Vaginal Discourse

On Monday, I heard an NPR piece about the new, “less revealing” full body scanners TSA in rolling out. As a radical, queer, feminist trans woman who teaches environmental science, my ears perked up when I heard a TSA spokesperson say the following:

After someone comes through the machine, they see the very same thing that the officer sees. And that is, no image of a passenger but instead a generic outline of a human body indicating where the anomaly is. [Emphasis mine]

Anomaly, eh?

Noun
anomaly (plural anomalies)
1. A deviation from a rule or from what is regarded as normal.

Oh, the academic discussions I’ve had over what constitutes “normal” and/or “natural.” While I think I get what the spokesperson was saying (explosives are unacceptably deviant), I have to say the whole piece troubled me.

Yesterday, Bilerico reported on the scanners, citing the National Center for Transgender Equality’s concerns:

Pink and blue buttons appear to be used to commence scanning for travelers. It appears that TSA officers need to select a pink or blue “scan” button based on their perception of a traveler’s gender. The new software may identify “anomalies” based on gender-atypical anatomy, rather than only targeting foreign objects. This may be a security trigger which would lead to an invasive pat-down, potentially embarrassing questions and in some cases, biased harassment. NCTE urges the TSA to provide greater clarity for the public on how the new scans work.

Pink and blue buttons? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s not good at all.

The software changes also don’t address the concerns of other groups. It may help or hinder travel for people who carry medically necessary devices or for people of certain faith traditions. For example, questions remain about how the new software detects medical devices like urine pouches, or religious wear like the kirpan, an ornamental weapon, required to be worn by orthodox Sikhs.

Damn straight. I find our security state unacceptable, period. As is always the case, the oppressive burden of “protecting” society is falling on those of us whom society deems as unacceptably deviant. No amount of re-tooling is going to change that fact.

7 COMMENTS
Anonymous
28| July 2011
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I’ve been trying to figure out lately how to “travel while disabled,” since my previous international travels were pre-my need for multiple medications, mobility aids, and similar accoutrements. These scanners sound like enough of a nightmare from that perspective. And as a cis female person, I’m relatively safe from the worry about whether a TSA official is going to consider me a “blue” or a “pink” – and what security issues will result no matter which button zie picks. D:

28| July 2011
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I keep thinking it would be super keen if all the money going into developing this fancy technology might instead be diverted to measures that would actually materially reduce the likelihood of successful terrorist attacks.

But I’m a wild-eyed daydreaming hippie like that.

28| July 2011
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I heard someone from the TSA speak back in March and yes, it’s that ridiculous. From the TSA spokesperson:

“The reality is an anomaly will come up if the individual appears to be female – is female – and has parts that may not be expected, additional screening will be necessary.”

That’s just lovely, isn’t it?

Gabrielle
29| July 2011
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What a terrible idea. This whole security theater nonsense is just the pinnacle of pointlessness.

I can imagine that many disabled people are going to ping the “anomaly test” in a variety of ways. I can speak from experience that when they find something non-organic in the scan (my insulin pump, which I can’t take off and replace easily) they just glanced at (didn’t even open the little door where the insulin goes) and wave me through. I could have anything in there, but I suppose since I don’t looking threatening or something, they just tell me to move along. The procedures are so incredibly ineffective it reinforces the idea that this is all just theater. Theater that can have very real, very bad effects on “anomalous” people.

29| July 2011
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I’d be a lot more okay with these measures, if they actually did anything to make us more safe.

Since they don’t, they’re that much the more offensive and dangerous to non-conforming people.

I mean, does anyone actually think that passengers will ever, ever let a plane be hijacked by hand weapons again? Really? I know I sure as hell wouldn’t. I’d rather die fighting than die hurting other innocents.

Anonymous
29| July 2011
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The closest three airport to me have full body scanners. I have started wearing pleated skirts to the airport. The scanners don’t read pleats well. If a TSA employee motions me toward the scanner, I opt for a patdown: the pleat-generated blur means I’d have to get patted down anyway, but if I verbally opt out they have to write down my reasons for rejecting the scan. (Namely, I have philosophical problems with their decision to treat human variation as suspect and wrong.)

I would prefer not to get patted down, but I have a number of privileges that make a patdown less dangerous for me than to many people: I’m cis, I don’t currently have any disabilities, I am not (at least so far) triggered by touch, and I’m white. (There is no good solution for my mom, for instance; the arms-above-the-head posture that TSA employees tell you to assume when you’re being scanned is physically painful for her, but so is a patdown.) I will continue to opt out until those scanners are retired as the civil liberties violation (and the horseshit) that they are.

If there are any ways y’all can think of that I could further leverage my privilege– e.g., in what I say when I opt out– please let me know.

29| July 2011
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It still doesn’t address my main concern of radiation exposure. I have a medical condition that already makes me have regular x-rays and CT scans, my doctor has told me every time I have one my chances of breast cancer increase. Why should I increase my risk just for them? Especially when all of this, as Gabrielle says, is security theatre.

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