Traveling While Trans and Disabled

22 Mar

As I’ve mentioned here, I am traveling to Chicago next weekend, to attend the Trans 100 Live Event. This will be my first time flying in a significant number of years. Enough years that both traveling while trans, and traveling disabled are new to me. As I am prone to do, I have been actively researching what to expect at the TSA Checkpoints.

In case you aren’t up to date, the “Aging” part of this blog’s title is largely about life with fibromyalgia (fibro). I was diagnosed with fibro in 2003, though I had been dealing with chronic pain since the early 80’s, and sought diagnosis for as long. You’ve likely heard of the “pain scale”.  In my normal everyday, no active flare life, I am never at zero (smiling and pain-free) on that scale. I don’t remember the last time I could honestly claim I was at zero.

In the last year or two, the severity has increased to the point where even a trip to the grocery store is likely to trigger several hours, up to a day or more, of heightened pain. When I say heightened pain, I mean something in the range of seven to nine on that scale. As a result, I made a concession to it that I truly believed would never happen. I contacted the airline, and requested that they provide wheelchair service. I can still walk, sometimes with a cane, but doing so for the distances found in most airports is likely to trigger a flare. Just a couple of nights ago, a flare had me at ten on the scale (weeping in agony). Add to that the emotional effect of asking (first time ever) for a wheelchair, and I was crying for hours. It was well after midnight before the pain meds kicked in enough for me to sleep that night.

I know a little about airport wheelchair service, as my late wife Barbara took advantage of the service once after she went onto portable oxygen. It’s a great service for people who can’t walk those distances in the rush you often encounter in airports. The service is not provided by TSA. Your airline provides that service. But using that service will impact your experience at the checkpoints. Per the TSA, “The screening process for a passenger who uses a wheelchair or scooter is determined by a passenger’s ability to stand and walk.” I’ll be one of those that can walk enough for the normal screening process, but as also noted on their page, they will have to screen the chair thoroughly. Therefore, my screening will take longer due to the chair use.

Oh, and you probably remember I am a transgender woman. Yes, that will almost certainly complicate my screening as well. My legal name is still my (very masculine) birth name. My ID doesn’t really reflect my current appearance that well. I have a driver’s license, which does have a photo wearing wig and makeup, though not my current wig. And my face has changed a good bit since that driver’s license photo. I also have a passport and passport card, but those look even less like me. Those photos are pre-transition, without wig, almost totally bald. All three have the dreaded “M” gender marker. I finally have the passport doctor’s letter (as of last month). I do intend to change that marker on the passport in the coming months, but that won’t help for this trip. The driver’s license can’t be changed at this point in my life, because my birth state requires SRS before changing the birth certificate. I also have a transgender carry letter from my therapist (dated January 2011) which I will present along with all three pieces of ID.

I found an interesting item on the TSA site that I intend to use to discretely alert the TSA agent to my trans status. While researching the disability process, I came across a medical notification card [PDF] you can download and print, optionally adding your own description of your issue. I don’t really need it for the fibro, as it only affects the screening by virtue of the wheelchair, which is patently obvious. However, with the wording of the card, I am completely comfortable using it for my trans identity.

I have the following health condition, disability or
medical device that may affect my screening:

I understand that presenting this card
does not exempt me from screening.

Since we are increasingly finding that gender identity is based in biology, and wearing a wig is a non-obvious device that might impact my screening, I added the phrase “Transgender woman, wears wig” to that card, and printed it out to show the screener. I’ll hand it over with the ID, to help explain the difference between my current appearance and the ID. I’m traveling with another trans woman on this trip, and I made her a similar card that simply says “Transgender woman”, since she has her natural hair. After we use these cards, I’ll report back if we get any reaction, positive or negative, to this idea.

This is an going to be exciting trip, and I’m truly jazzed to be attending the Trans 100 event. I’m also looking forward to spending a bit of time in Chicago. It will be my first visit to the Windy City. We’ve got a four day weekend scheduled, with air travel occurring on Friday and Monday. Here’s hoping for nothing but good interaction with the TSA and airline personnel!

Good pages of information for disabled and transgender people by the Transportation Security Administration.


4 Responses to “Traveling While Trans and Disabled”

  1. ila123 March 24, 2015 at 9:46 am #

    You are the only transgender person that I “know” and I am getting an education which is great. I am looking forward to learning whether the card works or not. I’m sure you have run into this, but most people think that once you complete the process everything is hunky dory. I would never have thought about the problems related to driver’s license, etc. and getting the gender corrected. There’s so much more to it than just hormone therapy and surgery. As I said, learning lots.

    • Janet Logan March 24, 2015 at 10:08 am #

      Ila hun: I’m happy to help educate. It’s partly the point of the existence of this blog. Well, that, and I like having a personal journal of my journey. Yes, I know most people assume it’s a relatively simple process, and it’s all medical. It’s so much more complicated than that, particularly because of such issues as incongruent ID documents. Then you add transphobia, which those ID documents can expose you to, and you get a potentially toxic stew.

      Thanks for you interest, and your obvious concern. Blessed Be.

    • Janet Logan April 12, 2015 at 12:34 am #

      Sorry I’m just getting around to answering you about the card. I did present it in ATL at the first part of the process. The TSA agent glanced at it, clearly had no idea what it was, and passed me through. I discovered I didn’t need it, and just didn’t bother thereafter. The process was utterly boring and painless. The agents didn’t even give me a side glance.


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