Trans Travelers: Don't Lose Your Wanderlust

Traveling While Trans

Two years ago I drove across the United States with one of my closest friends — also a trans man — and as we crossed state lines we played the game “Now You Have Rights, Now You Don't."

After visiting 45 states and four European countries, and traveling almost monthly throughout the Northwest for my job at Pride Foundation, I’ve gotten used to the complications of #TravelingWhileTrans — though I still love to travel. Seeing the world, even visiting the next town over, can be an adventure, but it’s often stressful for transgender or gender-nonconforming people.

Just showing an ID to rent a hotel room, take a flight, board a train, or get on a cruise ship can out a transgender or gender-nonconforming person. This can lead to some terrible experiences — 53 percent of trans travelers reported being verbally harassed in a place of public accommodation, including hotels, restaurants, buses, airports, and government agencies, according to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey.

This statistic is especially true if the name or gender marker doesn’t match the gender presentation of the traveler. The survey also found that only 21 percent of transgender respondents have been able to update all of their IDs with their newly affirmed gender. For those transgender respondents who presented an ID that did not match their gender identity or expression, 40 percent reported being harassed, while 15 percent were denied service outright, and 3 percent reported being physically assaulted. Having corresponding identification can get even more complicated if immigration status is also involved. Also, the binary gender marker system on IDs just doesn’t work for all the gender presentations, such as gender-nonconforming, genderqueer, some masculine-presenting women, and some feminine-presenting men.

Here are some helpful hints to make the voyage easier:

Airport Security
The Transportation Security Administration had a specific website for transgender travelers that explained the various screening processes, but it seems to have been shut down. I would suggest getting TSA Pre-Check; it does cost $85 and requires an appointment, but it expedites the screening process and allows you to go through metal detectors instead of the ATR scanners. If you do encounter discrimination or disrespect, or are asked to do something contrary to policies posted on TSA’s site, stay calm and ask to speak with a supervisor while still at the airport, and later file a civil rights complaint with TSA on its website.

Identification
The policies for changing gender on state identification vary greatly, and not all transgender people may be able to meet some states’ rigid requirements — but the standards for changing your passport’s name or gender marker have become more accessible and do not require proof of surgery. If you do more traveling within the U.S. and you qualify, having the U.S. Passport Card as opposed to the book will be easier to carry in your wallet as proof of your identity, gender, and citizenship. Either way, having a passport is good back up in case you misplace your state ID.

Before Booking/Where to Go
Search out for hotels, airlines, trains, buses, and other places that advertise specifically to the LGBT community and especially those owned and operated by LGBTQ people. While not all transgender people identify as LGB, those service providers are more likely to have nondiscrimination policies and experience with trans customers. Head over to the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association for some great examples. 

While there are some websites, guidebooks, and vacation packages for lesbian and gay tourists, there very few specific resources for transgender travelers (IGLTA is specifically reaching out to transgender-owned/operated businesses all over the world for its membership incentive program). More often there are online guides to transgender specific conferences such as Fantasia Fair, held in the LGBT resort town of Provincetown, Mass., the Southern Comfort Conference, recently held in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., or the newer National Black Trans Advocacy Conference & Awards Gala being held in Dallas. Only recently did I see an article about the “World’s First Transgender Oceanic Cruise” being hosted by Transgender Vacations and Royal Caribbean, which sets sail next month.

Other destinations I found advertising to transgender travelers include Kalani, a resort on the Big Island of Hawaii offering “Transgender Vacations, Accommodations, Workshops, Adventures, Yoga & Events” and the Tree House, a rustic homestyle bed-and-breakfast near Asheville, N.C. I also found transgender-friendly places in the U.S. and in Europe on Purple Roofs, which advertises LGBT-owned accommodations around the world. Happy travels!

Gunner Scott
GUNNER SCOTT is the director of programs at the Seattle-based Pride Foundation.

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