Traveling While Transgender
(Photo: Justin Poland/The Society Management; makeup by Make Up For Ever)
The model Andreja Savic Pejic recently got a new passport in the mail. For all intents and purposes, it was just a regular, run-of-the-mill Australian passport. A stranger wouldn’t think anything about it was out of the ordinary. But Pejic was absolutely delighted. This was the first passport that identified her as a female.
“Before that the name on my passport was ‘Andrej,’ which wasn’t so much of a problem because it also said my gender was ‘X,’ which in Australia is allowed because it means you are not disclosing your gender,” Pejic explained.
As one of the most in-demand models in the fashion industry, Andreja Pejic is constantly traveling, which means that her passport is part of her livelihood.
Since 2011, Andreja, who then went by Andrej, has been walking in top-tier womenswear runway shows as an androgynous male model. Then in 2014, she revealed to the world that she had undergone a sex-reassignment surgery to transition from male to female.
Andrej on the cover of Out in 2011. (Photo: Andrej Pejic Official)
Traveling with an ‘X’ as her gender didn’t pose as many issues as one might think, but it did present challenges.
“When I went to South Korea, the lady at the customs desk who was registering me into the computer system asked me, ‘What does X mean?’ because ‘X’ was not a gender option in their system. I just told her, ‘Female,’ and she was OK with it,” Pejic said. “The second time I ran into a problem was when I was just beginning my career. I had lost my passport, which at the time still had my gender down as ‘male’ because I hadn’t changed it to ‘X’ yet. I went into the Australian embassy to issue a new one, and the guy at the desk couldn’t find me in the system because he kept typing in ‘female.’ It took hours for him to figure it out, but eventually he sorted everything out for me.”
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But the most difficult travel experience happened in Turkey, where the border agents gathered in a scrum at the the customs desk.
“They actually gathered around to look at my passport and laughed at me,” she said.
The most recent data on transgender discrimination in travel comes from a 2011 report from the National LGBTQ Task Force. The report found that nearly one in five transgender travelers polled in the U.S. had been harassed or disrespected by airport security screeners or other airport workers.
Pejic’s story about transitioning has gotten different reactions from folks around the world.
“I feel like in Australia, people are generally more freaked out easily about everything because they are exposed to less. For Australians, I think my story can be a bit intimidating and misunderstood because the Australian media isn’t as up to date on political correctness as the rest of the world,” Pejic said. “In Italy, people are much more religious, so it doesn’t always sit well with them, but then again, there is a huge trans population there, so I definitely think Italian men are very intrigued.”
(Photo: Justin Poland/The Society Management)
In Holland, it wasn’t an issue at all. The Dutch took it in stride as if it were a very normal part of life. Spain was also pretty cool about it.
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“As a country, they seem almost celebratory about it,” Pejic said.
And overall, her experience with traveling has been remarkably pleasant.
“Looking back on my travels, I feel pretty lucky and pleased with how little harassment I’ve received while transitioning. I’ve definitely heard of horror stories, and I’ve had my fair share of frustrating moments, but that’s just because the international travel system is the most binary thing in the world!”
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