I recently flew from Colorado to Texas, and I arrived at the airport 30 minutes before my plane was scheduled to leave. Normally this airport isn’t very busy. So I wasn’t worried… until I reached the security checkpoint, which had about 50 people in it.
Luckily, the line was moving surprisingly fast. So my anxiety was shrinking as I got closer to the body scanner, which I like to call “the dignity evaporation machine” or “D.E.M.” for short.
I’ve traveled around the world, and America is the only country I’ve ever had to walk through these. I loath these things, because they blast you with radiation, microwaves, and/or who knows what. They used to take naked pictures of you, but that was supposedly changed, but how would I really know what goes on inside them? Either way, when you stand inside them you have to hold your hands above your head like you’re a criminal being arrested. The invasion of privacy and the submissive posture really drives home the point that everyone who attempts to board a plane in America is considered guilty of terrorism until proven innocent.
As I approached the D.E.M. I noticed a male TSA agent standing idly next to the old metal detector that nobody walks through anymore. I knew you can choose between going through the D.E.M. or getting a pat-down. I assumed a pat-down would be quicker, and if I was going to lose my dignity anyway, I felt it would be more just if the TSA had to get their hands dirty taking it from me.
So I told the TSA agent that I preferred a pat-down. He looked at me in disgust and then shouted over his shoulder at nobody in particular, “We’ve got an opt-out.” Then he stood there staring into space for 4 minutes while I watched in horror as people who were originally behind me in the line passed through the D.E.M. Finally, I said to the agent, “I’m running a bit late. If this is going to take a while, I’ll just go through the machine.” He barked at me with a mixture of amusement and disgust, “Too late for that.” Only then did he take me through the metal detector to a place with a floor mat with two foot prints on it where I was instructed to stand.
As I assumed the position the agent asked me in a voice dripping with suspicion and accusation, “Why did you choose to opt-out?” I told him, “I don’t know what that machine is. I don’t like it, and I don’t want anyone to see me naked.” He replied, “Eh, it’s not that bad.”
Then he took his time finding a box of plastic gloves, and then he made it a point to show me how slowly he put them on and adjusted them. Then the frisking started. Mind you, I was wearing a fitting T-shirt and fitting blue jeans. Since I was flying on a cheap airline that charged $50 to check a bag and/or carry on anything bigger than a small purse, I had all of my luggage (3 pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, and three T-shirts) in a plastic grocery bag. So there was nowhere for me to hide anything.
Still, he wrapped his hands tightly around each of my arms and acted like he was squeezing a tube of toothpaste. He even ran his hands down my bare arms past the sleeves as if I could be hiding something under my skin. He stuck his hands down my shirt collar and inspected all 360 degrees of my neck. Then he did the same thing to waist band. Then he squeezed both my legs like they were tubes of toothpaste. He did that to each leg from the front and then each leg from the back. On each pass he jammed his hands up into my groin, which meant he made firm contact with my balls 4 times.
After the frisking was over he swabbed his gloves and put the swab into a machine that looked like a futuristic cash register. The machine beeped, and a bright red light started flashing. I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “Nothing good. It means you tested positive for bomb residue.” I wanted to shout at him, “Bomb residue! Bomb residue! Where’s the bomb? I’m just a guy in a t-shirt and jeans with a plastic bag full of underwear, and you just squeezed every inch of my body!” Of course, there wasn’t any need for me to state the obvious. He knew there wasn’t any bomb or any residue for that matter. We both knew I was just a guy getting harassed, and there was nothing I could do about it.m
The agent called his supervisor, who was an older black lady. She looked at the machine and looked at the gloves. Then she started chitchatting with the agent, completely ignoring me. I asked her, “So what happens now?” Without even looking at me she said in a bored, monotone voice, “Sir, your clothing tested positive for bomb residue. So we have to take you into a private room for another pat down.” Then she just walked off and left us to wait for an elderly white guy to come and escort me to a private room along with the agent who had just frisked my balls.
As we entered the room I asked, “Can I just take off all my clothes to speed up this process.” With a mixture of annoyance and glee, my original frisker said, “No. We have to do it this way.” He stood in the corner of the room and nonchalantly picked through my plastic bag while the older agent frisked me in exactly the same way as I had just been frisked out in the open. So I don’t know why we had to go into a private room. He also jammed my balls into my groin a total of 4 times. The only thing he did differently was make me take my shoes off and rub the bottom of my feet. When he was finished he went and tested his gloves in the bomb residue machine while the younger agent guarded the door.
When the second glove test came back negative the agent at the door said, “Ok. We’re done here,” and sauntered off. None of the agents showed any relief or surprise by the outcome, because they knew from the first second they saw me that I was nothing more than a guy in a T-shirt and jeans carrying a plastic bag full of underwear who was critically late for his flight. Needless to say, I didn’t get an apology for wasting my time and violating my personal space.
So I collected everything I brought with me except for my dignity and ran for my gate just in time to board my plane where I spent the next two and a half hours lamenting how much of my tax dollars are spent dehumanizing the American public under the guise of safety. On my return flight to Colorado a few days later I opted to go through the dignity evaporation machine like the powerless peon I am.
There are some people who would say that everything that happened to me was my fault, and I should have arrived at the airport earlier to schedule time to be humiliated, and I should have just submitted to having my body radiated or microwaved or whatever instead of exercising my barely existent freedom of choice because I should have anticipated the TSA agents would be annoyed by the fact that I want to travel.
Call me crazy, but I feel like this is blaming the victim, and it sets a dystopian precedent. How about instead of making humiliation, bullying and sexual assault a normal part of travel, we just get rid of the TSA since they’re completely ineffective at preventing terrorism anyway.
If you liked this post, you may like these: