The Sexist

New Security Measures May Complicate Transgender Travel

As of Aug. 15, flight safety regulations require airlines to secure the middle initial, date of birth, and gender  of every passenger on a domestic flight. The regulations, courtesy of the Transportation Security Administration's new "Secure Flight" initiative, seek to "reduce the number of times passengers are misidentified as possible terrorists." The initiative may also make air travel more difficult for transgender passengers.

Since a transgender person's gender identity is often at odds with the one marked on their official IDs—and the gender transition process itself can require extensive domestic travel—checking "male" or "female" in the airport can be a complicated procedure.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has prepared an FAQ to help transgender passengers navigate the new process. According to the NCTE, the new rules could cause a variety of hiccups. I've summarized the four main problems that passengers might encounter below.

1. When your ID and gender expression doesn't match up, you must choose one or the other. And either may confuse airline officials:

"This potentially becomes difficult if you have transitioned but your identity documents reflect an old gender marker. In this case, you may choose to submit the gender marker consistent with your gender identity so that the ticket agent is less likely to notice an inconsistency between your submitted gender and your perceived gender expression. Alternatively, you may choose to submit the gender marker indicated on your identity documents to avoid inconsistencies. We are unsure how Secure Flight will be implemented, and we therefore recommend that you carefully consider the options and submit the information that you are most comfortable with."

2.  A gender inconsistent with your gender identity could be listed on your ticket. This could lead to additional confusion—or embarrassment—at security and at the gate.

"The information you give to the airline should not appear on your ticket because the ticket format is uniform both nationally and internationally. In practice, however, airlines may use the information for any purpose they desire, and may be able to find other ways to include gender information (such as adding the title “Mr.,” “Ms.,” or “Mrs.”) on the ticket. Please let us know if this is happening to you so we can work with the airline to resolve the problem."

3. Your gender identity may not be kept confidential.

"TSA requires that the booking agents, airlines, travel agents, or any other person handling travel data for flight passengers collect full legal name, date of birth, and gender for each passenger. TSA does not collect this information directly. While TSA has strict federal procedures for the handling of private information once that information is provided
to TSA there is no restriction on third-party use of collected data. As such, airlines, travel agents, and other trip organizers may use the information as they desire. They may choose to simply disregard the information, save it in a database, or make use of it in some way. This will make it harder for anyone who flies pre-transition or during transition to keep their transgender identity private in the future."

4. When booking a flight, airline officials may not explicitly ask for the gender listed on your ID—and choose the wrong one.

"Also, gender information may be incorrectly categorized in the first place, leaving potential documentation inconsistencies and hassles at the airport. This is especially true in any instance in which the passenger does not fill out the documentation themselves (such as when they are booking a flight in person or though a travel agent). In these situations, the non-passenger booking the flight on behalf of the passenger is unlikely to actually ask which gender marker should be placed on the form. Instead, they are likely to make an independent assessment of the appropriate gender marker based on their own perception of the passenger’s gender expression, name, or voice. Some airlines will also retain information you’ve input in the past and auto-fill certain categories when booking flights (such as through a frequent flyer account), which may then auto-fill incorrect information. Frequent flyer program participation may be impacted if the name on your program enrollment differs from the information you use to book your tickets. If possible, book your flights yourself so that you may input your own full legal name, date of birth, and gender information, or work with a trusted travel agent to ensure that the information is communicated correctly."

  • Mike

    Why is the term gender used instead of sex?

  • Amanda Hess

    Good question. The AP style guide doesn't have entries for "sex" or "gender," which sucks! The New York Times and I both used gender here, however. It's a really difficult distinction in this case, I think, because it comes down to how the institution which issues the IDs determines how to check "M" or "F." Do they determine "male" or "female" based on a sex that's biologically determined at birth? Or do they determine "male" or "female" based on the individual's gender expression---basing the designation on their appearance, clothing, intonation, mannerisms, etc.---and the individual's self-reporting as male or female? I'd say they're more likely to base it on the gender expression than, say, the chromosomes, which is why I chose gender.

    The larger problem, I think, is that institutions force people to identify as male or female in the first place, when both sex and gender are hardly binary.

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