Getting There is Half the Bout

Angie Reid 01

Photo courtesy of Brangwyn Jones.

Written by Angie Reid, aka Easy Break Oven.

For Derby Frontier’s 2014 Trans* Awareness in Sports Week

So you’ve made your league’s travel team, you’ve practiced with them till you can move together like a sentient amoeba, consuming jammers and spitting out points. The big tournament is coming up, and you’ve never been more ready. You’ve taken care to meet all the eligibility requirements for your sport…but what about your country? What about the hosting country?

Currently policies regarding identity documents and travel in North America present an additional challenge for trans* athletes looking to compete. Despite the increasing adoption of trans* inclusive policies by sporting organizations, including high school and collegiate level sports, government polices remain woefully behind. In particular, let’s look at the requirements for passports and air travel, as it applies to Canadian citizens. Unfortunately, there are effectively no government policies that allow room for non-binary genders, so this discussion will focus on M/F gender markers on ID.

In recent years, it’s been possible for trans* persons to change their legal names on passports with relatively little fuss. Getting a legal name change can be done at any time, and once a legal name change has been processed, one can immediately apply for a new passport with that name. However, the gender marker on passports is considerably more difficult.

Changing that requires one to either have undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS), along with a sworn statement from two medical professionals who have made a physical examination; or testify that they will be having SRS within 12 months, again along with a letter from a psychiatrist. As there are few gender specialists able to refer for SRS, the waiting times to see one in person for this letter can be several months to over a year. But what if you don’t want SRS, or are unable to have it for financial or medical reasons? Currently the only permanent reprieve is if you were born in Ontario, which allows changing one’s birth certificate gender marker without SRS. This amended birth certificate can then be used as the proof of citizenship in a passport application. All other provinces require SRS in order to change one’s birth certificate. Keep in mind that only about 2% of female-to-male (FtM) and 25% of male-to-female (MtF) ever get SRS.

The workaround for those not seeking SRS is, of course, to lie. The specialists are aware of this as there is no other choice when dealing with a policy that restricts freedom of movement rights and has serious implications for reproductive rights (remember, SRS is an irreversibly sterilizing procedure.)

Even the requirement that SRS be done in 12 months is farcical, as the waiting list for healthcare-funded SRS in Canada is well over a year. But let’s say you need to travel for your tournament, or for work, or just because after dealing with all this red tape you’d really like a vacation. Let’s say you’ve seen a psychiatrist (with the one year waiting list for the required specialist), and they’ve written the supporting SRS letter for Passport Canada with a wink and a nod. As you can imagine, the fun doesn’t end there. Trans* persons going this route can only obtain a two-year, limited validity passport, that costs the same as a normal passport and cannot be renewed or extended. Given that many countries require a passport to be valid for six months beyond your departure date, this may limit the effective time to only 18 months.

To add insult to injury, you must also fill out form PPTC 152 “Request for a Canadian Passport
Indicating a Sex Other Than the Sex Shown on My Documentary Evidence of Citizenship”, which is actually not referenced or available on Passport Canada’s website(1). It can only be obtained at a passport office from an agent (whom in my case had never heard of it or the policy). This form allows Canada to deny assistance to you if your ‘incorrect’ marker causes problems during travel: “It is hereby understood, and agreed, that Passport Canada, the Government of Canada or any representative of the Canadian Government will not be liable for any damages caused or alleged to be caused as a result of the indication of that sex in my passport.” The irony is that you may be in even greater danger travelling with the marker of your birth sex.

At the end of the two years, when you renew, your passport reverts back to your birth gender marker. What happens then? So far, we don’t know. The policy has only been in place for about two years, and to my knowledge, no one has yet attempted to challenge this policy as the very first passports issued under it will just coming up for expiry in the next few months.

But as long as you have the marker changed, everything should be fine, right? Not exactly. In 2011, the Canadian Aeronautics act was amended to include the following language: “Sec 5.2(1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if […] (c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents; or (d) the passenger presents more than one form of identification and there is a major discrepancy between those forms of identification.”(2) This has huge implications for any trans* person who doesn’t blend in, or by choice or circumstance doesn’t present a convincing binary gender presentation. While this issue did get considerable coverage in mainstream media, it stills stands on the books. In practice, no airline has enforced this policy, despite strict financial penalties called for in the Act. In fact, noted trans* activist Jan Buterman traveled across Canada in 2012, deliberately pointing out his valid, legally issued, mismatched identification (driver’s license and birth certificate) to gate agents, and was allowed to board all four of his flights(3). While it’s heartening that this policy has not been enforced, the fact that it remains in legislation and thus subject to the whim of the airline agents is cold comfort.

Another area of concern for trans* air travelers is the security checkpoint itself. After a number of complaints, the USA’s Transport Security Agency did produce specific policies for trans* travelers and Canadian regulations(4) are similar. It is well worth reading the linked articles from the relevant agencies, but a few key points that trans* folks should be aware of:
-You may opt-out of a body scanner and undergo a physical search instead. If you opt for the physical search, you may request a private room, the security agents must be of the gender you present as, you may bring a companion as a witness, and “Travelers should neither be asked to nor agree to lift, remove, or raise any article of clothing to reveal a prosthetic and should not be asked to remove it.”(5) Trans* women with breast prostheses or trans* men with packers, take note.

  • The full body scanners in use now use a generic stick figure, and use a computer algorithm to detect suspicious areas. If an area is flagged, the stick figure will display a small box overlaying it with the actual image of the area.

There’s been arguments back and forth as to the effectiveness of the scanners from a security standpoint, but as this is not a security blog, I will simply state I have been through the modern millimeter-wave scanners (Provision ATD), three times and never been flagged. Stepping out of the scanner, it’s easy to turn and see the green ‘ok’ screen flash. However, I witnessed a cisgender traveling companion, who happens to be on the heavier side, flagged for having a stomach roll. The bottom line is that the system is looking for a certain range of ‘normal’ and if you bind, tuck, pad, or otherwise conform yourself to a mainstream body standard, it seems it doesn’t flag you. I’ll leave the implications of that as an exercise for the reader.

Finally, if you do encounter an awkward situation during your travel, remember that a smile and calm demeanor will carry you further than aggressive arguing. Choose where and when to fight your battles. If you need to make that flight, the security checkpoint or gate agent podium is not the place to start a deep discussion of the injustices of society. The gate and checkpoint agents see thousands of people per day, and are more likely to be looking for an excuse to get you on your way, than get involved in a situation requiring a supervisor. Make it easy for them!

(1) Online copy of form PPTC 152 (unofficial site).
(2) Canada’s Aeronautics Act
(3) Personal communication.
(4) EGALE Canada’s tips for transgender travelers.
(5) Transport Security Authority tips for transgender travelers.

Scanner use reliability issues HERE and ALSO HERE.