Please Step Aside Ma’am

Security checkups are carried out to ensure the safety of people. But what if the mere mention of such measures makes you feel afraid and threatened? Does the sight of body scanners and metal detectors pass a chill down your spine? If yes, then you are not alone. There have been countless cases of mistreatment of individuals in the name of security checkups. Right from detecting ‘anomalies’ to objectifying the bodies of transgenders, security firms envision safety at the cost of the third gender’s dignity.

Amruta Soni, based in Patna, faced humiliation due to her gender status on identity documents. She was heading to America for a conference, but was questioned and harassed by immigration officers at the airport. While her passport stated her gender as ‘T’, the visa displayed an ‘F’ in the sex category. “Unlike passports, the visa had only two options to choose from: M or F. Hence I chose F,” recalls Amruta.

Due to this minor difference in the documents, the officers sensed trouble and asked her humiliating questions. “Have you been like this since childhood?”, “Is that your breast size or just a padded bra?” thus going to the extent of openly remarking on her anatomical features. Finally, the higher authority was approached, providing Soni relief from the shameful officers. “We’re viewed as criminals just because of our gender”, complains Soni with disgust.

One would expect better from the security staff in corporate companies. Sadly, they, too, are victims of transphobia. Mansi Jani, the founder of Aarju Foundation, was restricted entry in a corporate company, where she had a meeting scheduled. Although the HR team of the company was sensitised about transgenders, the security staff did not expect a TG to visit the office. Hence, they were in two minds about permitting Mansi’s entry.

To clear their confusion, Mansi asked for the HR person to deal with the matter, who later sensitised the security guards. He instructed them to let Mansi enter, lending full support to the social worker. But are all transgenders fortunate enough to receive support in such situations? “Today conditions have improved for the community,” believes Mansi, “but a change in the mindsets of people is an ongoing process in India”.

When Sowmya Gupta, a trans woman working in Delhi, visited Epicuria Mall with a friend, she was deprived of the support received by Mansi at the corporate office. As they entered the mall, the security staff asked them to stand separately while the security procedures for others continued. A senior guard approached in 5- 10 minutes and looked suspiciously at Sowmya. He asked them the reason for visiting the mall. The colleagues often went to the Food Court for lunch and shared this information with him.

With reluctance, the security guard allowed them to proceed to the Food Court. However, he followed them till the dining area and kept an eye on them even as they dined together. Sowmya and her colleague reported this incident to the management and expressed their disappointment regarding the same. Her colleague wrote a lengthy post on Facebook accusing the unfair treatment meted out to them as “an act of transphobia and discrimination.”

Abhina Aher, a transgender activist based in Mumbai, went through a similar experience in Abu Dhabi airport. Male officials forcefully checked her, despite multiple requests for a female official. "They were constantly asking me questions in public whether you are a man or woman”, said Abhina, recalling the unfortunate incident. The officials shamelessly questioned the ‘T’ mentioned on her passport, accusing her of being half-man and half-woman.

The security staff felt suspicious because Abhina objected to male officials frisking her. She was instructed to remove her shoes and her jewellery for further inspection. Although she was allowed to travel by the airlines, the procedure caused great inconvenience and embarrassment to Abhina. Moreover, the Abu Dhabi airport expressed no regrets over her frisking, turning a deaf ear to her complaint. This incident provides an insight into transgender issues in Middle Eastern countries as well.

An Australian passenger standing in a queue during an airport security check was asked to step aside by the staff. He went through a separate set of procedures, where the body scanner identified a prosthetic in his underwear. Sensing trouble, the officer called his supervisor, who put on gloves to conduct a private search. When asked for the reason behind putting on gloves, the supervisor replied, “You want me to touch that thing with my bare hands?”

The passenger was instructed to remove the prosthetic penis for closer inspection. After this, the supervisor pat him down to ensure that nothing was hidden in his clothes. Once the procedure was completed, the passenger wore the prosthetic back but was denied privacy as two men stood there watching him do it. “Not only did this make me feel incredibly uneasy and anxious, but it was demeaning and unnecessary,” stated the passenger who faced humiliation just because he was a transgender.

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