TSA, National PTSD, and Prosthetic Breasts

Every time we travel to a new country, we pay attention to what’s going on at security to get through quickly without embarrassing ourselves more than usual. As you might expect, the US has the strictest checks we’ve seen. A sample of recent screening points:

  1. Philippines: Metal detector, no full-body scan, no electronics removed from bags, yes remove shoes. They don’t have a policy for jackets and coats cause it’s uhh … the Philippines.
  2. Europe: Full-body scans present but not always used,* usually don’t have to take off your shoes, yes electronics out of bag, use your best judgment on coats and jackets. If you’re from the Midwest, your parka’s probably got to come off. If you’re from Miami, you’re cool. *No surprise when they body scan you in Amsterdam, they want to keep that marijuana and baggy of shrooms in-country.
  3. U.S.:  Metal detector, full-body scan, shoes off, electronics out of bag. Anything on your upper body with zippers or buttons comes off. As the TSA agent watches you unzip, he twirls a scanning baton and whispers, all the better to grope you with, my dear.

Okay, okay, not really.  Almost all of the TSA agents who’ve felt me up have been kind and friendly, and have had the decency to look away in professional discomfort as they probed the contours of my bra. In general, TSA tries to strike a difficult balance between national security and civil liberty.  Sometimes, its attempt to portray an intense personal violation as a fact of post-9/11 life results in something tawdry and bizarre.

For example, the policy article entitled “What to expect when you wear a breast prosthetic.”

The actual article title is a bit more PC, but I’m pretty sure I copied it down exactly at the time.  It’s like finding a TSA article that says “What to expect if you haven’t shaved down there recently.”Read: it’s going to be a long and shameful day. You really should have shaved.

And that’s pretty much the jaw-drop impression this article leaves you with. Here’s some of the advice:

  • “You may tell the TSA security officer that you would greatly appreciate that your screening be handled as discreetly and quietly as possible” (Key words: ‘greatly appreciate.’ Read: Ask nicely for some dignity. If the agent doesn’t have to pee and had a good breakfast, you’ll probably get it.)
  • “All members of the traveling public are permitted to wear head coverings (whether religious or not) through the security checkpoints.” (I’m not taking this out of context. It’s right in the middle of the advisory bullets. So, if you’re not from a religion or culture in which head coverings are commonplace, feel free to bring your own paper bag.)
  • “You may request that a traveling companion be present as a witness” (If it makes you feel better. The Supreme Court upheld our right to poke and wiggle your boob, er, pat you down. Three times.)

The breast prosthetic page isn’t all ridiculous. It’s a mix of useless advice and warnings about what you’re about to go through. The warnings at least, seem helpful. “If you decide to bring your prosthesis or mastectomy bra in your accessible property rather than wearing it, it will be allowed through the checkpoint after it is screened.” (If you take it out, you have less risk of being groped. We’ll probably be more embarrassed than you when your breast rides over the belt).

I get the trauma of 9/11 in terms of security. I get the trauma of the would-be shoe bomber. I also love to read policies like this, because they’re big neon signs above things that aren’t working in our struggle to protect travelers and uphold human dignity at the same time. Looking at the line of people waiting to achieve fame as Breast Bombers on the one hand and the line of traveling breast cancer survivors (Google TSA breast cancer survivor to read the horror stories) on the other, I’d optimize for the cancer survivors.

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