It’s a habit now – better to be patted down in public than to go through the TSA body scanner. They always ask if I want to go to a private place. No, I say – here’s fine. There is no humiliation. Besides, it would take even more time to move elsewhere. Maybe others think as they see me being patted down that I was pulled aside for special attention, the unlucky tenth person who must suffer this public scrutiny. Or that something about me triggered suspicion.
Here’s what the TSA website says about pulling people out of line for closer inspection:
"TSA's BDO-trained security officers (Behavior Detection Officers) are screening travelers for involuntary physical and physiological reactions that people exhibit in response to a fear of being discovered. TSA recognizes that an individual exhibiting some of these behaviors does not automatically mean a person has terrorist or criminal intent. BDOs do, however, help our security officers focus appropriate resources on determining if an individual presents a higher risk or if his/her behavior has a non-threatening origin. Individuals exhibiting specific observable behaviors may be referred for additional screening at the checkpoint to include a handwanding, limited pat down and physical inspection of one's carry-on baggage."
Whatever. I’ve never been that 10th person or pulled out for suspicious behavior. Because I’m not a terrorist. Since I know I’m above suspicion, there’s no shame in a public, physical inspection. What others think, fellow passengers or TSA officers male and female, is no nevermind. Finding anything on me in a physical inspection is no more likely than in a scanner, however more intensive a physical inspection may be perceived to be in this crazy world. So I ask the TSA to “focus appropriate resources” my direction because the scanners are, to me, more invasive and, well, a joke.
The last time I went through a scanner I had tucked my credit card in my back pocket that I had used to get my boarding pass. That spurred an inspection on the far side of the scanner. I showed the female officer the card; she took the opportunity to half-heartedly pat down my entire leg. A time before that I had put my mobile phone showing my boarding pass in the elastic pants waist (no belt to hassle with) so my hands would be free to deal with my carry-on stuff and shoes. Then I put the phone in a bin. The phone had emitted radiation on my body that showed in the scanner. I got handled. It’s going to happen anyway.
And so I ask: How is a full body scan less of a personal space violation than a woman touching a woman?
I’m not so sensitive to close human interaction. Well, actually I am. I just think it is okay. Why is human touch so reviled in our culture that a full body scan – the in-effect nude photo produced by radiation, viewed by a stranger in a room somewhere - is preferable? How am I the perv for feeling it’s not so bad to be touched by another human being, especially in the often stressful transition from ordinary citizen to airline passenger? I know for a fact that they won’t find anything amiss. My stepping forward then is a statement of innocence. Yes, someone COULD have slipped a baggie of explosives in my underwear or in the soles of my shoes. But which eventuality is being tested here – my intentions or the range of possibilities? If it’s ‘range of possibilities’, if something was found I’d surely be treated as though it was my intention to be a carrier. So is the TSA looking for criminals or explosives? Yes – both. So we must all be suspected until we are not suspected. I’ve decided that if I will be suspected so profoundly simply because I wish to fly it will be on my terms, terms that feel more respectful.
Besides, I don’t mind causing the TSA to search for an available female officer to come over and run through the ritual. The TSA shouldn’t assume that everyone will be compliant with their scanners. From what I can tell the lines move at the same slow-hurried pace. Plus, having gotten the go-ahead I calmly and quietly get dressed again and gather my things with no rush. It’s a comparative luxury. In exchange, I had a short, personal interaction with a polite, sometimes slightly embarrassed (for me? for herself?), TSA woman.
Being searched dehumanizes us, and we feel that dehumanization each and every one of us, even if we push that feeling down to a subliminal level. Just being suspected of being unpatriotic every time we fly is surely having a detrimental effect on our collective psyche and does nothing for our trust in our government. Even when a physical search is done clumsily it is better than having a nude image made, inspected, and stored for all eternity in exchange for a few seconds of time.
Experience researcher in high tech and built environments with an anthropology provenance.