Trigger warning: I talk about sexual assault.
In many airports across the country, the TSA has implemented new security measures to prevent those darn terrorists from trying to kill us using planes. Instead of having us take off our shoes, throw all of our belongings into an X-ray, and walk through a metal detector/have a standard pat down, the TSA now wants us to take off our shoes, throw our belongings into an X-ray, and walk through a machine that will show them our genitalia/have a pat down that will involve TSA folk touching our genitalia.
And I'm beginning to realize that this might actually change my future.
I hate traveling. I don't hate driving, but I always prefer to be in the passenger's seat because I can nap and I won't Masshole-roadrage at other drivers (as much). But I hate when the T is crowded, I worry if the bus will be late, I hate having to book tickets, and more than anything in the world, I hate the airport and flying.
Weirdly enough, I like the flying part. Taking off, landing, and turbulence are my favorite things because it feels like flying instead of just sitting in a room with a lot of other people and lots of noise. But everything else is stressful. I worry about getting to the airport in time, remembering all of my stuff, whether or not my luggage will be lost or stolen, what if TSA confiscates something that I want/need, what if my flight is late and it screws up my plans, what if they detain me for some weird reason, etc. etc. On the plane, I'm claustrophobic, cramped, and bored. I debate whether or not to get an in flight beverage because over the past few years, the flight attendants never seem to notice when I want to throw away the empty cup afterwards. And when I get off the plane, I worry about finding my ride/public transit/my destination/my luggage/the exit.
In general, I'm not a fun travel companion, especially during the act of traveling. My last boyfriend can tell you whether or not I was any fun starting from a few hours before leaving for a trip to the Cape until a few hours after we arrived.
Add that to the cost of flying, and you can see why I only fly when it's absolutely necessary.
I am not okay with the backscatter X-ray scanners. I do not believe that adding them will improve security or prevent terrorist attacks. And as a fat woman living in a culture where I'm treated like I'm stupid, sick, unhygienic, asexual, unacceptable, unhealthy animal, I don't feel comfortable going through a machine that will give strangers access to images of my body. That's the privilege of a very small number of people: my doctors and my sexual partners. I don't feel comfortable or safe going through those imaging machines.
And I'm not okay with the enhanced pat down procedures. When I was 14, I was sexually assaulted; my assault very specifically involved my perpetrator (a friend of mine) shoving his fingers into my crotch through my pants, and groping my breasts. And while I certainly have felt safe and secure with boyfriends and certain doctors having access to these areas of my body, I am absolutely not comfortable giving TSA access. I believe it is too similar to my assault, and too unnecessary, for me to go through it.
I'm applying to PhD programs across the country. While many of the schools are within driving, or even walking distance, several are not. When I submit my applications, the programs that are interested in accepting me will ask me to come to the campus for an interview. If this happens at Harvard or BU, or even UVM, I can walk or drive. But if I hear from the University of Iowa? Or any of the schools I've applied to in Chicago? How will I get there without subjecting myself to a harrowing experience? It doesn't matter where I fly to; Logan Airport in Boston is one of the airports with the new security measures.
There is a chance that I will have to decide between going to an interview or feeling safe. Additionally, I have to keep in mind whether or not I'd be flying home for holidays and events, depending on the program. So there is a chance that I might have to pick a program based on how close to home it is. And if that's the case, then TSA will have had a significant impact on my PhD, and therefore the course of my career and life.
Finally, while I was reading up on the new security measures, it was unclear whether or not individuals who already have had to have pat downs will have to go through the enhanced version now. My sister, for example, has a pacemaker; she has always had to have a pat down since she is medically unable to go through metal detectors. Do the backscatter machines impact medical devices in the same way? If yes, do people like my sister have to have the enhanced pat down (which, it has been suggested by many angry people, is almost a punishment for people who are able to go through the imaging machines, but choose not to)?