Wednesday, 17 November 2010

On the TSA and the violation of air passengers

Now, it seems that the American TSA has jumped in the deep end over the ever escalating need for “security” (an idea that makes me feel a lot less secure, tbh)

See there’s these backscatter imagining thingummies appearing in airports (and other places – and I’m sure they’ll be making shipped around the world most merrily soon) that dose you with lots of radiation (and big question marks as to how healthy that is, especially for frequent fliers) and produce images of you naked. Pictures that can be saved and transferred no less.

As to quality – well it’s not perfect – but it was apparently sufficient for one employee in an airport to be mocked about his penis sized based on the image – so that’s a fair amount of detail right there.

You can opt out. And you will be patted down. Except this is a special pat down which should be better termed “heavy petting” or “third base” or “damn I don’t go that far on the second date!” without that sexy consent stuff (which is another way of saying “freaking sexual assault, damn it!”) So get irradiated and naked pictures taken of you – or have a complete stranger grope your genitals.

This is not a great choice

Now I have seen people say “what’s the big deal?” and even joke about how big their equipment is and the ribald jokes they’d make to security feeling them up.

Well, lucky you. You are one of the lucky ones who hasn’t had any negative body issues foisted on them by our ever-so-much-fun messed up society. You don’t have triggers from sexual assault that can be brought on by a stranger grabbing you in extremely intimate places. For survivors of sexual abuse or any abuse situation where control of their bodies was taken from them, then being forced to submit to having someone intimately grope them without their consent, to have someone assert control over access to their genitals… even the most insensitive must see how damaging this is.

You’re also not going to face the grief that comes from being outed as trans in a busy airport. Being outed as trans can be literally life threatening – and now they must disclose to fly? For many trans people there will be no way they will be able to keep their trans status private with these measures – that is a grossly unacceptable position to impose on them

See, I don’t particularly have body issues except about my scars – which I’m pretty certain won’t show up on the scans. But that doesn’t mean that someone else’s literal panic attack at the idea of complete strangers taking and saving pictures of them naked aren’t perfectly legitimate. I boggle at people deciding that because they don’t have a problem with it, absolutely no-one should have.

I do have issues with strangers touching me. I don’t like it, I’m not fond of handshakes really hate spontaneous hugs from people I hardly know – and a complete stranger putting his hands on my groin? Awww hell no. I object, I seriously object. I have a right not to be groped, I have a right to keep my genitals to myself and people I choose to share them with (ye gods… I’m arguing that people have a right to control who has access to their genitals. Seriously? This needs arguing?) The very idea of being required to allow my penis and testicles to be groped by a complete stranger against my will makes my hackles rise and gives me goosebumps – and not in a good way.

Nor do I accept the idea that air travel is some kind of frivolous luxury (the implication being that they have absolutely every right to impose any kind of terms and conditions they want on you because, guys, it’s only flying and you can totally skip it if you don’t agree). Some jobs require you to travel. Families are split across vast distances often these days. If you want – or need – to travel long distance then flying is pretty much the main realistic choice unless you have several days to spend on the journey. We’re not talking about a theme park ride here. We’re talking about something that is an essential for many people.

And if we were? If we were talking about a frivolous luxury that could be avoided and make no difference in your lives – would we still accept the idea that you have to be seen naked or groped to take part? Really? I mean, if I arrived at Alton Towers and they said “queue for roller-coaster is long because we have to grope you first” would that be fine and dandy because I could turn around and leave?

What I am also deeply uncomfortable about is this idea of sacrificing liberty for security. Yes it’s an old theme, but it just keeps growing. We’re willing to endure an ever increasing amount of crap under the banner of security. A lot of the really crap stuff we tend to dismiss because we firmly believe it won’t happen to us – the torture, the renditions, the detentions without trial. Most people don’t care because none of them believe it will ever happen to them – very selfish, very shortsighted, very human, alas. I hate that people have this reaction and I wish people would think with more compassion, more deeply and more long-sightedly (I won’t say more humanity – because I don’t have much faith in it) but I can understand it even if I loathe it.

This is somewhat different in my eyes. Because while it’s not even close to the massive vileness that is torture, detention without trial, renditions, etc, it IS a violation that can be expected to happen to anyone who flies (and that’s before these machines creep in elsewhere. I understand they’re already used in some courthouses in the US). This is not some bad thing that the common person in the street can dismiss as happening to someone else who they don’t give a shit about – this is something that they can legitimately see happening to themselves.

And they’re cool with that? Happy with the idea of complete strangers having the right to see them naked and/or intimately grope them for entering a certain building or using a certain form of transport. Happy to simply concede bodily autonomy simply for being in a certain place?

And that worries me – because this is a really intimate violation that people are consenting too – all in the nebulous name of security. What more will they tolerate?

Relatedly – I actually thought that *gasp* the religious right agrees with me on this! But, no, it seems they’re only upset because it may be a GAY TSA agent groping you! Because straight folk violating your body and touching your genitals without your consent would be totally fine