The name on the plane ticket was an exact match for the name on the passport. And the young person standing before the TSA agent had the same soft, round face as the one in the passport photo. But the uniformed agent, perched imperiously in his elevated chair at the TSA Pre-Check station, just couldn’t figure it out.
My 17 year-old child is a transgender man, and we’re working to update all of his official ID documents. All that paperwork takes time, so while he very much looks like a boy, my son’s passport and driver’s license still have his “dead name” – a girl’s name.
I felt my jaw tighten as I watched the TSA agent silently shift his eyes from the passport to my child and back again, like he was watching a slow-motion tennis match. Kid, picture, picture, kid. Kid, picture, picture, kid. I know it’s his job to protect and serve, but I wasn’t expecting cruelty.
“I don’t understand this,” he said, looking at me, not my teen. Then he tilted his head in my child’s direction and asked: “Does it have any other ID?”
Yes, the TSA agent referred to my child as an it. A thing. A perplexing problem. But certainly not as a person worthy of respect or even polite interaction.
I wanted to verbally blast the guy, of course, but I knew he could literally make a federal case out of it if I tried to make a federal case out of “it.” (I fly almost every week for work and I know you don’t joke about weapons or call out a TSA agent on their sometimes rude behavior.) Not wanting to miss our flight home, I swallowed my anger and quietly explained the situation. He let us through, still eyeing us as we walked away. And yes, I quickly found a supervisor on the other side of the checkpoint and raged at them for a minute or two, demanding to know if the TSA trains its agents on how not to be horrible. My kid was quietly smoldering. The supervisor apologized and promised to remind the agent about his sensitivity training.
I know. I know. It was just one ignorant guy at the Fort Lauderdale airport, don’t hate on every single TSA agent. I don’t. But still…it’s been a few months, and I hear my child re-tell this story on occassion. And if you listen to him recount the encounter, you’ll quickly realize that the dehumanizing shame and anger he felt that day at the airport runs deep and left a lasting mark.
It: A little word with a big impact.
So when my son and I entered the sagging Registry of Motor Vehicles building south of Boston last week to request an updated drivers license with his new legal name – bearing paperwork from the Family & Probate Court, with a gold stamp and eveything! – we were both on guard for another “it” moment.
We’d been turned away without a smile at the RMV two times before, lacking the right paperwork. And today the building was hot and crowded. Sort of like an airport.
And to our never-ending thanks, the RMV clerk was wonderful. Just plain wonderful. She “got it.” Instantly. She engaged my son in conversation, congratulating him on his name change as she reviewed our pile of proof. She pushed our paperwork back to us, took my son’s picture and asked for payment without missing a beat.
“Best 25 dollars you ever spent, right Ethan?” she said with a smile.
She wished him luck with everything. And we knew that by “everything,” she meant everything.
My kid drove us home that afternoon, his temporary license (with his updated photo and his proper legal name) tucked in his jacket pocket. He smiled the whole way, despite the traffic.
“Sensitivity training” might make you compliant with policy, but it doesn’t make you kind.
Choose to be kind.