Travelling While Transgender
As those who are acquainted with me know, I am a private business owner who works from home. But prior to starting my business and more importantly – prior to my transition to living in my true gender, I worked for some of the largest corporations in the country as a Senior Executive.
Those roles required that I travel. A lot. Some years I was on the road well in excess of 75% of the time and when I wasn’t travelling, I commuted up to 2 hours each way to and from my office. I had platinum status at Marriott and Sheraton and was frequently able to take advantage of free upgrades and the other perks that come with being a frequent flyer that logged 100,000 miles a year. But, as any frequent traveler will tell you, there is nothing glamorous about being a road warrior and I am glad that I left that life behind 2010.
Now, I spend 98% of my work time sitting in front of a computer in my home office running my instructional design firm. My days are filled with email, conference calls, and courseware development. My daily commute is approximately 100 feet and involves zero stop-and-go traffic.
When I travel now it is usually for pleasure. This may involve driving or taking the bus into New York to see a show. Other times it might involve flying across the country or across the globe for an extended vacation.
The Stress of Travelling While Trans
There has been one other major change that has affected my travel. Since leaving the corporate life behind, I have now transitioned to my true gender. Yet, at 5’11”, 230lbs, and with a baritone voice, I know that I don’t “pass” as a natal woman. There is no denying who or what I am. Therefore, for better or worse, I simply must “own it.”
Travelling as a transgender person takes what is already a stressful and unpleasant experience and magnifies the personal discomfort significantly. Consider the following:
In many cases, our identification does not match our presentation. That means that we often have to explain ourselves to ticket agents, TSA agents, gate personnel and flight crews – many of whom misgender us - in environments where lots of other people can clearly overhear the conversation as we out ourselves publicly.
Trans women and men often wear protheses to help them deal with gender dysphoria. Unfortunately, the full-body scanners used at major airports identify these items as anomalies and that results in embarrassing body searches by TSA agents. During these searches, the agents touch us in highly intimate areas, and we must explain why we are wearing these items. Again, this happens in full public view and within earshot of other passengers.
Trans women and men often pack intimate items in their carry-on luggage. For example, the dilators that trans women who have had bottom surgery use to ensure proper healing look like large bottles of shampoo in a TSA X-ray. That means our suitcases get opened in public and these items are pulled out and inspected for all to see.
While travelling, Trans people may not know who they are going to be sitting next to on a plane, train or bus. Stories where passengers get angry and upset about having to sit next to a trans person are not uncommon. At the very least, these circumstances are disconcerting, but they can also imperil our safety when we are stuck inside a moving bus, train or plane with no safe exit.
Transgender and LGBTQ rights and acceptance vary widely from country-to-country, state-to-state, and town-to-town. As a result, trans people are almost always on high alert when they travel. They may avoid certain locations altogether and even in so-called trans-friendly locales they always have an exit strategy. This can make even a vacation trip highly stressful.
When you take these and other issues into account, it is no wonder that many trans people – including myself –are reticent to travel.
So, with all those stressors, why do I travel? The answer is simple… I want to see the world and I want to visit with friends and family. Plus, I have every right to do so and if I do not assert those rights, I am in danger of losing them.
But there is another reason. I know by being seen that I can influence hearts and minds. Here are two examples:
Making A Connection in Appalachia
This past February I took a trip to visit my brother in Tennessee. He lives in the middle of the Bible Belt in the back woods on top of a mountain. It is very rural, and the nearest town is 30 minutes away. The town consists of a post-office, a grocery store, a couple of consignment shops, a gun shop, about 20 evangelical churches and an ice cream parlor/diner. As a trans person and who prefers a more diverse and urban environment, I was on pins and needles – especially when he wanted to take us to town for a tour and some ice cream.
While standing in line at the ice cream shop, I kept getting uncomfortable stares from one of the workers who even pointed me out to a coworker. Feeling uncomfortable and expecting potential trouble, my senses went on high alert and I started thinking about the best way to exit without causing a scene as the line inched forward.
When I got to the front of the line, I gave my order and expected the worst. The server gave me another once over and then leaned-in to tell me something. In a whisper she said, “I have never seen one of you before.” My reply was to say something like “Well it is my pleasure to meet you, my name is Corinne.” She then stood tall and replied “My name is Denise and mint chip is my favorite ice cream too. I hope you enjoy our town.”
Here I was, deathly afraid that I was going to be singled-out in unfriendly territory. Instead, I found someone who had an open mind and common interests.
Sending A Signal on The High Seas
My wife and I recently returned from a cruise in Europe. One of the things my wife and I love about cruising is that we get to meet, eat dinner with, and get to know new people over the course of a week.
On this trip two of our table mates were a charming, elderly Scottish couple. We hit it off right away and enjoyed sharing stories about our daily activities, our families, our work, and our homes.
Eventually and perhaps inevitably, conversations ultimately turned to politics, Brexit, Trump, nativism and religion. Topics that I usually try to avoid in convivial social settings. Everyone at the table was civil, but these topics can be problematic.
On the last evening of the cruise our Scottish friends asked if it was true that some healthcare providers were now allowed to refuse care to certain people. I replied “yes – especially people like me.”
Things got quiet for a few minutes when they asked if certain churches in the United States had recently voted to exclude LGBTQ people from full participation. I again replied “Yes.”
That’s when they told me that their Scottish church was having a debate and an election about LGBTQ inclusion in the near future. Maureen, the wife, said that they had been unsure about how to vote until a few days earlier after they had spent a couple of evenings with us. She said that in their view, placing a trans woman and her spouse at their table was a “sign from God” that LGBTQ people should be included and they were now going to vote for inclusion.
I make no claims about being a tool of divine intervention, but I will say that everywhere LGBTQ people go we can change hearts and minds.
We also get to visit some interesting places, meet some great people, and – if we manage our stressors – have a lot of fun along the way. So, hold your head up. Walk with pride. And get out there!
One of the leaders of Lehigh Valley Transgender Renaissance, Corinne Goodwin is an activist who is focused on LGBTQ equality.
About Lehigh Valley Transgender Renaissance
The leading organization for support and education around transgender issues in Eastern PA and Western NJ, our focus is on helping transgender individuals as they work through their journey to become their authentic selves while helping the community at large learn more about what it means to be transgender.
If you would like to learn more about our Lehigh Valley transgender support group or to write an article for our blog please contact Lehigh Valley Renaissance or better yet join us at our monthly transgender meetup!
Note: The opinions in this article are those of the author and not necessarily that of Lehigh Valley Renaissance or the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.