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TSA Experience, 101126

After four flights and two check-ins, my final leg of travel in nine days finally confronted me with a millimeter-wave scanner. At Detroit, every passenger who had put their bag on the scanner was waved into the line for the millimeter-wave scanner (and, I should note, this meant we did not go through the metal detectors.) Passenger after passenger went into the booth and put their hands on their heads. I opted out.

I was motioned to stand next to the bag scanner with another young woman of maybe twenty years or so. She smiled at me, maybe a little nervously. “I’m glad I’m not the only one,” I said. She said she didn’t want to go through the hassle of the scanner, and she’d had enough x-rays in her life anyway. Me, I had more than my share of head x-rays when I was a kid due to having extra teeth, bones in their way, and orthodontia.

I anxiously tried to keep an eye on my bag, laptop, and clothes, as bag x-ray staff had stolen electronics from my bag during an earlier flight through Detroit. The female screener who came over to me was accommodating, carrying my three trays awkwardly over to some nearby benches. She was very clear about what she was about to do, and not unpleasant about it, as if we agreed that the patdown option was as necessary as the scanners themselves.

Worrying about the patdowns before my flight to New Orleans, I imagined I had been through something like it before. Namely, when I was processed into jail. They’d penned some 600 of us in at a protest for “parading without a permit,” put us on buses and held us overnight, eventually sending us into jail cells at a courthouse where we slept on linoleum floors with an arm zip-tied across our bodies to the opposite leg. I have never been through anything as humiliating. All of us were already nervous, not having expected an arrest and not knowing what would happen to us. The staff were harrassed, most of them postal detectives and other desk officers who did not appreciate being asked to work overtime. We’d been on buses for hours, sometimes arguing with them, sometimes begging for bathrooms. The short, stocky woman who processed me in grabbed me roughly, sticking her hands between my legs and down my pants and squeezing. I felt like a piece of meat. The sexual feelings it provoked when she grabbed around my waistline were unwelcome, and completely unavoidable unless you wanted to fight, which would only make things worse. It was a hint of the humiliation that must be common for those in prison in the US.

But the woman at the Detroit airport was extravagantly careful, telling me when she would check my waistband, when she would use the backs of her hands, where she was about to move. I stood with my nose in the air, legs spread, like a show horse being checked for conformation. There was a ritual familiarity to it. This time, I knew I would feel aroused, so I was ready for her, and not ashamed. She finished, told me to wait while she scanned her gloves for traces of the bomb-making materials I had no doubt been grubbing around in, then called from her post that I was free to go.

Putting on my boots for the umpteenth time since 9/11, I found myself thinking I was comfortable, more so than I would be going through the machine which would not touch me or cause any sensations. Better to be touched by a human being than poisoned and captured by a machine, I thought.

This is what we’ve come to.

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