Going through the security line at the airport always makes me feel like a fraud. I can’t help but get a stab of anxiety waiting for the TSA agent to check my ticket and license, my eyes darting from one document to the other. Will the agent see the one difference between the two that tears at me every time I fly — my gender marker?
As a nonbinary person, I’m lucky that I live in Washington, D.C., where I’m allowed to be myself, legally. My driver’s license proudly displays an “X” next to the word “gender.” This is also currently possible in five states across the country — Oregon, California, Colorado, Arkansas, and Minnesota. With state legislatures in session now, this number will likely grow.
That’s why the action taken today by Airlines for America, the industry trade group representing the country’s largest airlines, approving the addition of new gender options to accommodate non-binary passengers like me is, simply, life-changing. This trade group includes some of the biggest names in airlines — including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United, JetBlue, and Southwest. Delta, which isn’t part of the trade group, also announced that it would also be incorporating this into their booking process.
It’s difficult to explain the significance of being able to check the correct gender marker, including when booking a flight, but let me try. Some days, after too many instances of having my identity erased by “yes ma’ams” or “Dear Ms. Turner’s” and the like, I’ll pull my driver’s license from my wallet and stare at it. I’ll think about the day I visited the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles office in Georgetown to make this change. The woman who helped me sensed my excitement and told me I was the first person she helped to update their license with an “X” gender marker — and how happy she was that D.C. was allowing it.
I know who I am, and it brings me joy every day that the D.C. DMV does too.
But even at this exact moment, I’m sitting in a hotel coffee shop while on a business trip on the other side of the country, and I can’t help but worry about what could happen when I fly home in a few days. What if the TSA agent refuses to let me return because I was forced to mark “F” on the airline website while buying my ticket — an “F” that, to me, symbolizes how the airlines have failed non-binary people like me.
While I am sure that I'll still have to deal with confusion and even bigger challenges in the airport around my identity, this is a big step in the right direction. With today’s announcement and the change effective June 1, I can redirect some of my worries to the mundane things all travelers fret about: How quickly can I remove my shoes? Did I remember my neck pillow? Do I need to put my laptop in a different tray, or can I put it in the one also holding my jacket? And why haven’t I gotten TSA pre-check yet?
It means so much that I can be myself a little more fully, and find myself in one less situation in which I’m forced to feel like a fraud. Now, instead of that stab of anxiety, I can start feeling the same pride my license gives me every time I check my gender on an airline’s website. And in this case, that “X” is equivalent to an “A+” to me.
ALLISON "AL" TURNER is a deputy press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest civil rights organization fighting for full federal LGBTQ equality.