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Securitizing Gender: Identity, Biometrics, and Transgender Bodies at the Airport

Author(s): Paisley Currah and Tara Mulqueen


Source: Social Research, Vol. 78, No. 2, The Body and the State: How the State Controls and
Protects the Body, Part I (SUMMER 2011), pp. 557-582
Published by: New School
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Currah

Paisley
Tara

and

Mulqueen
Gender:

Securitizing
Identity,

and

Biometrics,
Bodies

Transgender

at the

Airport

IT

IS

WIDELY

surveillance

ASSUMED

THAT

It is also widely assumed

can be, in former Secretary


mous

taxonomy

of Defense

of information,

identity verification

lessens

Donald

rity. The Secure

Rumsfeld's

one of the "known

risk, what happens

In this paper, we examine


disrupts

the link between

Flight Program,

knowns."

The

authors

Katherine

Imaging Technology"

comments

configurations

wish

Cross,

to

But if
uncer

on by the U.S. Transportation


how gender

figures into and

identity verification

introduced

thank

in 2009, requires

Ananya

passen

before they fly.

but physical anomalies,

of gendered

Caroline

Lisa Jean Moore,

and secu

program, put into wide use a year

later, detects not only hidden material


ing unexpected

gender
now infa

when epistemic

gers to provide airlines with their gender classification


The "Advanced

the less risk

(TSA) as a first order metric of identityenters

Security Adminstration

potentially

INFORMATION

that an individual's

tainty about gender classificationrelied


the picture?

MORE

can collect about an individual,

apparatuses

he or she poses.

THE

Arnold,

bodies. Our analysis centers

Michelle

Mukherjea,

includ

and

Billies,
Mariana

Monica

J. Casper,

Valverde

for their

on drafts of this paper.

social

research

Vol. 78 : No. 2 : Summer

2011

557

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on one veiy particular

situation:

that erupts at the airport

the confusion

a conflict between

when TSA officials perceive

one's papers, the image of one's body produced


individual's

perceived

the gender marked


by a machine,

mentsfor

and/or an

gender presentation.

Gender has been so deeply naturalizedas


and as existing

apprehended,

on

immutable,

as easily

of political

arrange

before and outside

so long that its installation

in identity verification practices

is taken for granted. In what follows, we describe how two separate TSA
gender, and we examine

programs "operationalize"

different epistemic sources of knowledge


tive or gender presentation,
the document

what happens

about genderindividual

the classification

narra

as M (male) or F (female) on

one carries, and one's bodyclash

in the security assem

blage of the airport. As part of state security apparatuses'


for more and better information,

when

both programs,

unceasing

quest

we argue, securitize

gender, the former intentionally and the latter unintentionally.

These TSA

programs illustrate the impossibility of predicting with absolute certainty


that something about a person, even something ostensibly sourced from
or lodged in the body such as gender, will stay the same over time.1 We
conclude

that the effects of gender's

by suggesting
measure

unchanging

but rather for the individuals

whose

narratives, documents,

reveal the mutability of the categoiy. When


Hobbes

unreliability

as an

of identity do not constitute a problem for the TSA

meanings

and bodies

are contested,

as

says, it is authority, not truth, that makes the law.


In examining

an all-encompassing

this particular

question,

we do not seek to present

molar narrative to account

for the many different

ways that state actors produce, reconfigure, and police particular gender
arrangements.
and expanded
has labeled

in this historical

moment both technologies


have
police powers
greatly intensified what Nikolas Rose
However,

the "securitization

sion between what Foucault


case, the transactional

heightened

558

practices

called large "transactional

realities"in

about what happens

our

when the apparently unre

of state identity management

work alongside

scrutiny of bodies in the "war on terror" (Foucault

social

at the colli

realities of "gender," "the state," and "the body"

might tell us something


markable

of identity." Thus, looking

the

2008: 297;

research

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Rose 1999: 240). Certainly, this sort of analysis


relation to any number of "unruly" categories

could be carried out in


2001: 50); here, we

(Caplan

have chosen to focus on how state actors rely on gender to classify people
less, rather

and what ensues when different metrics for gender produce

than more, certainty. We suggest that securitizing gender does not neces
sarily secure identity, and indeed may destabilize
THE

FLIGHT

SECURE

AND

it.2

IMAGING

ADVANCED

PROGRAMS

TECHNOLOGY

the TSA's

in 2009,

Implemented

"Secure

Flight"

program

consumers

and their gender

as they appear

exactly

that data against

the TSA will compare


the FBI's Terrorism

the watch lists maintained

the information

Screening

discrete

an identity document

already

area in the airport,

gers can significantly

decrease

tification"

According

Accountability

of watch

the likelihood

2003 to January 2006, of the tens

who were identified

primarily because

for further screening


roughly half were

processes,

their names

the Terrorist Watch List (GAO 2006:

were similar to those on


to the TSA, adding

13). According

date of birth and gender to the pieces of information


will reduce

the number

thus ensure "Secure


The notion
change

list misiden

to a report by the U.S. Government

at the airport as well as in visa application


false positives,

of false positives

without

that are collected

increasing

risk and

Flight."

that one's

as male

classification

or female

is such a widely held belief that gender classification

part of state practices


state formations

more

By providing

to TSA officials, "passen

according

Office, from December


of individuals

of thousands

that exactly matches

to the airline.

given

data points of reference,


(TSA 2011).

by

Center and confirm that the passenger

is not on any of the lists. To pass into a "sterile"


must present

pass to be issued,

a boarding

to the TSA. Before allowing

individuals

iden

on government-issued

when they book flights. The airlines then transmit that

tity documents
information

requires

their date of birth,

to provide the airline with their name,

of recognition

will not
has been

since the earliest days of modern

(Noiriel 2001). In addition,

gender has been a central

Securitizing

Gender

559

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mechanism
including
States'

for the distribution


voting, registration

to classify individuals

powers

discrimination

state-sponsored
on same-sex

of rights, obligations,

based

is essential

to much

on sexual

orientation:

for bans

licenses.

or in records associated

often grouped
of

on all state-issued

with the document.

under the term "transgender,"

state-issued

ID

can

be

of

In the United States, an indi

gender marker as M or F is included

documents

a piece

by gender

to work, officials need to know the gender

marriage

the parties applying for marriage


vidual's

and resources,

for the draft, and eligility for pensions.

the gender

troublesome:

identity

But for people


marker

a transgender

on

woman

herself as female at the airport, might, unlike other women,

presenting

have an M on her passport.

someone

Conversely,

who looks like a man

might show a driver's license with the gender marker of F.


While

the heightened

the problem
vidual's

body, her gender


she carries

document(s)
gender

intensity of such gender

itself is not: the lack of a neat correlation

does

identity

gender assigned

identity and presentation,


has long posed

not correspond

between

an indi

and the identity

an obstacle
to social

scrutiny is new,

for those whose


for the

expectations

to them at birth. As Currah points out elsewhere,

Sex changes. When

some

into a government

office to apply for benefits, get a driv

er's license,

individuals

cross borders,

go to prison, sign up for selective

to get married,

or have any interaction

the state, the legal sex of some people

walk

service, try

with any arm of


can and often does

switch from male to female, or female to male. To compli


cate

matters

even

more,

almost

eveiy

state

agencyfrom

federal to municipalhas

the authority to decide

rules for sex classification.

The lack of a uniform standard

for classifying
state agencies
wish to change
people,

people

as male or female means

will recognize
their gender

this does not appear

its own

that some

the new gender of people

who

and some will not. For most


to be a problem.

For others, it

is (Currah forthcoming).

560

social

research

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For example,
to recognize

women's

in New York City, the policy of homeless

one's

new

and

gender

so

shelters, and transgender

of corrections
trans-women

to house

transgender

men in men's

with

segregated

male

the policy

ensures

that most

and

prisoners

in

shelters;

system, on the other hand, basically


are

shelters is
women

most

trans-men

with female prisoners.


The criteria for gender reclassification
far from uniform; some agencies
before they will change
In 2010, for example,

require "sexual reassignment

the gender

classification

the U.S. Department

for gender reclassification

birth certificate

(Currah

the gender

or Tennessee

and Moore

cates they issue. For transgender

York City Council

people,

the immense

them in a Kafkaesque

and chaos.

marker on a
will not
Ohio,

the gender markers on the birth certifi

will never amend

tity contradiction

the gender

surgery has

in any case: officials in Idaho,

classification

actors defining sex ensnares

its policy

But in New York

Other agencies

2009).

surgeiy"

the require

that "convertive"

before officials will change

been performed

change

of State changed

of State 2010).

must submit evidence

is

while others do not.

and eliminated

on U.S. passports

ment for genital surgery (Department


City, the applicant

on identity documents

As one woman

number of state

web of official iden

testifying before a New

hearing put it,


I suffer from bureau

I do not suffer from gender dysphoria.


cratic dysphoria.

My ID does not match my appearance.

worry every time I apply for a job, every time I authorize


a credit card check, every time I buy a plane
time I buy a beer at the corner

ticket, every

deli. I have changed

my

to be officially and bureau

name but my gender continues


cratically M (Currah 2009: 254).
Michelle
which

Billies

she describes

calls

as "a daily contest,

one's body as well as the definition


When

an individual's

"identification

this experience

cultural

a struggle

of societal

threat,"

over control

of

(2010:

2).

membership"

legibility is not affirmed by their iden

Securitizing

Gender

561

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tity papers, even everyday quotidian

transactions

become

moments

of

vulnerability.
The logic of the Secure

assumes

Flight program

that the gender

marker on a piece of ID will lessen confusionreducing


false positive matches to the government
ate it. But for transgender passengers

watch listsrather than gener

at the airport, a perceived mismatch

the gender marker on their ID and the gender they present is

between

flagged as an anomaly.

And at the airport, an anomaly

when "identification

threat" looms as transgender

the security area, their vulnerability


ationalized

is an event that

triggers higher levels of scrutiny. In the ominous

automatically

and backed

passengers

moment
approach

stems from the gender norms oper

by the force of law at the airport. Conversely,

in the eyes of security agents, if something


appears

the number of

odd, she is treated as a potential

about a passenger's

gender

social threat (Billies 2010:

2).

As a result of the Secure Flight program, travelers whose gender marker


on their identity document
TSA agent's

perception

facing humiliating
to colleagues,

even denial
account

As I engaged

of identification

gods at Denver

walked

sexually assaultive

in the ritual striptease


International

employee's

its embodied

of travel. Blogger Katherine

the bin that I had claimed


no attention

not reflect an airline

of their genderin

interrogations,

phenomenological

airline

does

or

totalityrisk

pat downs, outing


Cross presents

threat:

meant to appease

the

Airport, standing

at

as my own with an advert I paid

to staring at me from its bottom, a TSA agent

up to me. I was depositing

my grey blazer

bin, my belt soon to follow, and I grew nervous,

in the

my throat

tightening as it often does on security lines. But all that the


blue uniformed
morning

man did was smile at me and say "Good

to ya, ma'am."

At that moment

I knew . . . that I

was safe. For now (Cross 2011).


In response

to the Secure Flight program, the leading transgender

rights organization

562

social

tells its constituents

in a widely circulated

"know

research

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your rights" flyer that they have the right to "travel in any gender you
wish, whether

the gender marker on your identifica

or not it matches

tion." But, this advisory adds, "the TSA suggests that transgender
ers carry a letter from their doctor"

travel

Center for Transgender

(National

Equality 2010).
the situation

In late 2010,
made

even

when

worse

at airports

technologies

ing transgender
three-dimensional
breasts,

The stated

2009).

(NCTE

these

for those

neris

to identify potential
threats

of Homeland

Department

nel, "will employ


TSA agent's
presenting
histories

or bodies

confound

and

wave"
picture,

literally.

image"

to transgender

travelers.

and d'Halluin,

became

could

breathe

uses both "millimeter

of gender

represents

of gender "veridiction,"

a different

and erects yet another

This program

was not put in place

travelers,

the images

site, to paraphrase

another

a place

the

body enters

technologiesthe

to verify identity, yet, for many transgender


the body unintentionally

whose

types of technologies

The use of this technology

of the securitization

is in the

passengers

norms

program

Body Imaging

"backscatter

instantiation
obstacle

Whole

devices"

suicide

to the individual

document

gender

the

to security person

that hurdle,

a little sigh of relief. But with the two new


deployedthe

warns

the point of vulnerability

After clearing
radically

the scan

and its passen

to artfully conceal

of an identity

comparison

"enhanced

through

to the airplane

Security in an advisory

Flight alone,

herself.

and any

on the body. "Terrorists,"

novel methods

Under Secure

(2003).

threats

are hidden

body, including

to identify contraband"

refuse to walk

who

"a

generate

of body scanningor

purpose

pat downs"

imaging

materials

binding

prosthetics,

genital

gers. Those

nude

was

to a lead

According
machines

of the passenger's

body, in an attempt

on the person's

objects

organization,

buttocks,

advanced

using

States.

image

genitals,

began

in the United

advocacy

travelers

faced by transgender

the TSA

where

of

Fassin

truth is sought

(2005).
To illustrate,

let us return to Cross's

vignette,

continued

above:

Securitizing

Gender

563

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from

I escorted
could

contain

theoretically

leather

a bomb,

that

boots

the belt that could

a trigger mechanism.

contain

theoretically

Or cocaine.

My

full of feminist literature (now there's something

handbag

That was when

explosive).

saw something
metal

the worn

my belongings,

machine

The rounded

slate grey hulk of an X-ray

men and women

scanning

tion, arms held unthreateningly


swallowed

my eye and I

caught

towering over the old fashioned

ominously

detector.

motion

to sit in a room listening

high above

posi

their heads.

if the jig was up, if I would at

thickly wondering

last have to face transphobia

in a surrendering

at the airport, if I would

to impertinent

have
about

questions

what was in my knickers (Cross 2011).


As it happened,
scanner

imaging

Cross was not directed to walk through the body

that day. But when travelers do get whole

or undergo

intrusive pat downs

some

TSA agents

cases

(touching

are seeing

breast and genital

in the image

or

breasts

on

male

ing things they do expect

travelers.

They

groups describes

them. They document


attorney

detained

or feel like." During


questions

incidents

for

by TSA agents

by a whole-body

not conform to agents'


personal

two

expectations

his detention,
and comments"

him as a potential

or

seeing

feel

women

tend to trigger secu

social

that have been reported to

hours

because

in which a "male
on

his

way

his intimate

of what a man's
he "was subjected

to

an

trans
out-of

anatomy,

as

pat down, did

body should

look

to humiliating

about the history of his body and


appraisal

threat. Eventually,

a later flight. But he was advised

564

on female

penises,

image scan and a subsequent

his identity. But that's not all: a bomb


evaluate

bodies

one case, for example,

was

town court hearing


indicated

not

A letter written to the head of the TSA from three trans

gender advocacy

gender

genitalia

also

to be there: men without

without breasts. These atypically gendered


rity responses.

are

areas), in

or feeling in the pat

downs things they do not expect to be theremale


travelers,

body scans

unit was called

he was allowed

to carry "a physician's

in to

to board

letter regarding

research

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his transgender

could be

he flies" so that the situation

status whenever

more quickly the next time (Keisling et al. 2010).

resolved

For transgender

individuals,

unfortunately,

these are not isolated

Kirlcup 2009).3 In fact, when Currah mentioned

events (see, for example,

to a friend that he was working on this article, the friend revealed

and

scanner,

then

anomaly"

an

undergoing

to a small room where

through the body

to him: after walking

the same thing had happened


agents

"enhanced"

pat

he

down,

was

taken

they had found a "gonadal

announced

as a potential

that had to be investigated

that

threat to the secu

rity of the airplane before he could board. For other transgender people,
the fear of gender-based interrogation is so great that they have chosen
to Katherine

not to fly. According

Rachlin,

a clinical

psychologist

member of the board of directors of the World Professional


for Transgender

used in local

therapy. Patients
between

became

news long before they were

airports

and were a major


that they would

anticipated

by screeners

outed

a person's

had increased

went deeper

the anomalies

and their

anxiety

and even
Those

the possibilities.

as their

into depression

option to travel was taken away (Rachlin


In describing

be publicly

and presentation

documents

attacks just contemplating

prone to depression

topic in

saw that there was a mismatch

who

body parts. . . . Patients


panic

Association

Health,

The full-body scanners


actually

and

2011).

and uncertainties

that emerge in the

ways that gender has been securitized at the airport, we are not suggest
ing that these particular events, however distressing to the traveler, are
comparable

to the gross injustices

and bodies

in the name of national

that there is no overlap


of intensified
justice

2010).

be stopped,

surveillance
Indeed,
searched,

between

done to some peoples,

individuals,

security (nor do we mean to imply


transgender

and racial profiling) (Queers

the proliferation
and required

and victims

individuals

of sites where

for Economic
individuals

to verify their identityas

Securitizing

Gender

can

part of

565

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the

"war

on

or as

terror"

identify, locate,

a consquence

tance of examining

the production

Rose and Mariana

Valverde

from drilling
meticulous
Valverde

down

aliens"only

state

initiatives

more

work of regulatory

"minor,

to be learned
mundane

apparatuses"

that suggestion

. . .
and

(Rose

in producing

of conflicts over gender classification

analysis

to

the impor

amplifies

that there is much

suggest

550). We have followed

this very granular

and

and policing of legal identity. Nikolas

into the apparently

and detailed
1998:

of federal

and deport "illegal

in the

U.S. airport.
TOKEN-BASED

IDENTITY
the phrase

Rose comed

"securitization

of identity"

to describe

how

are locked into circuits of control through the multiplication

"subjects

of sites where the exercise


1999:

tity" (Rose
depend

VERIFICATION

of freedom requires

240). The linking

information

entities in particular

of identity is "dispersed

"variety of sites and practices"


tity is an example
"targeted

all possible

most useful for the particular

the securitization

(2004).

the belief that social problems


intervention,

it depends,

information;

contexts collecting
and disorganized"

Valverde

While

only the

risks being assessed.

and Michael

Thus,
across a

(243, 242). The securitization

of what Mariana

governance"

iden

of identity with security does not

on a single entity collecting

instead, on particular

proof of legitimate

of iden
call

Mopas

state entities once operated

with

could be solved through large-scale

state

focuses

targeted governance

the resources

of the neolib

eral stateconcerned

not with welfare but with risk managementin

as efficient a manner

as possible.

greater reliance

on information

In practice,

and surveillance

allow the now more limited activities


it is believed,

with more precision:

information-driven
security calculus
tion about

techniques

social

technologies

of governance

an ever
which

to be carried out,

"a 'smart,' specific side-effects free,

of governance"

(2004:

239).

Because

the

of state actors holds that more identifying informa

individuals

ably infallible

566

utopia

this has meant

means

less risk, the development

for identity verification

of presum

has been enrolled

research

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in

the quest for perfect information.


become

one of most intensely

In the United States, the airport has

securitized

sites of identity verification

(Lyon 2007).
At present, the Secure

Flight program,

with the No-Fly

coupled

List and the Terrorist Watch List, is only a crude expression


Identity is not coterminous

of perfect information.
and the impossibility
for certitude

identity can be verified

as many scholars

2009;

verification

an individual

explains

between,

Caplan

1999; van der Ploeg 2009).


on the premise

operates

is secure. Such schemes

history that estab

not an unmediated

correspon

individual

and the embodied

say, the passport

that

Irma van der Ploeg, base veri

of the documentthe

lishes its credibility to verify identityis


dence

assumptions,

and Torpey 2001;

of a 'thing'" (van der Ploeg 1999;

"possession

38). However, the provenance

untenable

and a document

identification,"

fication on an individual's

2010;

van der Ploeg

Simply put, document-based


of "token-based

(Ajana

her to identifica

by linking

of ultimately

have shown

Robertson

the link between

the desire

in the context of the airport. The notion that

rests on a number

tion papers
Lyon 2001;

of securely linking the two undermines

envisioned

an individual's

of the dream

with identification,

who

carries it: it is the authority of the institution that issued it (38). In turn,
the document
documents
Indeed,
passes

issuer's assurance

presented

to the certifying authority to establish

as Jane Caplan
the relationship

document

fact and fiction, between

between

Secure

identity.

"this giddy spiral of tokens

suggests,

and its bearer" (Caplan

The TSA's

on other documents,

of verity depends

encom

the identity

2001; 52).

Flight program

on this token-based

depends

system: to enter a sterile area at a U.S. airport, a TSA agent compares


the individual before them to the official identity document they prof
fer. The only link between
passenger

is the photograph

be up to 10 years old. Indeed,


essentially
photograph

nineteenth-century

identity

document

and the body of the

which, in the case of U.S. passports,


the Secure

Flight program

technologythe

affixed to a document.

visual

But the Secure

Securitizing

can

relies on an

inspection

of a

Flight's technically

Gender

567

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quaint approach

to passenger

it is not primarily

purpose:

may be a reflection of its initial

screening

to verify the identity of passen

designed

gers at the airport, but "to screen


ment watch lists" maintained

passengers

before they arrive there (Transportation


If the current securitization
tively organized

around

holds out the promise


established

secure.

unique

information

about

Biometrie

digitizing

it to compare

As the '"missing

identity and identifi


involve

individual's

iris patterns,

gait signatures,

against

the spot from the body of the individual


verification.

facial structure, voice

that information,

the information

extracted

the immateriality

van der Ploeg writes, these technologies

body" by transforming
86-87;

see also Magnet

information,

it into "a machine


Puar 2007;

2011;

then, policymakers

imagine

storing
on

herself for identity

presenting

link'" between

capturing

body or behav

mation flows and networks, and the materiality of individual


existence,"

2010).

are not, biometrics

technologies

a particular

DNA, for instanceand

it, and retrieving

Center

identity can be affirmatively

that the link between

can be made

patterns,

who passengers

ensuring

cation

iorfingerprints,

Security Administration

govern

of identity at the U.S. airport is effec

that a passenger's

and assumes

directly against

by the federal Terrorist Screening

readable

of infor
embodied

"informatize
identifier"

the

(2009:

175). In the quest for perfect


that the body itself will not

just provide, but actually be the perfect piece of information.


Of the possible

sources of human

epistemological

one is (a body), what one says about oneself (a narrative),


(a performance),

and what one has in hand (a token)it

the body that reigns supreme


2010). Documents
vouch

or to maintain

but the body, it is assumed,

cannot

individuals
a consistent

are thought

to be stable

legal identity, or "reidentification"


Schechtman,

568

is the "sameness

social

is the is-ness of
(Ajana

cannot be trusted to
presentation

of self,

be forged and does not lie. Most

significantly, while the body might age, succumb


its core elements

what one does

in the quest for perfect information

may be fraudulent,

for themselves

identitywhat

to disease

and injury,

over time. What

in the lexicon

of body" between

of philosopher

verifies
Marya

one time and another

research

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

(1990: 71). At the time of writing, the TSA has not yet installed biomtrie
for routine passenger

technologies

identity verification.

to a joint press release by the Department


the TSA, and the Department

houses

international

travel

the document

is authentic

is the person

to whom

Homeland
crews

and

GENDER

that

and biographic

international

further strengthen

information

and that the person


the document

is writtenwill

personnel,

airport

AS BIOMETRIC

and

for gender reclassification

travelers

for frequent

data, we suggest, already in use


of debates

about the criteria

on New York City birth certificates,

cation as M or F on identity documents

identifier in

as a biomtrie

is not a unique identifier, as most

data are understood

for its use in identity verification.

Identity is not simply


'who is this

a matter of who one is but also what one is: "the question
leaches

constantly

3). As an apparently

gender

classification

is, but it can help, it is assumed,

clear in the TSA's rationale

comments
zation

to determine

is an essential

program. When the Department


on the proposed

suggested

is

attri

permanent

is shared with too many

normally) to be used to verify who one

others (about half the population


That gender

'what kind of person

into the question

and Torpey 2001:

bute of the body, one's

made

that

to be, the assumption

of M or F is a permanent feature of the body underlies

the classification

this?"' (Caplan

Currah

114, 124). While one's classifi

the eyes of vital statistics officials (2009:

the rationale

for flight

as well.

INFORMATION

and Moore have shown how gender operates

of biomtrie

of

(Department

Security 2006). Plans are afoot to offer biometrics

at the airport: gender. In an examination

person?'

that both

carrying an e-passport

issued"

was

of

a contactless

contain

border security by ensuring

However, there is one piece of biomtrie

pieces

Security, which

of State, "the next generation

documentse-passports

chip to which biomtrie

But, according

of Homeland

piece

who one is not.

of information

for including
of Homeland

program

it in the Secure

is

Flight

Security asked for public

in 2008,

that the TSA "eliminate

to collect

one person

the gender

Securitizing

or organi

requirement.

Gender

569

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. .

and instead

to submit information

passengers

require

ethnicity, race, or national


out that "many names

generally

denote

the number

when translated

While

names

not

into English, do not


on gender will reduce

watch list matches,

because

the informa

persons who have the same or similar name"

of Homeland

Department

information

gender. Providing

of false positive

tion will distinguish

by pointing

are not gender neutral. Additionally,

derived from the Latin alphabet,

their

regarding

origin." TS A officials responded

(U.S.

Security 2008: 64034).

the individual

who

submitted

the comment

certainly

might have meant that gender need not be a metric of identity at all
and it is odd and somewhat

that this individual

suspect

tion saw race or ethnicity as a better piece of datathe


did not ever consider

leaving

a passenger's

As officials made clear in the rationale


included

in the identification

focused

details

TSA apparently

classification

out.

above, that M or F needed

to be

gender

was never in doubt:

on how that piece of information

would

with names

indirectly through associations

or organiza

its response

best be ascertained

or directly through requir

ing disclosure.
But the Secure Flight program does not just use the M or F on the
identity document
eliminate

false positives.

not be deployed
body. It would,
name

to screen

against

data, as unchanging

useful but ultimately

gender

information

share the same epistemological

and date of birth, the other pieces

ered: provisionally

the no-fly lists and to

If this were all that happens,

as biomtrie
instead,

passengers

of lexical

would

from the

status as one's

information

unattachable

gath

to an individual

body, resting instead on a "giddy spiral" of other identity documents.


fact, TSA agents do use gender as a fixed piece of biomtrie
about an individual,

one that can be checked

front of them. That is, the security apparatus

against

In

information

the passenger

in

does not just require the

M or F on the document

to be compared with information in govern


ment watch lists; at the airport, the TSA agent looks at the M or F on
the passenger's
decides

identity document,

if the M or F corresponds

570

social

looks

at the passenger,

to the passenger.

and then

Again, as biomtrie

research

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one's

information,

cannot be used to verify iden

gender classification

tity, to allow an agent to say with certainty who one is. But it can and
about who a passenger

is not. In the case of

at the airport, sometimes

who the passenger

is used to make a decision


some transgender

people

is not is: herself.


out that airports

Mark Salter points


identities"

particular

security identification

of effects of national
people,

Toby Beauchamp

"deeply

rooted

surveillance

and enforcement

char

biomtrie

between

relationship

at birth based on a visual

is assigned

of the body (what one was), one's

inspection

and often

gender reflect the unquestioned

an individual

are

357). At the airport,

(2009:

that there is a perfectly harmonious

the sex classification

systems

of normatively

sense of gender as an unchanging

common

acteristic:

on transgender

policies

how

and identities"

behaviors

of passengers'

expectations
unthought

has shown

in the maintenance

bodies,

gendered

in an examination

xii). More specifically,

(2008:

and normalize

"condition

sex"

current "biological

(what one is), one's gender identity (what one says one is), one's gender
presentation (what one looks like to others) and the gender classifica

majority

walk through

of people

confusion

one proffers. Indeed, the vast

identity document

tion on the particular

airport security uninhibited

over their gender, and those uncontested

passages

is a unitary compo

sense belief that gender

and reflect the common

by any
reinforce

nent of identity.
But for transgender

rubric of genderthat

state classification
have been

modified

and behavior
read another"
ways to upend
sification

to some degree,

people
(Rachlin

insignia"

identity,

correspondence
ID document

through

dress

of gender. It is not uncommon


while their documents

2011). There are a dizzying

on a passenger's

gender

and presentation

to "live in one gender

the expected

under the

organized

individual

houses

entity. It is

(as M or F), a body that may or may not

decisions

of the "cultural

for transgender

is not a singular

gender

as a conglomerationloosely

better understood
ideological

people,

number

between

the gender clas

and her embodied

Securitizing

of possible

Gender

gendered

571

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self. And genderqueer

or third-gender
confound

gender binary altogether


The following

individuals

had many gender-confirming

male at birth may have

interventions,

and vaginoplasty,

therapy, electrolysis,

including

hormone

and might have an identity

classifying either M or F.

A female traveler who had been classified


ent as female, have retained
identity document

hormone

male pattern baldness,

female at birth may have

treatment, wear a full beard, have

had masculinizing

female breasts to male breasts, retained


lia, and carry an identity document
At the airport or in other moments

surgery to transform
his original female genita

classifying him as M or F.
of "identification

will align their gender presentation

classification

and carry an

classifying her a s either M or F.

had masculinizing

individuals

male at birth may pres

her original genitalia,

A male traveler who had been classified

threat," some

with the gender

on their identity documentseffectively

the gender assigned

"passing"

also possibleindeed,
identity document

even commonthat

cases, it's

the individual

or among

genderidentity

documents,

mancecan

produce

"transgender

sublime,"

a category

capacity to comprehend

the different sources

of knowledge

the body, an individual's

crisis. Benjamin

and describes

sheer variety of trans bodies

and genders

exceeds

572

social

perfor

Singer calls this the

it as an experience

in which "the

[agents']

cognitive

them" (2006: 616).

uncertainty

revealed

in these moments

nance, however, does not augur the end of the securitization


or even undermine

has one

with an M and another with an F.

Conflicts between

The epistemic

as

to them at birth.

Finally, to add to the chaos, in each of the hypothetical

about

the M/F

represent just a few possibilities:

examples

A female traveler who had been classified

document

who eschew

the unity of the category even more.

it. As Stuart Hall reminds

of disso
of gender,

us, it is an intellectual

research

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:onceit

to

that

imagine

:al contradiction"

the

coherent.

backed

research

regime

of gender should

Instead,

travelers

are

who

as conventionally

travelers who suffer

about gender classification.

forced

to

their

contort

selves

gendered

identity management

the tactics that gender


to themselves.

people use to avoid drawing attention

And it is

at the airport. In his

as possible

gendered

on borders and transgender

Reese Kelly has documented

of

by the force of law do not have to

it is transgender

the effects of systemic confusions


to appear

a logi

ot

knowledge

about which characteristic

gender. Decisions

transgender

a result

one does not put state actors out of the business

be the definitive

be internally

as

collapse

166). That no particular

(1988:

:an put an end to debates


:lassiiying

will

world

practices,

nonconforming
In a summary of

his findings, he writes,


rhe very possibility

of pat downs

to many participants

contributed

documents

and scrutiny ot identity

what I refer to as identity normalizing


normalizing

strategies

ate construction

gendered

appearance

to coincide

als I interviewed
presentation

photos.

of the deliber

gendered

presentation
their

with their identity docu


at birth and which

ments that still listed their sex assigned


often had outdated

in

These

in my study changed

A few individuals

of self. ...

strategies.

consisted

often

of a normatively

engaging

. . . Almost all of the individu

. . . described

engaging

rituals in order to appear

and

in bodywork
non-threatening

in

regards to all aspects of their identities (Kelly 2011).


These

identity

management

analysis of the social production

require

strategies

adding

of gender. It is axiomatic

a metalevel

in the theo

ries that inform much thought about gender, at least in the humanities
and social sciences, that gender is performed rather than expressed,
that gender

is an effect rather than a cause,

through social relations

that gender

is produced

rather than through willful acts of individuals.

Securitizing

elender

5/0

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But at the airport, successfully

the different and contradic

negotiating

tory ways that gender has been securitized

of a

a performance

requires

performance.

IN THE

GENDER
What

SECURITY

the passage

complicates

airport

AIRPORT

of a transgender

is that her identity

security

rapporteur
increased

pointed

persons

personal

not be seen

that involve

2009:

and

data

19). Yet, the transgender

as just a policy

are

The biomtrie

decision

notions

come

to be stabilized

In actuality,

how gender

is defined

in that context:

unjustly,

It also shows
through

there is no unitary notion of gender to which an indi

ance and data" that change,

but the very concept

"in what situations,


how does it happen,

of gender

occurs, whether
Likewise,
definition,

is bound

and so on? A concept,

ent state actors dispersed

574

social

context

as we see it,
As an event,
in which

as gender"

indeed,
(Currah

it

office, or the courtroom.

singular state authority policing

but different authorities:

and diffuses a concept

(1995:14).

to the particular

it be the airport, the doctor's

there is no coherent,

ask a more productive

where and when does a particular

should express an event rather than an essence"


the concept

appear

of gender. In shifting

our analysis this way, we can, following Deleuze,


thing happen,

context

is, but on what it does

vidual simply does or does not conform. It is not only "personal

set of questions:

their

and control.

in any particular

not on what one might think gender

at

use of gender

that, however

into larger systems of organization

incorporation
depends

of gender

to

subject

experience

limits the freedom of a very small minority of individuals.


how particular

for issu

risk unduly penalizing

appearance

the airport is more than just an exception.


should

rights special

measures

security, such as stricter procedures

whose

Nations

change" (United

through

in the way it is

human

and verifying identity documents,

ing, changing
transgender

Nations

out that "counterterrorism

travel document

individual

is not obvious

to be by the TSA. A United

expected

ASSEMBLAGE

gender

"the state is just as messy


forthcoming).

That differ

across the U.S. federal system of government

research

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gender markers

for changing

lave different requirements

on identity

genital surgery is required,

iocuments

illustrates this point. Sometimes

sometimes

not. But instead of fixating on what gender "really" is, how it

Dught to be defined, we might see these arbitrary and conflicting rules


in another light: not as perplexing

for gender reclassification

the other on distribution.

an recognition,
The

ane way of understanding

broadly

which each element

and

Guattari,

concept

gies to bodies

as "functional

conglomerations

gains meaning

in its relation

and social

of elements"

within

and materials
number

allows the maximum

numerous

can

be

into the assemblage:


reconfigured

seen

as

one

of many

it is not invented

and unknowable

are cause for heightened

transgender

and social

come

and Ericson

but

explain,

and are fixed temporarily

world of possible

and

risks, gender

anomalies

and scrutiny. Gender, in the security

at the airport, is deployed

individuals

tnat

or "torces"

"tlows"

(2000: 608). In the context of an ever more

suspicion

in the assemblage,

prevents

in the airport assemblage,

as a biomtrie,

tied directly to the body. This "securitized"


tionalized

networks

(U.S. GAO 2010: 10).

by it in specific ways. As Haggerty

spatially by the assemblage"

assemblage

and security strate

to pass through unrestricted,

of people

flows "exist prior to any assemblage,


uncertain

at the airport

the plane, while it also

from reaching

so as not to inhibit the "flow of commerce"


Gender

in

to the others in the

xiii). The airport security assemblage

(Salter 2008:

certain individuals

can be

it is, like the airport itself, "a messy

norms;

system of systems, embedded

in secu

hard fact. Assemblages

of many parts, from technologies

is a convergence

and episte

chaotic,

(Currier 2003: 203). The security assemblage

assemblage

provides

of gender can be deployed

as if it were a tangible

rity mechanisms

spheres"

Deleuze

how the contingent,

ungroundable

understood

from

of assemblage,

concept

mologically

contradic

of different state projects: one centered

:ions but instead as expressions

variant

a piece

of data

of gender, opera

is more than just a norm from which

constitute

an exception.

As Currier points out,

"a self-identical body (or object) cannot be identified prior to, or outside

becuritizing

uender

5/5

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of, the field of encounters


instead,

blage;"

created (2003:

it withm any specific assem

that articulate

through the assemblage,

new or "other" is

something

331). At the airport, the "something

other" for gender is

what we are calling its securitization.


The securitization
grasping what happens

of gender

is doubly

vations about the "securitization


and privatized)
with sovereign

ments, searches

the two TSA programs.

through

in securitization

reflects forms of control


bans, prohibitions,

powerbarriers,

by uniformed

personnel,

general and gender in particular


as a form of risk management,

Rose's obser

an object of state (and increasingly

surveillance

In that sense, the "security"


associated

in conceptually

of identity," we have used "securitiza

tion" to describe how gender becomes


private

useful

to gender at the airport. Following

interrogations.

are also securitized

as techniques

punish

But identity in

in another sense

for "governing

the future"

(Valverde 2007:163).

Risk management

is not only a central mechanism

of governmentality,

but also of capital.

In fact, it may be that the finan

cial analogy
bundling

is the most apt here. In finance, securitization

of disparate

what is debt? Debts

in the future. Securitization


made

present"

Transportation

of debt into financial

pieces

are obligations,

(2007:18).

promises

In the security

And

to repay at some point

is, as Randy Martin explains,

Security Administration,

lized into objects

"the future

assembled

systems

by the

the disparate

that will hold steady over timea

tity as future sameness.

The TSA recommends

especially

people

transgender

doctors. These

letters generally

ual's attachment

"in transition,"

the evidence

permanence

of the

Just as the securitization


the future into tangible

social

of iden
people,

cariy letters from their

affirm the genuineness


required

cation on an identity documenttypically


to the

promise

that transgender

of the individ

to the new gender, and, in doing so, become

security. Likewise,

576

instruments.

identities/bodies/
that fall under the rubric of gender are provisionally stabi

documents

attest

involves the

new

gender

to change

forms of

the gender classifi

affidavits from physicians


in the

future.

of debt attempts to turn promises

commodities

about

in the present, the securitization

research

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of an individual's

gender tries to render uncertainty

more predictable.

Foucault

"the temporal,

contingency,
a given space"

the gendered

have to be inserted within

the uncertain...

bodyis

by the presence

the impact

the future holds. While

is a temporal

as process,

of spatial arrangements

or lessen

that can manage


events

ever unpredictable
as narrative,

pointed out in a 1978 lecture that to manage

(2007: 20). Security is comprised

a milieu

that create

about the future

identity as being,

category, the bodyin

our case

that can be known

figured as spatial, something

of flesh. To pass

or the lack of certain configurations

through airport security without

of what

issue, an individual's

gender is secu

ritized by attempting

to turn the body into not such a source of infor

mation but a promise

about the present and the future. As individuals

flow through

their incongruous

transgender

peoplewith

documents,

and bodiesoften

interstices
change,

and control

the systems of surveillance

what

between

one

is and

and unexpected

what

registers, between

one

says

histories,

in the uncomfortable

find themselves

spatial and temporal

between

in the airport,

stasis and

or does.

NOTES

1.

In this paper we use the term "gender" rather than "sex." The mean
ings of both terms are widely contested in the hard and soft sciences,
in the humanities,

in popular

and increasingly
we

know

for

in legal theory, in women's

sure

about

what

discourse.
sex

means,

and gender studies,

Ultimately,
or what

the only thing

gender

means,

is

what state actors, backed by the force of law, say those words mean.
Legal definitions of gender and the various criteria states use to clas
sify individuals as male or female are certainly fraught, but they do
matter because

gender is a mechanism

of rights and resources.


one's classification

Because

the TSA uses "gender"

as M or F on identity documents,

to do so as well, for consistency's


2.

for the unequal

distribution
to refer to

we have chosen

sake.

A small caveat: while many of the points we make about how gender
becomes securitized may be applicable to other agencies inside the

Securitizing

bender

57/

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United States, and to contexts outside of it, our research is limited to


the two specific programs put in place by the TSA. The U.S. Customs
and Border Patrol has already installed biomtrie identification
nology at all border locations
management

processes

but this article examines

tech

the identity

of only the U.S. Transportation

Security

Agency. It is our hope that the admittedly narrow focus of this inves
tigation generates
3.

We have

insights that a broader approach

submitted

Freedom

of Information

Security Administration

Transportation

that indicate if officials considered

Act requests

substantive

to the

asking for any documents

how the Secure Flight and Whole

Body Imaging program would affect transgender


forming people.

might miss.

and gender noncon

At the time of writing, we had not yet received

response

from the TSA.

REFERENCES

Ajana,

"Recombinant

Btihaj.

Identities:

Biometrics

and

Narrative

Bioethics." Bioethical Inquiry 7 (2010): 237-258.


Beauchamp,

Toby.

Transgender

"Artful
Bodies

Concealment
and

US

State

and

Strategic

Surveillance

Visibility:
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