#DrewsViews: Traveling while Trans

by Drew Adams


It’s 2019 and social media is full of posts about everyone’s New Year’s Resolutions. One of the most common ones that I’ve seen involve traveling. Whether it’s to visit a new country, explore a new city, or simply to get out of the house more, people seem to want to see the world. While most folks find difficulty achieving their travel resolution because of money or time issues, transgender people have an extra layer of difficulty to navigate- traveling while trans can be a bit more complicated. Here are my best tips for traveling (more specifically, flying) while transgender (all from my personal experience)!

  1. Apply for TSA Pre-Check:
    TSA pre-check will allow you to bypass most of the airport security process, saving a lot of time and often dignity. With pre-check, you will be allowed to leave your shoes and belt on, keep your toiletries in your carry on bag, and go through a metal detector instead of the full body scanner- all things that will help you a great deal. You will want to apply two or more months before your trip so that the government agency can process everything properly, which is pretty annoying, but it will become a life saver when you get to the airport.
  2. Skip the packer or breast forms:
    Personal story time. The last time I flew, I decided to wear my favorite packer. If you don’t know, a packer is a prosthetic used to create a mass in a trans guy’s pants. Everything was great until I was next in line to go through the scanner in security- which is supposed to flag any unexpected mass. All of a sudden, I felt my packer start to rotate and move down in my pants. I held my breath as the scanner did its thing, knowing how embarrassing it would be if my packer set off the scanner as an “abnormal mass.” Luckily for me, my packer had not moved enough to trigger the scanner, and I did not have to have a crotch inspection. I learned my lesson- don’t wear anything that has the potential to set off the scanners, like packers or breast forms that don’t use adhesive to stay in place.
  3. Get a clear pouch:
    TSA agents are legally allowed to check all medications for explosives, and might be alarmed and question you if you travel with needles. For that reason, make sure any medications you fly with are clearly labeled and put any needles or additional medicinal equipment together in a clear pouch. Remember: The TSA agent does not have the right to ask personal questions about your medical condition!
  4. Mentally prepare yourself for a pat down:
    This one is a good tip for anyone, but especially trans folks. The body scanner will be set to either “male” or “female” depending on the identification you provide, or the agent guessing. If the scanner is set to “male” a mass on your chest, like in a lot of pre-top surgery trans men, or breast forms in trans women, will trigger the scanner and prompt a pat down from a TSA agent. Similarly, if the scanner is set to “female,” a mass in the crotch will result in a pat down. Annoying and transphobic, I know. Security, however, moves so quickly that they really don’t care about respecting your gender, just moving people through as fast as possible. Therefore, it is important to mentally prepare yourself in case you do get pulled out of line. If you do have to endure a pat down, don’t panic! The officers are generally as respectful as they can be of your privacy, quickly lightly touch the area with the back of their hand, and you’re on your way.
  5. Don’t be afraid of airplane bathrooms
    If you are uncomfortable in gendered bathrooms, don’t worry! If the airport doesn’t have a convenient gender neutral bathroom, just wait until your flight is off the ground! All airplane restrooms are gender neutral and single stall. While most people think these bathrooms are gross and unkept, they are actually pretty clean.

I hope these tips make achieving your New Year’s resolution a little bit easier!


About the Author:

Drew Adams is a transgender high school senior from Ponte Vedra, FL, who is committed to LGBTQ advocacy at the local and national levels. He serves as his high school GSA’s president and raises money for Northeast Florida’s LGBTQ youth outreach, JASMYN, to which he also donates food, toiletries and school supplies. Nationally, Drew serves as a youth ambassador and advocacy volunteer for The Trevor Project, a youth social media ambassador for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and a Volunteer and Intern Coordinator for Point of Pride. On the legislative side, Drew lobbies for the Equality Act by visiting with his Congressional representatives and their staff.

Additionally, Drew has spent years fighting to change his school district’s bathroom policy to be trans-inclusive, and the fight is still ongoing. Drew is an International Baccalaureate student and a volunteer at the Mayo Clinic, and he hopes to go to medical school and become an adolescent psychiatrist specializing in transgender health. For fun, he practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creates sculpture art and plays the piano.