Crossing the border

5 04 2009

I’m pleased to report that I crossed the Canada-US border with my female ID with no problems whatsoever. I was quite worried because, based on my fairly extensive experience crossing into the US, I know that many US customs officers are on power trips and seem to enjoy humiliating people in whatever way they can. I’ve been disgusted by the racial profiling that I’ve witnessed more than once, for example, and bitterly remember when I was a target of prejudice: once because of my tattoos, twice because of my youth and once, last summer, because of my ambiguous gender presentation. (DISCLAIMER: I’m not talking about the American population here, just customs officers. I grew up in the states, consider myself at least part American, and know damn well that the authorities do NOT represent the people. So if you’re looking to call me on some kind of anti-U.S. bigotry, it won’t fly so don’t try.)

A few weeks ago, in preparation for this very fast trip that I took on Thursday to Florida to see Iron Maiden on their last show of their historic Somewhere Back in Time tour,  I decided that I should renew my passport to have a more recent picture, even though I haven’t received my name change yet. I should be getting my name change certificate in the mail any week now but . . .since my old picture looks nothing like I look like now, I didn’t want to take the chance of being accused of trying to hide my identity or something. It was worth the $117 (including express service) to have a passport with a picture that reflected me as I look now, even if it was only for one trip, to avoid missing my flight because of a delay at customs.

I was still a little worried, though. An officer could feasibly have looked at me and asked why my ID all showed female and why I had a female name. They could easily have given me a hard time, just because that’s what they usually like to do. I even set up a safe call with my girlfriend, texting her just before heading to customs and promising to text when I was clear. That way, if she hadn’t heard from me in a few hours, she would know to look into it.

What actually happened was the total opposite of my worst customs nightmare. First of all, the guy was actually sorta friendly, a very rare occurence at US customs since 9/11, and even a few years before. As a kid, I remember friendly customs officers but not in the past decade or so. He said: “Hello, how are you?” in an almost sing-song voice. I was in shock. He barely even glanced at me as he slid my passport into the computer-thingy, looked at my info, asked me how long I was going to be in the US, where, why etc. Then he said: “Have a nice trip.” And that was it!

Similarly, I had no problems with anyone at security at the three airports that I dealt with on my two day trip: Montreal, Fort Lauderdale and Toronto. People who didn’t need to see my ID treated me as male, without question. The one time that I forgot to take off my belt before going through the metal detector, the lady had a male officer come to pat me down.

People who did need to see my ID didn’t even raise an eyebrow for the most part. Some of them, if they only saw my boarding pass, asked me to confirm that I was, indeed, Miss Nancy ****. I showed them my passport and they would say: “Oh, OK. Thank you.”

The only panicky moment was at my first check in. TheWest Jet guy asked me my last name. Upon punching it in, he furrowed his brow. I asked what the problem was and he simply mumbled something. I said, look, here’s my confirmation email and I paid for this so I don’t see why there would be a problem. He said: “The thing is, the ticket was bought by Nancy ****” I showed him my passport, explained that I was a transsexual and he lit up and went: “Oh! I’m sorry for the confusion.” and was very polite about it.

So. There you go. I suspect that they’ve seen it all and that, despite their own values or beliefs on the matter, they have more important concerns than us trans folk. Sure, who knows, they might laugh at us amongst themselves, talk about “Those freaks” or something but, when they’re dealing with us, they appear to be trained to not fuss unless there is actually something to fuss about pertaining to security.

Of course, I suspect that it might be different for trans women. For all I know, they may have simply thought that I was a woman with a hormone problem. For trans women, things might be a bit tougher. And I’ll still be wary and careful in future travels, even after the name change when my ID still shows “F”.

And I strongly recommend to transitioning people that they bring pertinent documentation attesting to their trans status just in case someone at customs makes an issue of it.

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4 responses

6 04 2009
syrlinus

Very interesting. I travel constantly and haven’t had a single challenge yet on my ID. Now, I do suspect that part of it is also white privilege (let’s be real here — our experience would likely be different if we were POC). I do wish that Canada had an option to identify as trans or something (in the UK you can put your new gender down and then, IIRC, there’s a 2nd page with your birth gender).

6 04 2009
Jacky V.

Absolutely . . . as I mentioned, I’ve seen racial bullshit at the border a few times, even when I was a kid. The reality of it is probably quite different for Middle Easterners, for example. They don’t even have to be trans to get harassed at the border : ( It’s quite disgusting what they go through.

There *should* be other options than male or female . . . I think it will be a long time before we get that though.

7 04 2009
Shirley Anne

Hi Jacky. I’m glad things went well for you and why shouldn’t they? You are always going to get some idiot wanting to make a fuss but the best way to deal with them is to always be polite and ask what the problem is. If you are having problems with the guard then again politely ask to see their superviser. Usually that will result in a back-down and possible apology. If not, stir it up and ask to see the superviser’s boss! I am sure it won’t go that far though. Keep smiling and don’t let them ruffle your feathers. Love

Shirley Anne x

7 04 2009
Jacky V.

Hi Shirley Anne;

Don’t worry . . . I’m always very polite. However, I’ve seen these customs officers in action and, when a bunch of them are on the same side and they decide to discriminate, they are pretty ruthless. If I did have problems, I’m pretty sure I would handle myself well as I do in most situations. However, problems are not fun to have, especially when they risk delaying one’s flight to go see a rock concert 😀

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