My choice to go to college in Tallahassee only complicated things—as I now had to fly to see both parents: my father in Flint, and my mother in south Florida. When I lived in Orlando, family visits and flights to fannish gatherings kept me in the air frequently. I remember that I could wake up an hour and a half before a flight, shower, dress, drive to MCO, pass through security, and be at the gate before the first boarding call.
|No "reach around" lane?|
Never one to be seen as slacking in a manufactured war on terror and cutting edge performance theater, the TSA decided that after a gentleman decided to strap explosives to his underwear (write your own pun here, folks. I’m tacky and brash at times, but even I have my limits on taste), we needed more saving from ourselves, and the mass deployment of the AIT was born. Now, before I embarked on my floundering academic career, I worked as a metrology technician (think: quality control) in an Orlando area microelectronics plant. I know what an AIT does. I spent many an evening staring at an AIT screen as I dreamed about getting my graduate degrees and teaching. This is a machine that can do surface scans on the micron level—which is what we used it for in the metrology line, inspecting the integrity of the wafers as they went through the manufacturing process. So it should only make sense that the TSA would use an AIT to scan passengers for things underneath clothing…right? C-4 undies had nowhere to hide!
…Then the TSA released its first (heavily airbrushed) images of passenger scans from the AIT. Robin Williams used to remark that football was a game where men wore pants so tight that the audience could tell what religions the players were. The AIT took that level of invasiveness off the gridiron and put it in the airport terminals. In May 2010, the news broke that a fight broke out among TSA employees after a scan furthered the cultural theory that most men go into the security professions as a means of compensating for a small penis, and jokes were made at the scanned agents’ expense. The AIT has no friends or allies—everyone’s genitals are equal in its radiation eyes…or if not equal, at least equally accessed.
Yes, there are questionable health concerns about the AIT, but let’s be honest—as soon as news broke that the AIT could give a Bob Guccione-esque glimpse of travelers’ bodies beneath their clothing, health concerns became a mask for the real issue. “Don’t look at my junk!” became the battlecry on the Internet.
Don’t touch my junk.”
…And I had a flight that was going to happen, right as this issue was reaching critical mass in the news media. Grassroots protestors in the blogosphere were promoting November 24 as “opt out” day—a plan to choke TSA screeners in the patdown lanes by presenting a mass-push of bodies as a way of protesting both the AIT and it’s Bob Packwoodesque alternative.
Now I’m not afraid of residual radiation. I worked next to several ion implanters for three years, and even had to go back into the access bays to do safety inspections on them. Microelectronics manufacturing involves all sorts of fun things like chemicals, radiation, and office politics on a level that makes a day at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce look like a Boy Scout picnic, so a little halflife toot from the AIT wasn’t a big concern for me. I’m also not afraid of bearing all to the world, much less a few TSA agents in their secluded room near the scanning bay. I’ve done life modeling (i.e. modeling wearing just a smile) for friends who want to draw forms that aren’t chiseled and height-weight proportionate. I’ve also done some….art modeling (isn’t that what Vanessa Williams called it in 1984? Maybe there’s hope for my fame aspirations after all. I mean, a Grammy, stint on Ugly Betty, and now Desperate Housewives can’t be that punitive for exposing one’s body in the name of art and titillating strangers…can it?) earlier in my life. Somewhere out there, people can pay $7.95 to see what the TSA would be seeing for free. Hell, if I know you well enough, I may even model again just to rattle the cages of people who like to squeal “euuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuw, fat guys!” Seriously, I’m not ashamed of my body—no matter how badly the media and diet industry wants me to be of it.
For me, the AIT is the symptom of a larger issue. I love my mother. I mean, it’s either love her in spite of the past, or go into decades of therapy just to be told that I need to love her in spite of the past by someone with fewer letters after their name than I have. On my current $8 an hour lifestyle, I’m forgoing the huge therapy bills and just jumping to the logical conclusions. But that having been said, my mother was overprotective to the point of making a Milennials’ helicopter parent blush. She almost didn’t take me to see Star Wars (the original one…not those crappy prequels) because she heard that Ben Kenobi got decapitated and didn’t want me seeing it on the screen. Imagine that mentality, repeated in various contexts until I was in my mid-thirties.
When I see the TSA’s AIT plan, I see that same sort of overprotective parenting in play. No, I’m not talking about the sort of “nanny state” drivel that you see frequently vilified in libertarian and teabagger blogs. There’s common sense, and there’s over-reacting. As Americans, we’re still in a cultural state of shock after 9-11, and we’re still prone to overreactions. We’re Americans. Overreacting to things is as in line with our values as Mom, baseball, apple pie, and forced Imperialism in the hopes of cheap petroleum. In post 9-11 America, the overreactions are just taken to a Spinal Tappish eleven. Go big or go home, right? We don’t even question it anymore when the government introduces new policies…unless it runs the risk of somehow violating our genitals.
So I sat in front of my laptop monitor and tablet screen in the days before my flight, reading the ruckus about the new AIT-patdown combo. I saw the webpages propagating and the petitions surging across Facebook and Twitter. And I thought about my flight. Isn’t it the duty of every good child to resist overprotective parenting and push some boundaries? The last time I was fondled against my will was when I had my pre fat camp physical at thirteen, and I heard the phrase that makes all men cringe: “please drop your pants, turn your head, and cough when I ask you to.” As I figure, if the TSA wants to have a close, intimate relationship with me (albeit a brief one), why not just cut out the boundaries of the AIT and give them one?
|Mystery date, are you ready for your mystery date?|
The agent rolled his eyes before I could finish telling him that I was opting out of the AIT. He put the microphone of his radio to his mouth and muttered into it. Meanwhile, something in my rollerboard had the attention of the guy at the scanner. Like I said, American’s go big or go home. I not only had a dream date with a patter-downer, but I got to have a luggage inspection with one of an online security school’s finest.
The enhanced patdown is very much like a consensual rape. The screener asks before touching each body part with the back of his hand. “I’m going to put my hand between your beltline and belly, is that okay?” Obviously, the only correct answer here was yes. I could have said no, but that meant that I’d be hitch hiking to Chicago…if I wasn’t arrested and charged with a fine. So Officer Gill starts with my backside, then chest and belly. After that, I stretched my arms out, and we finished the upper body. He then took a courageous breath and steeled his reserve, asking me to step forward with my left foot. This was it…
Gen X’ers, remember the old commercials for Milton Bradley’s Operation game? In the game, players take turns using metal tongs to remove plastic pieces from an electrified board with the shape of a man on it. If the tongs touch metal surrounding the piece’s cutout, the board makes a loud buzzing noise and the patient’s nose glows with a red light. “Don’t touch the sides!” warns one of the kids in the commercial. That’s the enhanced patdown, essentially.
With blue latex gloves on, the backside of Gill’s hand caressed my ankles and calf. The hand moved up my knee and vanished along my inner thigh, under the kilt...
Had I a light bulb for a nose, it would have glowed. I almost thought about even making a buzzing noise, but since I had the attention of several TSA officers, plus the one waiting to rifle my rollerboard, I stifled my smirk. I’d officially been felt up by Uncle Sam. Meanwhile, Officer Gill (again folks, he was a young’un) probably had no idea that most men in kilts are almost always wearing it regimental. His was a lesson that ended in a combination of metaphorical tears and probable gay panic. No sooner had the back of his hand hit the crease of my thigh (and he realized what his palm was cradling by default), his hand dropped to my ankle with near-light speed. He paused a moment. I could see the storm of trauma churning in his eyes, having accidentally felt up a fat man. He took a breath and rose. Meanwhile, I stood on my left leg and extended my right. Officer Gill knelt down, and with surgical precision, drew his hand up my inner thigh and stopped just clear of the boundary of inappropriateness. If anything, he learned a lesson that day. Ideally, I would hope that it would be the appropriate proportions of a male’s hips and groin region, but I suspect that it had more to do with not pulling the short straw when the fat dude in the kilt requests not to be thrown in the AIT.
Officer Gill rose. With all the awkwardness of any other moment of mutually lost virginity, he thanked me for my time and told me that I was free to put my accessories back on. I realized that I wasn’t going to get a phone number or email address, but couldn’t I at least get a little help getting myself back together? Not even a forced and awkward “see you later?” I mean, even guys at glory holes have a certain code of honor, and wasn’t that what I’d just been subject to? Once I had my boots and belt on, I went to the station where my rollerbag was waiting. When the officer learned what the curious, thick metal ring that had his attention was (of course, he also had it in his hand at the time), there were more blushes. What can I say?
|Ready for the flight home|
He cocked his eyes at me and told me that he wasn’t going to select me for the AIT anyhow. There was almost a nyah nyeah nyah tone in his voice as he visually scanned my kilt once more. I was pointed to the metal detector right next to the AIT.
I blinked. A metal detector next to the AIT? People going through the metal detector and not the AIT? People going through the AIT at the TSA’s choice and discretion? A guy with an online education diploma in “security” gets to decide who gets the metal detector and who gets the AIT…or the enhanced patdown? Didn’t we get over this in 2002, when they finally stopped “randomly” choosing bearded men for extra security procedures? How early-millennial…
|Frosted glass, for our security and their pleasure...|
Americans have always had a flair for drama and the theatrics. We need only look at the 2000 presidential election if anyone doubts this. For almost ten years now, we’ve elevated airline security to the point of high theater—a show designed to scare would-be terrorists away. But I’m wondering if the threat of the AIT is a threat made for actual security or more for the implied gay panic of either having one’s genitals imaged or exposed to the gloved hands of a TSA agent? In the months following the September 11th attacks, the right wing, spurred on by urban legends of the past, gleefully suggested tactics like rubbing ammunition with pork or defiling the graves of suspected Muslim terrorists as a means to deter would be terrorists with threats of eternal damnation. Since Islam’s homophobia is legendarily notorious, maybe that’s the real threat of the AIT: if a same-sex infidel stranger sees or fondles your junk, no happy afterlife for you. Denied boardings, the threat of arrest, and $10,000 fines are all secondary threats, right?
In the mean time, based on my experience at O’Hare, it seems that the sight of a fat man in a kilt seems to be the current “get out of AIT” card—at least if the screener is one of the people who may be pulling straws to do the potential pat down.
Oh, and Officer Gill….call me? We did have an intimate moment after all…
EDIT, 11-23-10: I've had a few inquiries about my kilt. It's an Amerikilt. They're more fairly priced than the brand-name utility kilt ($98 vs $245), and this company makes them up to 64 inches, so a majority of men can get them in their size. I paid $98 for a 50-inch kilt, with no fat tax for the larger sizing. Also, the sporran is an awesome alternative to the lack of pockets.
...and they look great against those blue latex gloves on the TSA screeners. ;)