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Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips.

“Sir,” I hear a TSA agent shout faintly in the background as I unload my computer. “Sir…” Her volume increases drawing my attention… She is yelling at me. “Take those off!” She yells again, pointing at my shoes. I kind of like being called sir.

The bright lights and loud noises of the airport are no match for my building anxiety as the TSA line shuffles forward. My heart is beating so loud I can’t hear the people in uniform screaming at us.

Welcome to U.S. airports, where racism and classism live on, and where gender non-binary folks are still likely to experience transphobia and uncomfortable pat-downs.

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Shoes, belt, jacket, hoodie… I place my articles of clothing in the dusty grey bins and watch them slide through the beeping button-filled x-ray machine. Now my turn. I wait outside the metal detector. In my socks, tank top, and too-big pants I feel exposed. My vulnerability is emphasized by the woman who has now decided I am no longer a sir,  “Ma’am! Ma’am! Please step forward!” I follow her instructions, ignoring the way my body cringes each time she calls me that word. Of course, the metal detector goes haywire, beeping and singling me out. I am herded inside a taped box on the floor, waiting to get searched. I wish they would ask me what gender I preferred to search me, to touch me, but my comfort is not their priority. Even if they did ask me the options would be “man” or “woman”… Where are all the non-binary TSA agents?!

The same woman who is yelling at me now commands me to move forward. “Ma’am, lift your arms and spread your legs.” She kneels down and starts at my feet, slowly making her way up my body. I look forward; I am uncomfortable. She is just doing her job, yet I can’t help but despise her in these moments as she misgenders me, calls me names, and pats and grabs me from my ankles to my inner thighs, to ass, then around my chest, the violation gradually increasing. After a strenuous in-depth and personal pat-down, I can finally throw my clothes back on and head to my destination.

I am one of those people who arrives at the airport two or more hours ahead. This may seem ridiculously early to most, but it is the safest option for me. Sometimes society reacts to my gender fluidity in frustrating ways. I do not care about what people think of me, yet their opinions and perceptions can still disrupt my day. Because we have to show our ID to go through the airport, rent cars, and check into hotels, I have to make extra time in my schedule for others’ ignorant confusion.

I used to have long wavy hair, and have not updated my IDs since then. Now I sport short hair, with a buzzed undercut. When my hair is up you can see that my head is mostly shaved, save for a little bun at the top. I like to wear my hair up and out of my face most of the time. Some people who look at my passport or drivers license will see that it says female, look at me with my shaved head and baggy clothes and see no issue. Unfortunately for me, most people doubt my versatility. I am asked to take off my mask quite often, to let my hair down. Traveling in and out of the US I have been asked, “Are you a woman?” to which I answer, “It says female on my ID.”

Most people do not know or want to know about transgender people, gender non-conforming or non-binary people. The lack of sex and gender education is prevalent around the world. I know that when traveling in and out of the US most people will see me as a woman, at most they will see me as a lesbian woman. Even in LGBTQIA+ spaces around the world, my gender identity is dismissed or ignored.

For my own safety, when traveling outside of places I know, I use the women’s restroom and do not dare correct people on my pronouns. I have to practice caution wherever I go; transgender people are barely legally accepted in the United States, let alone socially accepted.

But while traveling around the world is difficult for a transgender person, it is also rewarding. I have made deep interpersonal connections with people everywhere I go. Through meeting and getting to know my authentic self, many of my international friends have begun their journeys of deconstructing their gender identities. I love when friends from around the globe tell me that they were able to discover their non-binary identities through meeting and discussing mine, and that alone makes the many hassles worth it.

Tagged: Feature

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Maya Carrillo-Villar

Maya Carrillo-Villar

Maya Villar Carrillo is a non-binary mixed media artist and academic. Maya loves love, nature, and revolution. They are currently residing in Los Angeles but are hoping to travel more soon. Check them out on Instagram (@maya_phd) or Twitter (@mcvillar16). Their performance art account is @maya_rich_and_famous <3 love u <3
Maya Carrillo-Villar

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