Trans woman's 'horrible' TSA encounter starts conversation on TikTok about the anxiety transgender travelers face: 'They can do better and should'

·3 min read

A trans woman shared their “horrible” experience going through airport security on TikTok, and it opened up a larger conversation about the struggles trans people face on a regular basis.

Rosalynne Montoya identifies as a non-binary transgender woman. In March, they were traveling to visit their boyfriend when they experienced an embarrassing back-and-forth with a TSA agent.

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“Can we talk about how horrible it is to travel while being transgender sometimes?” Montoya said in the TikTok. “I always have immense anxiety leading up to going through security.”

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Even with their intense anxiety, Montoya also mentioned their “privilege” of having all of their government documents correctly identify them as female. Montoya was able to change their documents in Washington state, which allows applicants to change the gender marker on their driver’s license and birth certificate without documentation from a doctor or court.

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Unfortunately, the scanner at TSA checkpoints only has two settings. Agents have a split-second to choose whether the next traveler entering the scanner is male or female. 

“Looking at me, you know, I look like a woman and I am a woman,” Montoya explained. “But, going through the scanner, I always have an ‘anomaly’ between my legs that sets off the alarm. And so she (the TSA attendant) asked me if I had anything in my pants, and I told her ‘no,’ and she’s like, ‘Well, maybe it’s just like the metal on your shorts, so let’s scan you again.'”

Montoya set off the alarm again and had to explain to the agent that they are trans and were willing to be patted down.

“Her solution was, ‘Do you want to be scanned as a man instead?’ I didn’t. But, I ended up doing it, and then my boobs set off the scanner because, of course,” they continued. “So then she was like, ‘OK, well we have to pat you down. Do you want a man to do it?’ I said, ‘NO! Absolutely not.'”

Setting off the alarm three times in public as well as being misgendered caused Montoya so much anxiety that they had to call their boyfriend afterward to help them calm down.

“I felt dysphoric and disrespected, but remembered how much worse this experience used to be,” they told BuzzFeed News in an interview.

Montoya went on to make the point that, again, they consider themselves very privileged. Earlier in their transition, they experienced worse treatment in airports.

“There needs to be training in all businesses about transgender people,” they told BuzzFeed. “The TSA security machines should account for trans and non-binary people. And the agents should understand that misgendering me and outing me as a trans person in public could be potentially dangerous.”

In a follow-up TikTok, Montoya went on to explain how the TSA can do better.

“The true problem is a systemic problem,” they explained. “There is transphobia rooted in every system of power in this nation. The root solution is simply: believe transgender people when we tell you who we are.”

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“TSA needs to remove the gendered settings from their scanners,” they continued. “They should also believe me when I tell them that I’m a trans woman and that I don’t want to be pat down by a man or scanned as a man, because I’m not one.”

“Gender is not relevant for flight safety,” a commenter agreed. “They can do better and should.”

“[TSA] could have handled that better,” another wrote. “Not cool at all.”

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If you enjoyed reading this interview, check out In The Know’s conversation with the first trans athlete to compete on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team.

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