Gender transition is a journey, and exploring the world as your new self can be incredibly liberating. As a transwoman who has traveled extensively in this sometimes less-than-understanding society, I’ve discovered several considerations that can make all the difference in a safe and satisfying experience.
For people in transition, that first trip out the front door to the supermarket can be as harrowing as a jungle safari. Many start by seeking out kindred spirits at popular regional gender conventions and events. Southern Comfort, Esprit, FTM Gender Odyssey, Be All, Colorado Gold Rush and more are some of the more well known annual conventions, and all feature a full schedule of activities, excursions and seminars for a vacation completely immersed in transgender socializing. Whether attending one of these or simply hitting the road to leave the stress of transition behind, preparation is key to avoiding problems later on.
For someone new in transition, many of the simplest obstacles to that dream vacation in Thailand can be avoided by ensuring that your legal identity is up to date. Although most travel providers are somewhat aware of and sensitive to transgender people, you cannot count on this and presenting as one gender while carrying identification indicating another may result in the ticket agent initiating a scene with those dreaded words, “I’m going to have to call my supervisor.” The TSA’s new “Secure Flight” program will require all air travel passengers to present ID and state their legal gender, among other information, posing a particularly vexing problem for trans people whose legal identity is not up to date. Ever-increasing security concerns have prompted travel centers around the world to investigate identification discrepancies closely, and with the 2005 passage of the Real ID Act (H.R. 418) and the subsequent controversy, the United States is expected to step up identity monitoring even more with a national ID card within the next three years. A comprehensive listing at www.tsroadmap.com/id contains information on how to change your license, social security information and birth certificate in many states, especially important for passports and international travel. Once your basic identification is updated, credit cards, personal checks and medical insurance should be changed as well.
Getting there may be half the fun, but long plane rides or road trips will limit your ability to perform upkeep taken for granted at home, like facial hair removal, makeup reapplication, or chest binding. For transwomen who wear wigs or hairpieces, a simpler short style well secured and wrapped with a scarf can hold up well through long hours of sleeping and sitting upright in those uncomfortable airplane seats. For transmen who wrap or bind their chests, make sure you get it right before you get on the plane, because the tiny onboard bathroom is no place to try something new. Be aware that a man with a heavily wrapped chest may raise questions as to what he is carrying under his shirt during a pat-down, and for transmen who make packing a part of their daily routine, make sure your equipment is free of metal, clips or pins that might set off the airport detector and raise questions you would rather not answer. Don’t out yourself unnecessarily, but be ready with answers should security personnel have questions.
There are a few basic safety procedures that can greatly reduce risk for those with some form of visible gender variance traveling outside safe spaces like GLBT enclaves, large city centers and gender conventions. Going out in groups rather than alone, letting someone know where you plan to go, carrying a cellphone and keeping emergency cab money on hand are all good ideas. If you are attending a convention or planned event, investigate sponsored group outings to local restaurants and shopping venues. Many online forums allow you to connect with trans-folk who live at your destination and who can let you in on all the local hotspots, as well as areas to avoid.
More than anything else, I recommend just getting out there and having fun. Don’t let the roadblocks put in place by a short-sighted society keep you from exploring YOUR world. GLBT spaces and gender conventions are a great place to start, but one of the best parts of finally becoming comfortable in your own skin is that no matter where you go, a big smile and a good attitude will always make new friends.
- International Travelers: The Immigration Equality blog has this excellent post about international travel for GLBT people, including information on HIV positive travelers. Of note: The government has LOTS of authority to go through your belongings when you travel. Be prepared.
- Clothing: I forgot to mention, if you are new to transition make sure you have clothing that is both comfortable for traveling and appropriate for more than one situation. In other words, trans women: don’t make your first trip to New York City, where you can walk miles every day, with a suitcase full of only 4″ heels. Bring some comfy flats or boots you’ve broken in. Trans men: Your first visit to Louisiana in the summertime? Bring more than one chest binding, you will be sweating a LOT.
- The National Center for Transgender Equality released an excellent “Frequently Asked Questions” regarding Secure Flight. If you are planning to travel by plane in the near future, we suggest that you take a look at it. http://nctequality.org/Resources/NCTE_Secure_Flight.pdf. As NCTE recommends, it is a good idea to submit your gender as it is shown on the identity document you will be using at the airport. If you have undergone a physical transition and you look different from what someone may expect based on the gender on your ID, you may choose to submit the gender marker consistent with your gender identity. This may reduce the chance that the officials you interact with at the airport will notice any inconsistencies. Regardless, it is critical that you inform people who may book your travel, such as travel agents, what name and gender to submit to minimize challenges when flying.
This article was originally written for OUT Traveller Magazine, and has been updated with new information