by this past summer, when the first-ever trans* cruise set sail in the Caribbean. While this is great for trans* visibility, there are concerns about safety and privacy.
Recently, the Fort Lauderdale Tourism Association released a study on the wants and needs of trans* people while traveling. According to their research, safety is the biggest determining factor in selecting a vacation destination. The tourism industry has been doing research on gay-and-lesbian travel for years, but this is the first time anyone has taken an in-depth look at the travel needs of the trans* community. Knowing your rights and doing your research are the best ways to be prepared. Below we’ve listed our tips and pointers for having a safe and fun vacation.
1. Get your official documents in order.
To make flight reservations you are required to submit your full name, date of birth, and gender. In order to decrease chances of being delayed by TSA, you should use the information as it appears on your passport or government-issued photo ID. If you no longer look like the picture on your ID, try to get a new copy before you travel. If you can’t get a new copy, carry a note from your doctor explaining why your appearance has changed.
2. Know the rules for traveling with needles.
If you are planning on traveling with needles, syringes, or hormones, you must have proof that they are prescribed. A professional pharmaceutical label and original box must accompany any prescribed medications. Notify the TSA that you are traveling with medication and syringes as prescribed by your doctor. Maintain all of your medical supplies in one bag for easy screening. Ask flight crew to store your hormones in the refrigerator if they are required to be chilled. If that’s not possible, bring a thermos to keep them at a safe temperature. Keep any pills in a safe, dry place and never freeze any of your hormone vials.
3. Know your rights before going through airport security.
Passengers at most airports are asked to go through metal detectors and the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) booth. AIT is voluntary and travelers may opt out of the imaging process. If you opt out, or one of the machines detects something unusual, you will be required to go through a pat down with a security officer. The officer will match the gender of whatever is stated on your government-issued identification. Many airports are using the Rapiscan Secure 1000. This AIT machine will show the TSA agent an image of your naked body and any binding garments or prosthetics you are using. If you’re selected, you’re entitled to request a private screening. If you opt for the private screening, bring a friend with you. You have the right to speak with a supervisor at anytime during the screening.
If you’ve experienced unprofessional conduct of any kind from a TSA agent, you can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Liberties.
4. Decide what to do with prosthetics.
Travelers should never be asked to remove any article of clothing. This goes for prosthetics as well. TSA agents are not allowed to ask you to remove anything you might be wearing. If you are traveling with a prosthetic in your carry-on luggage, you may ask for a private screening. If you are a transman who packs regularly, make sure your packing piece is free of any metal parts. Also, be aware that a heavily bounded chest can raise concerns because it may appear that the passenger is hiding something underneath the wrap.
5. Choose the right clothing.
You have the right to wear and present yourself in any way that you would like, as long as you don’t obscure your face. Be mindful that some clothing will attract more unwanted and unfair attention than necessary. Clothing with metal built into it will set off the metal detector and create more of a hassle. So try to avoid binders, corsets, bras, and jewelry with metal pieces while traveling.
6. Have a safe-sex game plan before leaving home.
Bringing condoms, lube and other forms of protection with you while traveling is smart practice. If you plan to buy condoms in other countries, be aware that there will be differences and the labeling might be in a different language — making it difficult for you to discern specifics. If you can’t bring your own, do as much research as you can on the products available beforehand. Try to find brands that are approved by the FDA.
7. Research politics and laws ahead of time.
It’s illegal to be gay in 82 countries. The majority of the world does not understand the difference between gender and sexuality. Some trans* people might be identified as LGBT, and therefore denied access into certain countries. Study the laws and policies of the areas you are traveling. No one should be forced to miss out on the wonders of the world based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. Be mindful of the policies of the country and go with what feels best for you.
A note on sex toys: In some countries, traveling with sexually explicit material can be used as evidence of sex work, which may result in detainment. Trans* people are often unfairly targeted. Be aware that in recent years, there have been several instances where people have used sex toys to victimize LGBT travelers. One couple was the victim of an alleged hate crime by TSA agents and another couple was arrested in Malaysia for being in possession of a sex toy. Keep in mind that traveling with these items is illegal in some countries. So be very cautious and do your homework before crossing borders with anything you think might be questionable.
8. Traveling with friends will increase your safety.
The strength in numbers cliché comes to mind here because it’s true. You are much more likely to feel safe and comfortable if you are traveling with a friend or small group. Try to avoid walking alone after dark. It’s sad that this tip needs to be included but the reality is that walking alone after dark in an unfamiliar place can lead to dangerous outcomes — for anyone. Use your judgment and opt for taking a cab if possible rather than walking solo. Always carry a cell phone, extra cab money, and your emergency-contact information. Tell people where you are going and be mindful while exploring alone.
*Why the asterisk in trans*? Because trans* is one word for a variety of identities (transgender, transsexual, etc.) that are incredibly diverse, but share a common denominator, the prefix trans. Read more here.