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Gravy and Groping: This Thanksgiving, You Get Both!

Nov. 24, 2010
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My family celebrated Thanksgiving early this year. If your family is anything like mine, you can expect to have at least one dinnertime conversation about the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport rules regarding pat-downs and scanners, both of which are far more physically invasive than they have been in the past—meaning, TSA officials get to either see you naked or grope your genitals.

I moved back to the Midwest from Boston several years ago, in part because flying home for family get-togethers had become increasingly unpleasant since 9/11. I am grateful that holiday gatherings and vacations are all within driving distance. However, many people don't live close to their families, so it's likely that there will be at least one relative (maybe you) who was forced to endure a TSA screening to be with their families. Others may have had to travel for work; I have a business trip coming up in January, and I'm not looking forward to flying.

Many people are outraged by the new screening procedures. Others view them as necessary to ensure our safety. There's been a lot of publicity around white male outrage about the procedures; in fact, "don't touch my junk" has become a rallying cry after a young white man in California uttered the phrase while objecting to a full-body pat-down. As usual, though, people who have already been wounded by our culture's rigid views on sexuality and gender have the most to lose.

Sexual assault survivors have spoken out about how the experience of being photographed or touched by a stranger can trigger traumatic memories for them. Some have stated that the screenings themselves are a form of assault, which opens up an interesting dialogue about what "consent" means: If you must fly in order to see your loved ones or keep a job, can you truly consent to a mandatory screening that violates your personal boundaries? Yes, you may be aware of the screening before you get to the airport, so it can be argued that you have made a choice to allow it. But the TSA is dangling your right to travel freely just beyond those full-body scanners, saying that you must submit to them in order to get what you need. Sounds like coercion to me, and consent cannot be coerced.

The new screenings can also be a nightmare for transgender people. What happens if a scan or pat-down reveals that a person's "junk" does not conform to what the TSA screener expects? Some transgender women wear breast forms or have a penis, and transgender men may choose to wear a packer (a flaccid penis & testicles used to create a male-appearing crotch, similar to how breast forms are used to create a female-appearing chest) or a binder (which constricts the breasts to create a male-appearing chest). Because of this, transgender people can expect even more invasive searches, questioning and humiliation. This is a terrible scenario for someone who, like everyone else, just wishes to be accepted as the gender with which they identify and who, like everyone else, just wants to get on the airplane and fly. When was the last time you had your gender questioned in public by total strangers in order to get somewhere that you wanted to go?

Our bodies and sexual selves have always been battlegrounds. The right to control our fertility, the right to have sex with whom and how we please, the right to be free of sexual assault and harassment, the right to express our gender and sexuality in ways that feel right to us—all these have been hard-won fights that still continue today. Is giving up individual control of our bodies for the ostensible reason of increasing public safety worth it in the case of the TSA screening procedures?

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to
laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.


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