Travelling while trans

Owl Stefania writes in Metro about her experiences travelling as a trans person.

‘Are you sure this is your passport, ma’am?’ the passport controller asked me while writing something down on her computer. With a large amount of anxiety about what was to come, I nodded and said yes, it certainly was my passport. She frowned a little in confusion, then said, while staring intently at me: ‘This passport says “male” but you’re obviously female’.

I don’t travel much these days but when I do, the ID thing is a major source of stress: like Stefania I’ve been the one holding up the queue while desk agents (loudly) try to decide whether I’m trans or a terrorist. It’s excruciatingly embarrassing and you don’t relax until the plane’s actually taken off: until then you’re convinced security is going to come looking for you and prevent you from flying.

It’s a good example of how trans people’s lives are often easier the closer they conform to gender stereotypes (stereotypes they’re then criticised for upholding by anti-trans activists): my passport has a big F on it, and the more stereotypically female I present the less confusion there is at the airport and the less likely I am to be the person holding you up. This is one reason why many countries now offer an X for non-binary people: it eliminates the confusion that can occur when the passport says A but the presentation is neither A nor B.

The stress doesn’t stop when you’re checked in. There’s airport security scanning and pat downs, which is a whole other world of fun – although to be fair we’re relatively good at this in the UK. In the US, many trans people have been treated appallingly by airport security staff.

Given the choice, I’d rather take the train than fly. Train travel is hardly perfect but it’s a more relaxed experience if you’re travelling while trans (assuming your carriage doesn’t contain any arseholes, of course. That’s a whole other set of fears. And of course train travel has many other problems compared to flying).

Being LGBT+ doesn’t just affect how you travel. It affects where you can travel to. Stefania:

Every time I go somewhere overseas I have to consider whether I am going to be safe as transgender person. There are countries that I wouldn’t even consider traveling to due to hostile attitudes towards people like me and with good reason.

That’s something I do too. If you’re cisgender and/or straight it’s something you don’t have to think about, but if you aren’t then something as simple as planning a family holiday involves a whole extra level of research because some countries are actively hostile to LGBT+ people. For some of us, the key criteria in choosing a city break isn’t the price or what’s on; it’s whether those streets are safe for us to walk down.