out-and-about, transgender

A Tale of Two Airports: My First TSA Experience

As I type this, I am sitting at an airport gate at John Wayne Airport (SNA), awaiting my flight to Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC).  I traveled this weekend to visit two of my besties in Southern California, as well as to watch the legendary Manchester band New Order perform in LA. For most other people, their main concerns would be where to stay, where to eat, how to deal with the insufferable LA traffic, etc. I had a different set of worries, however. This was my first airport experience as a transgender woman. With only a certified court order, old DMV ID card and a temporary DMV printout with my new photo to show I am who I say I am, I was nervous.

I had read the horror stories from transgender people online, about their dehumanizing and humiliating experiences with TSA. I wondered, “What if I become one of those stories?  How will they treat me?” Soon enough, I would find out that all my worrying was for nothing. Both airports treated me with care and dignity.

Here are my experiences from both airports, this weekend.

(Note: I had already sent Southwest Airlines a copy of my court order, so I was able to book my plane ticket under my new name and gender).

Minute San Jose Airport International Airport (SJC)

I arrived early to check-in, just to allot for any potential delays in verifying my identification. I decided to check in my carry-on bag just to eliminate the extra potential for questions from TSA agents. I showed the Southwest agent (who was very kind & understanding, incidentally) my papers and she proceeded to print out a boarding pass for me. I soon rode up the escalator to get into the security line.

I have a CLEAR membership, which allows me to skip waiting in the security line and proceed straight to the security scanner.  They have my fingerprints, photo and vital info on-file, so I’d simply have them scan my boarding pass, put my fingers on their fingerprint scanner, and I’d be off. However, my new name and appearance don’t match their info anymore. Since I needed my new DMV ID to update this (and I hadn’t received it at the time), I had to carefully explain my predicament. They calmly looked my papers over and allowed me through, with the caveat that TSA would need to verify that my documents constituted valid identification.

I reached the podium and greeted the agent with my papers. She looked them over and told me she’d need a supervisor to look things over, and I had to wait there until one could come over. There I stood, in the middle of a busy security checkpoint waiting while people passed me by on either side. I did my best to not let my nerves get to me. I kept from making eye contact and played with my phone (ok, let’s be honest – I do that most of the time anyway). A few minutes later, a supervisor arrived and proceeded to look at my papers. I calmly explained each document and what info was on each. Once he looked up and saw me, he calmly said “alright, come with me please.” He then personally walked me to one of the security scanner lines and gave me two bins to put my things in. Once I placed my items into the bins on the conveyor belt, he walked me over to the security scanner and said “ma’am, here you go. Enjoy your flight.”

I wasn’t done yet, however. The security scan showed areas where a pat-down was needed – not due to my anatomy, however. After a second try in the scanner, the agents decided to run a scan of my things and have someone pat me down. The agent running point proclaimed loudly “I need a female assist!” Another agent came over and had me stand by another station, to pat me down. We chatted as she walked me through what she was doing. Once she finished, she stood up and told me I was free to go once my personal items were done being screened. My purse came back clean (though I got a little static because of my setting spray.), and I was free to go.

John Wayne International Airport (SNA)

My experience at SNA was, if you can believe it, smooth and completely uneventful.

At my turn to show the TSA agent my info, I showed him my documents & explained the situation. He looked things over, folded the papers up neatly, handed them back to me and let me through with no other questions. Even better, my security scan came back completely clear, so there was no need for a patdown. As I walked over to gather my things, an agent asked “excuse me miss? Is this your purse?” He pointed at someone else’s belongings. I said “no, sir. My things are right over here”.  I grabbed my purse and calmly walked to my gate. Ok, I actually walked to the nearest Starbucks, but that’s besides the point.


Overall, things went as well as I could have expected. My first experience with TSA as a transgender woman was pleasant, though a little nerve wracking at first. Things seem to have changed since the initial incidents with others happened for the better, and the agents I dealt with throughout my travel experience treated me with absolute respect…just like any other traveler would.

PS – The New Order show in LA was amazing.

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