Angus B. Grieve-Smith
October 16, 2001
Today I went to the public library, and my bag was checked three times instead of the usual two. I wanted to use a computer to browse the Web, and I was asked to show identification. If I had wanted to take an intercity bus or train anywhere, I would have had to give my name, show ID and open my bag again. Why does this worry me?
Well, what if I happened to have women's clothing in my bag? What if the security guard shone her flashlight in there and saw a pair of nylons and high-heeled shoes?
And what if I had been dressed in women's clothes? I can pass for a woman, at least enough not to draw attention to myself, but my driver's license has a big old M on it and a man's name, not to mention a five-o'clock shadow on my picture. What if I had come in to the library dressed as a woman and shown that ID to the clerk at the Internet signup counter? What if I had shown it to a clerk at a train station?
But this is New York, you say. No one bats an eyelid over transvestites. It's a big, supportive place, right? Plus, you're saying, Angus, you're out of the closet. It's all over your web page anyway. But it's not that simple.
Would a clerk be suspicious if I put a different name on the ticket from the one on my ID? Would they try and prevent me from using the women's bathroom?
New York may be an open-minded place, but it's not free of homophobia and trans-haters. What if one of the guards had been a secret transvestite-basher? They would have my name and address right in front of them. Who's to say they're not going to show up on my doorstep with six friends and some baseball bats?
More importantly, what about other transvestites and transgendered people? What about people living in other parts of the country, where discrimination and harassment against crossdressers are more common and more accepted?
You might respond that these security measures are designed to protect us all from terrorists, and that we have to give up some freedom of movement and some secrets to be safe. Maybe it's wrong to expect to cross-dress when our country has been attacked.
I don't like that idea, but I'm open to it. The problem is that no one has given any justification for these "security measures." How does checking my bag on the way in to the library as well as out make it any safer? How does having to show ID to browse the Web or get on a train make it any safer? I can invent possible scenarios in my mind, but they all seem pretty far-fetched to me. The point is that it's not obvious.
In fact, these measures have all been implemented without any public discussion at all. These are public facilities, but no one at the library has bothered to ask the public how they feel about having to open their bags. No one at Amtrak or the bus lines have asked anyone whether they would feel safer if they had to show ID. They've just done it.
And they haven't given any of us transvestites the opportunity to say, "this is how it affects us." Which is why I'm writing this page. After I post this, I'm going to sit down and write to my elected officials and tell them how it affects me. I'm just worried it might be too late. I encourage you to do the same.
Email me if you want to discuss these concerns.