Passengers stand in line to go through a TSA security checkpoint as they head to their flights at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., Dec. 23, 2015.
Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

TSA changes word for trans bodies from ‘anomaly’ to ‘alarm’


After the insensitive and time-consuming airport screening of a transgender traveler made national headlines earlier this year, the Transportation Security Administration confirmed to The Advocate on Wednesday it had chosen a new word for screening agents to use whenever imaging machines encounter a person whose anatomy does not conform to the male/female binary.

Now, instead of using the word “anomaly” when screening transgender travelers, TSA agents will use “alarm” – a term that still involves additional screening procedures, which many transgender rights advocates find offensive.

As far as screening procedures go, the difference between “anomaly” and “alarm” appears to be scant. “If there is an alarm,” states TSA’s website, “TSA officers are trained to clear the alarm, not the individual.” However, the very next sentence states: “Additional screening is conducted to determine whether a prohibited item is present.”

The “additional screening” process is essentially unchanged. If someone “alarms” the screening equipment, which is programmed to only accept bodies that can be classified as “male” or “female,” that person may have to undergo a pat-down procedure, which is often a source of extreme discomfort and, in some case, delays for transgender travelers.

Such was the experience of Shadi Petosky, a transgender person who in September was subjected to a 40-minute screening that included two full-body pat-downs and a luggage dissembling because the imaging machine detected an “anomaly.”

Earlier this week, Petosky issued a public plea to the TSA that she be allowed to travel on Christmas without any significant disruption.