TSA-approved: You’re all safe from the explosive power of my breasts

Today’s my first day back from a spectacular whirlwind book tour, having done 12 Reality Bites Back events (readings, signings, panel discussions and book parties) in 8 cities in just under 3 weeks. I’m equal parts thrilled, inspired, and exhausted; I promise to post some report-backs, readers gallery pictures, and more once I get some rest.

But for now, something completely different. I want to share with you a quick reflection on the TSA controversy, based on my experience flying home to NY from D.C. yesterday on the heels of a large and dynamic crowd for the final reading at Busboys and Poets.

I Just want to share that I refused the backscatter cancer box at Dulles airport yesterday, and my fellow Americans are now all protected by the supposedly potentially explosive power of my breasts. Don’t you all feel safer?

The agent at the machine acted extremely confused as to why I would opt for the pat-down (and made me wait about five minutes before anyone even bothered to notify a female TSA agent that I was waiting to be frisked). I was nervous about the search, having seen clips and heard discussion about how unusually invasive/thorough it is allowed to be. But when I finally went through the TSA’s molestation merry go round, my particular junk-groper… wasn’t all that gropey. She specifically said she was going to use the back of her hand (not the front of her hand and fingers, which the new search allows). Nothing more than the usual pat-downs I’ve dealt with from TSA in previous years when I’ve been chosen as the 1-in-whatever-# for random searches. It was quick, and a bit awkward/clumsy, but not particularly assaultive.

Now, what this says to me is that these “enhanced searches” leave WAY too much up to the whims of each individual TSA agent. There do not seem to be strict or transparent guidelines as to what the search entails, what the limits are, and apparently no uniform or comprehensive training as to how agents will conduct these searches (even regarding kids, the elderly, and people with medical conditions). I happened to luck upon an agent who wanted to do the search quickly, with minimal discomfort and minimal groping. But stories are proliferating about TSA agents over-aggressively administering the searches in ways that have been insensitive and offensive at best, and abuses of power at worst, including searches that have:

— broken a bladder cancer patient’s urostomy bag despite ample warning and disclaimer about medical condition, drenching a mortified passenger in his own urine, which he wasn’t allowed to immediately clean up.

— included this outrageous overstep: “The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around

breast cancer survivors with prostheses being poked, prodded and having their prostheses literally jiggled up and down while they stand humiliated in public view

— 3-year-olds being given full-body pat-downs (um, this isn’t supposed to undermine parents’ attempts to teach their kids about “good touch/bad touch” and not letting strangers touch their bodies?)

And something I haven’t seen discussed widely: the fact that we live in

a country in which incest, child abuse, rape and other forms of sexual assault are all so prevalent that these searches could be extremely triggering for literally millions of sexual abuse survivors. How could it *not* be triggering for at least some survivors, when the process involves strangers actively and aggressively touching a person’s genitals, in uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing ways, without that person choosing for this to happen? (And no, I don’t consider it a “choice” when the only options are A: cancer box and B: grope-fest. After all, as Arizona State U. physics professor Peter Rez has asserted, while the “risk of getting a fatal cancer from the screening is minuscule, it’s about equal to the probability that an airplane will get blown up by a terrorist.” Meaning that they could cause as may fatalities as terrorism, which ostensibly they are in place to mitigate–could there be any clearer case for not using them as a part of our security theater?)

I am thankful that my TSA experience wasn’t particularly gropey and didn’t feel assaultive, though it was definitely uncomfortable. I chose not to ask for a private screening room, because I wanted others to know that they can (and I believe should, considering we really don’t know enough about the potentially awful health risks of the backscatter machines) refuse the cancer box and opt for a search. But I was really disturbed by the fact that the searches can be outrageously intrusive and aggressive or relatively benign, and there’s no way to know until some stranger’s fingers are poking your genitals and/or breasts, (or not, as the case may be).

Thoughts on the TSA machines and enhanced searches? News coverage or blog posts on the topic you think I should see? Personal experiences with backscatter and/or grope-searches during (or

before/after) holiday travel? Share your opinions in the comments.

8 Responses to “TSA-approved: You’re all safe from the explosive power of my breasts”

  1.  ChuckEye says: |

    At times I’m sorry that the Teaparty movement has used that name, because I think this is a clear instance where We the People need to rise up and say no to both the pat downs and the scanners. It’s our turn to dump the backscanning devices in Boston Harbor, metaphorically speaking. The issue is large and pervasive, and I read new reports every day of more and more people fed up with the situation. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if mob mentality took over at an airport and took matters into their own hands.


  2.  jane birkin says: |

    thanks for this great post. i am glad that your experience was not too violative. in addition to the triggering aspect for assault/incest survivors, an aspect that i also think has not gotten enough attention in this brouhaha is the homophobia on the part of many who object to the new screening processes. men reacting aggressively with the “no dude is going to see me nekkid!” and “no dude is going to touch my junk!” there’s a lot to be concerned about in the new process, and there’s also a lot to be concerned about in the attitudes of the people whose views are mainstreamem right now.


  3.  Paul Nomad says: |

    Did you read the story of the blogger who thought it was silly to be asked to step in for screening when entering the country of his origin (ie; stepping off the plane..not on) and opted for “none of the above” which took 2.5 hours and resulted in no one laying a hand on him? A very awesome read.


  4.  Dianna Morton says: |

    This is a brilliant post. My fantasy is seeing the majority of people refuse the cancer scan and just strip down in public– a real culture jam session–
    Can’t help but think ad-buster-esqu- about this gross infringement on our bodies and freedoms– for profit and control– (see http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/11/24 Several Lawmakers Invested in L-3 Communications, Maker of Airport Body-Scanning Machines
    by Michael Beckel)


  5.  jsalaud says: |

    Bush congratulates Obama on his TSA Groping and Scanning => http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SLTIznTgww


  6.  blahdeblah says: |

    @ Dianna Morton I was also thinking that a great protest idea would be if everyone just went around the airport naked.


  7.  Carson says: |

    Personally, I wish I was phenomenally wealthy, and when they told me they wanted to do some advance screening, I would ask them for their search warrant, which I doubt they could produce, since flying on a plane is not probably cause for being involved in terrorist activities. (Ironically enough though, screening fliers can be terrorizing….) Then I would follow that up with a federal lawsuit for abridging 4th amendment, and if all went well, in a few years we could have a Supreme Court opinion that the TSA would likely just ignore… Or we could do the whole metaphorical Boston tea party deal, but I think that the literal version would be so much more fun!


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