“Thank you” is a word usually reserved in polite discourse after someone has been given something that has met their standards. So I found it odd, that roughly three weeks ago I was uttering the two words to a TSA agent who had just invaded my privacy in a very public fashion. I was flying home from the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH when I was asked to put my hands over my head and enter the full body scanning machines. At this point, I was a little nervous because someone on the other side of a big metal box was going to be able to see me in my birthday suit. I reluctantly submitted, after all, I had to be home in time to take my children out for Halloween. I had judiciously taken out my laptop, my kindle, my camera, taken off my shoes, my coat, scarf and watch, but I was still relegated to the new machine. Even after the first TSA agent had told me that I didn’t need to remove my camera, he smiled and replied, “Oh, that’s what we’re here for”, after I remarked that I didn’t know I could safely stow my camera.
As I was herded through the line with a bunch of restless travelers behind me, I stuffed my license into my left pocket realizing I missed the window to put it into my wallet which was now headed to the x-ray machine.
TSA: “Please stand to the side with your feet in the diagrams.”
TSA:“Please place your arms above your head in a triangle.”
TSA:“Please don’t move and stare ahead for 9 seconds.”
That wasn’t so bad. If this stuff actually works, maybe I’d be okay with submitting to this type of security theater.
TSA:“Please step forward and stand on this mat, your feet within the outlines.”
TSA:“Do you have anything in your left pocket?”
Me: “Oh! Yah! I put my license in there.” I took it out and showed her.
TSA: “I’m going to need to pat you down on that side, Ma’am. Please hold the license in your hand.”
TSA: “I’m going to run my hand on the outside of your leg and hip.”
Me: “…ok…” I nervously start looking around at the hustle and bustle of a very public place.
TSA: “I’m now going to run my hand up the inner left thigh.”
Me:“…ok….” I can feel my cheeks start to flood with crimson.
She moves her blue-gloved hand up from the inside of my left knee up toward my crotch. She stops only after hitting the resistance of my clothing protecting the side of my vagina.
TSA: “Thank you, have a nice day.”
Me: “Thank you.”
I gather my things that have been sitting in their bins as other passengers walk on by. The walk from the security checkpoint to the gate is rather fuzzy. I know I felt highly anxious, very embarrassed and extremely violated. All of my personal alarm bells were ringing in my head. Why did I allow someone to humiliate me in public? Why on earth did I let someone touch me there? I immediately regressed into childhood as I recalled the stranger talk teachers and parents gave me about my right to bodily privacy. I got angry at myself for saying those two simple words. I got angry at myself for going along and submitting.
I updated my disgust on Facebook and Twitter and then I tried to let it go.
I flew again three days later. As you can imagine, anyone who feels violated tends to relive those moments when placed in similar situations. I was a wreck going through the full body scanner. I made sure nothing was in my pockets. I waited anxiously while the TSA agent looked at me and asked me to wait for clearance. I don’t know what I would have done had I been pulled aside for yet another pat down. Would I have declined and raised a stink? Would I have just given up and asked to leave?
Why was I torturing myself like that?
Any intellectual who has looked up the meaning of terrorism will find this:
You can’t tell me that all the emotions I experienced during and post-traumatically doesn’t fall under some of those definitions. My one minute experience has terrified me. I will rethink the act of hopping a plane to see friends or go to conventions. I will protect my children from this unneccessary security theater and invasion of privacy as well. Guess what airlines, that Disney vacation that I’ve been saving for, the one where I would have paid for five airline tickets to journey to Florida? I think I’m going to take another two days vacation and drive. Or maybe I’ll spend my money on something closer to home.
It’s funny how I don’t feel any safer, but I sure feel humiliated.
It’s also rather interesting to note that I believe I would be one of the passengers who would have jumped on any threat should it arise while flying. I can hit pretty hard. But thanks to our new “safety guidelines”, that’s one more person who won’t be available when a determined terrorist shoves a weapon or bomb up his undetectable ass and makes it past the joke and theater that the TSA calls security.