(stix cartoon by eyeteeth of Small Peculiar)
Which is pretty much my take on it, but of course you know I've gotta be about the nuance, because I spoil everything.
Patricia Calhoun at Westword started reporting on women being singled out for inappropriate groping in 2001, just weeks after 9/11: http://www.westword.com/2001-10-18/n
For the next year, I wouldn't fly in anything other than a sports bra. Then the "zealous" screeners at DIA apparently eased off. I started wearing underwires through security again, but not without trepidation.
In 2003 I was almost arrested when I set off the metal detector because I was wearing a garter belt. I was pulled aside for the wand-down, which I didn't object to. I told them they'd get a small positive on the front and back of each thigh from the clips, which they did. The screener then demanded that I go to a "private screening room." "Not until my bags are done being x-rayed," I said, aware that I had a couple thousand dollars worth of technology in my carry-on. "You'll get them afterwards," they told me. I refused to go and asked for the "private screening" in view of my bags, even if that meant in view of other passengers. They threatened to arrest me. I lifted my skirt to show them the garter clips, flashing the entire terminal in the process, and the screener started to grab my arm, but the supervisor waved her off and said "let her go." I grabbed my bags off the conveyor and stalked off.
I have no illusions about what would happen today.
The thing is that nothing about this is new. Private citizens being arbitrarily singled out for intrusive searches and rough treatment by authority figures because of their appearance, their "attitude," or just a momentary need for an endorphin rush by a small-minded bureaucrat? Welcome to the lives of people of color, the phenomenon of Driving While Black, the lives of women, of transpeople, of disabled people (oh hai, Canada!).
It is no accident that women have been complaining about being pulled out of line because of their big breasts, having their bodies commented on by TSA officials, and getting inappropriate touching when selected for pat-downs for nearly 10 years now, but just this week it went viral. It is no accident that CAIR identified Islamic head scarves (hijab) as an automatic trigger for extra screenings in January, but just this week it went viral. What was different?
Suddenly an able-bodied cisgender white man is the one who was complaining.
It is also no accident that the rhetoric around "enhanced" pat-downs has immediately triggered a flood of racist, classist, ableist comments about TSA workers whom I've seen referred to as morons, retards, garbage collectors, high school drop-outs, and more. The fact that almost half of the TSA workforce is made up of POC? Purely coincidental. The fact that Republicans insisted that the bill creating the TSA also contain a clause saying they can never be unionized, and thus most of their force will never make more than working-class wages? Surely that has nothing to do with the public's contempt. Oh look, the homophobes are already on the bandwagon, and they always make for great bedfellows.
I hate the TSA. I hate petty bureaucrats. My ex-husband and I have been treated in humiliating, degrading, enraging ways by immigration officers long before they were the ICE, back when they were the INS, before Homeland Security and 9/11. I said then and I say now, if you give small-minded, disempowered people small amounts of power on the job, some of them will inevitably become mini-tyrants who live to wield that power over others at every available opportunity. I fully believe that for every person with integrity, honor, and a nuanced view of the world who occupies one of those roles, there is a person who gets their kicks from bullying others, picking on those they see as vulnerable, and being as rigid and inflexible as they can get away with before a supervisor yanks their chain.
I am flying in December, and will be flying much more next year as my new job will require about 3 off-site "residency" weeks per year where I travel to run clinical skills workshops for students. I live a good 2-3 day drive from my aging parents and my lone remaining grandmother. It is not an option for me to say "I just won't fly any more."
When I fly in December, if I'm pulled out for either of the imaging machines, I will adopt the same demeanor and rhetoric I use when a medical person tries to get me to step on a scale: "No, thank you." Polite but firm. "Not today, thanks." I will submit to the "enhanced" pat-down and tolerate having my hair stroked, my labia and breasts touched, my waistband fingered. I will ask to have it done in full view of all other passengers, not in a "private area," and I will ask for a witness, possibly a police officer. And then I will go to my gate and write up my report for the ACLU. And I will adopt this same strategy until the policies change.
Because I do not believe there is adequate evidence that the levels of x-rays in the backscatter machines is safe, particularly for those with histories of melanoma, depressed immune systems, children, or the elderly.
Because I believe there is adequate evidence to show that the images produced by these machines can be stored, have been stored, and have been used as fodder for others' amusement.
Because even if I am not wearing a maxi pad or an adult diaper, wearing a breast prosthetic after surgery, fitted with an ostomy bag, or living with genitals that don't match my expressed gender, I know others are, and I think subjecting them to potential humiliation and ridicule is wrong and does not make us more safe.
Because I am a fat woman, but I am smallish fat, probably not the size of fat that would get me snickered at between employees or by other passengers, whether I was being photographed or patted down, but many people are bigger than me and they live with enough opportunities for ridicule in their life already.
Because I know that having an essentially nude image taken of me might not be traumatic for me but it might be for others.
Because I know that being intrusively groped might be something I can tolerate via dissociation, but not everyone can.
Because I know that it is not OK for the government to make images of the nude outlines of childrens' bodies, particularly in a world where Mike Diana can be convicted of obscenity for making crude drawings of sexual molestation.
Because I am not confident that the TSA has effectively removed convicted sex offenders from the ranks of people allowed to feel up or look at the naked outlines of the bodies of adults and children.
Because I hope that if enough people request the "enhanced" pat-down, a not-insignificant segment of TSA employees will start to object and make the very valid point that when they were hired, they were not told that touching people's junk was in the job description.
Because if you want it on board badly enough, you will shove it up your personal area, and they haven't started doing body cavity searches. Yet.
Because I know that it is perfectly possible to get all kinds of things on board that could serve as weapons, even if you feel up everyone's junk.
Because they're still not screening the people who clean the aircraft cabin or re-stock the soda cart, while the back side of baggage claim is still "protected" by an 8' high chain link fence. While in the meantime they're x-raying pilots and cabin crew over and over and over, when all a pilot needs to bring a plane down is... the controls.
Because I do not believe in living in a police state.
At the same time, I am on to the fact that conversation about civil liberties and police states is just now starting to go viral, when we have held people in Guantanamo for 8 years now without pressing charges against them, when 1 in 4 women is the victim of an attempted sexual assault in her lifetime and that's without counting "enhanced pat-downs," when suddenly it's the single black mother feeling up the educated white guy instead of the other way around. Suddenly images of violated (young, attractive) women are being used, and commenters on blogs are saying "dude, what if that was your wife or your daughter?" as if starting this week, physical assaults on women and girls was a Very Serious Issue, never mind the fact that it took an upset white guy to finally get the media's attention. Never mind the fact that some upset white guys are practically advocating physical and sexual assault on the TSA screeners, both male and female.
Kyriarchy: I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.
ETA: You are welcome to link to this post; you are not welcome to cut-and-paste the contents except as a brief quotation with a link back.
I edited this post to add more visible credit to the cartoon's author and to add a thought about vulnerability for fat people at about 1230pm West Coast time on 11/18/10.
Second ETA: I explicitly called out the "cisgender" piece of this puzzle when I tweaked this post for California NOW; however most links seem to be coming here for the nonce. Since I apparently thought I'd added "cisgender" to my money quote here but failed to do so [headdesk], I added it on 11/19/10.
Third ETA as of May 2011 - this post has become a magnet for spam pharmaceutical ads, so I'm closing comments.