The LGBT Health & Development Program

Traveling While Transgender: Tips For Enduring Hectic Holiday Travel

Posted on December 7th, 2012 by Zach in Featured, Transgender Blog, Transgender Youth, Youth Blog. 1 Comment

Under the best of circumstances, holiday travel can be stressful. For those of us who are transgender or gender nonconforming, the scrutiny of airport security can be really uncomfortable. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey reports that about 30% of transgender people have experienced disrespect, discrimination, or assault during air travel or from Transportation Security Officers (TSOs). Recently, The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) webpage  was updated to include recommendations to make travel easier for transgender people. In addition, the National Center for Transgender Equality’s (NCTE) document, “Airport Security and Transgender People,”  and website provide tips for reducing hassle and resources for responding to problems while traveling. Here’s a summary of what these documents say.


The TSA requires passengers over 18 years-old show a U.S. federal- or state-issued photo ID (passport, state ID, driver’s license) at security checkpoints.

• Though it may be difficult, try to use the name and gender that’s on your photo ID when you buy your ticket, regardless of your gender presentation. This will guarantee that your boarding pass and ID match.

• Update your ID before you travel. Even a new picture can help things go more smoothly.

• TSA officers shouldn’t comment on your gender presentation even if it is different than the gender indicated on your ID.

Baggage checks

• Pack thoughtfully since all carry-on luggage must be screened.

• Consider placing prosthetics (packers, breast forms) and medical equipment (hormones, syringes) in your checked luggage following TSA guidelines. This can reduce your discomfort if your bag is searched.

• You can request a private screening if your bags are searched.

• Contact “TSA Cares” at or 1-855-787-2227 with questions about screening procedures.

Body scanners and pat-downs

Heightened security means that everyone is screened using advanced imaging technology and/or a pat-down prior to flying. These requirements are not lifted for transgender travelers.  Using scanners causes concerns about privacy and safety for trans people because they produce images of a person’s body under their clothes. These images may “out” a person as trans, but the TSA website says that their new software replaces the image of the traveler with a generic outline of a person to protect their privacy.

• It helps to remember that screenings try to identify dangerous items. Most transgender people pass through security without incident.

• You can request a pat-down instead of going through an scanner.

• A pat-down:

•Must be performed by an officer of the same gender (based on your presentation).

•Shouldn’t involve personal questions about your gender/gender presentation.

•Can take place in a private room, with a companion at your request.

•Should never involve asking you lift/remove your clothing to reveal a binder or prosthetic device.

Know your rights

• If you feel you are questioned in a disrespectful way, ask to speak to a supervisor and explain your situation as calmly as possible.

• If you experience discrimination, consider filing a complaint to the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). You can file your report immediately to the TSA using the free app, FlyRights.

• For more information, read NCTE’s webpage Preparing for Airport Security.


One thought on “Traveling While Transgender: Tips For Enduring Hectic Holiday Travel

  1. Wow, I never knew these things! This is really good to know, as airport security always makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. I am a FTM trans man, just starting hormone therapy. Pat downs make me uncomfortable as they are usually performed by a female (i prefer to be referred to as a male.)
    To make matters worse, I have a service dog. So, questions are almost always directed to me about my health (and mental health,) and being trans only magnifies that. It surely is priceless to know my rights, and know their legal limits.

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