Since PhDork and I were both traveling on trans-continental flights this weekend, we had a moment of “Uh…TSA WTF?” before we headed to the airport, which we chatted about as I packed my suitcase. I fly a lot—nine round trips in the last sixteen weeks, both domestic and international—so I get plenty of quality face-time with TSA agents, including being scanned and patted down, although those seem to happen randomly and inconsistently.
The body scanners don’t bother me—there’s an argument that they allow the TSA to “see you naked”, but, having seen the scans, I think the images look like blurry photo-negatives, not a nude person. The pat-downs I am less crazy about, but they have been fairly rare for me, seeing as how I don’t fall into any of the categories that might encourage the TSA to give me extra scrutiny. But on a flight from Heathrow this winter I was patted down—there was a temporary super-high alert for all flights into the US and we were all patted down and had our carry-on luggage picked apart by hand. A lady ran the backs of her hands hands between my shoulder blades, under my arms and up the inside of my legs. The agent was professional and I didn’t find it violating at all—I was more annoyed that pat-downs slowed the boarding process so that our flight left an hour late. But I do not have active PTSD or a history of being harassed by the authorities; if I did, I might feel differently.
The problem with the debate about TSA is that in many cases, relatively little attention is being paid to practical questions like “Does this make us demonstrably safer?” or “Why is the TSA so fucking insensitive to people’s genuine concerns?” No…it’s boiled down to a man telling a TSA agent “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” Don’t touch my junk! has become the new I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!—the new rant of the angry white person, in a time when our 24-hour news cycle seem to be devoted almost entirely to the rants of angry white people, especially angry white dudes.
Truth is, the unwelcome touch is still rare for men, and that’s a privilege very few of them have ever realized…until now. If you’re a woman, and you’ve been in a crowded place, or on public transportation, there is a 100% chance that someone has touched your junk, or tried to, without your permission. If men united and protested as loudly over women being the victims of unwanted touching as they do over the TSA pat-downs, the world would be a different place. As Amanda Hess put it: GROPING! It happens to straight dudes too, now, so everybody pay attention.
There’s also more than a little underlying gay panic to the backlash. I’ve heard a fair bit of the snickering sexist “But hey, if it was a LADY giving me the pat-down it would be okay…” Because the off-chance that a man might brush his hand against your junk is so gay! Cue the panic!
The panic is entirely one-sided, of course; I haven’t heard male libertarians protesting at all about women being patted down by women. Presumably there’s nothing gay about that that requires panic—or they’ve been watching too much internet porn and think women touching each other is hot. (Or, as stated above, they simply don’t give a shit about a woman’s perspective). Never mind that for women who have been sexually assaulted, a pat-down can be triggering and traumatic even if done by another woman.
A black male friend who has been stopped for DWB snarked: “The Man’s doing a random stop-and-frisk on white folks now? Poor, poor white folks.” I’m sure a fair number of people who’ve been harassed by the TSA for Flying While Muslim would agree, and I can’t blame them. I’ve noticed that the majority of my (often Southern) libertarian and conservative friends who are up in arms over these pat-downs are the same one who have no problem with brown people being subjected to extra government scrutiny at airports, when building houses of worship, while driving in Arizona, etc. It’s all in the name of public safety and defending freedom…unless someone might touch their white, privileged junk.