Managing Dysphoria: Traveling

The limits of my knowledge: I’m not a legal professional, nothing that follows is legal advice. It can be worth checking in with a solicitor from where you reside when it comes to a number of travel questions.

Privilege acknowledgement:
As someone with as much privilege as I have, notably a white body with dual citizenship and documentation that aligns with his gender presentation, I retain my general sense of safety and confidence that my medical history won’t come into play. Neither my name or sex marker change comes up on a basic police background check, a relief when applying to immigrate.

lily-banse-grief in public-unsplash
[picture by Lily Banse, from Unsplash. Description: a balding person with grey and white hair sits on a public transportation vehicle, hands and head against the back of the seat in front of them. There’s rain dripping along the window.]

Preamble:

A lot of what follows straddle the line between dysphoria triggers and fear of being disclosed or managing disclosure. Maybe they are both to you.

I will be discussing relationship and family related scenarios implying commitment between 2 people only. This isn’t because I stopped being poly and can’t imagine 3 or more adults in committed relationships traveling together. I’ve done this both because I trust people can extrapolate how concerns for a couple of 2 might apply to a couple of 3 or more, and because I’m focusing on concerns around marriages legally considered same-sex (i.e. both people have the same sex marker on their ID), and for now, state recognised marriages are only between 2 people in the countries where I’ve been and resided.

I’ve crossed borders across Turtle Island, Europe, South East Asia, South Pacific, South West Asia, North Africa, and Oceania. I’ve done this:
– pre-transition but visibly gender variant,
– post-social transition but pre-medical and legal transition,
– with neither name or sex marker changed but on T and pre-all-surgeries,
– just my name updated on T, and pre-all-surgeries,
– name and sex marker changed, on T, post-chest reconstruction and gonadal removal but pre-genital reconstruction,
– post-everything.
The vast majority of the time, when there was a discrepancy on/with my documentation, no one noticed/cared. I’ve been pulled aside for additional questioning in Britain (once in half a dozen times), Italy (once in four times), USA (once in 3 dozen times post-T/pre-sex marker change), and Cambodia (post-social transition, pre-everything else). While these weren’t pleasant experiences, they weren’t deterrents to continue travelling.

We got there!

travel vehicles
[Picture from Unsplash. Description: a blane taking off, scene in the sideview mirror of a vehicle.]

Peeing when traveling with friends to whom you haven’t disclosed

Trust no one else is putting that much thought into how you void
You can use a STP device
If it’s a road trip, you might be expected to be along the side of a road, or if it’s a men only road trip in a hurry, you might be handed a bottle to take care of nature’s call. You might be mocked a little for turning down either option, but esp if you imply you’re pee-shy and/or might need to pass a bowel movement, you should be ultimately fine and accommodated with a toilet facility.

foley catheter
[Illustration of a foley catheter and bag strapped to a thigh of a white person with a prostate and external genitals.]

Sleeping pre-chest reconstruction when traveling with people who don’t know your medical history

If you’re on the smaller end of things, a sport bra and a baggy top (e.g. hoodie) may suffice while allowing a break from binding.

If you have the option, circumstances and the temperature lends itself to this, a sleeping bag may be a better choice than a blanket, as you can zip it up, be unbound in it, while it can’t fall to the side or otherwise move around or away from you like a blanket can.

Ask for the bed against a wall, or a sofa, if any is available, so you can face away from your friends while falling asleep may help. As we all move during the night, if you don’t have a sleeping bag or other type of cover that is likely to mask your chest should you move during your sleep, plan on discreetly waking up first, to rebind while everyone is still catching some Zzz.

If you pack during the day, but don’t usually at night, packing during your sleep may prevent your packer from being found while you sleep. If you don’t usually pack while sleeping, your day time method may not be the safest. Specifically, if you use something like a packer holder such as this one, but without buttcheek straps, you may wake up with your dick mid way up your chest. The simplest solution works best in my experience, throwing your packer in bikini or tight boxer briefs without a fly. There are ways of doing this that don’t involve having the packer directly against your skin, so the oil from it doesn’t go directly on you. Some people put their packer in a stocking foot, I cut out the top of the inside layer of double layers flyless briefs, and slipped the packer in the thus-built-in pocket. I went swimming like this without a worry. Do whichever you prefer. Whenever possible, test out your options before your trip so you’re not anxious trying to fall asleep after a long day on the road.

anastasia-dulgier-grief-unsplash
[Picture by Anastacia Dulgier from Unsplash. Description: black and white portrait of a tabby cat laying down in a cat bed, head tilted to one side.]

Shot schedule

As you probably know, testosterone is a controlled substance. I’ve always carried my T in the box with the prescription label, as part of establishing, on the occasions I’ve been inspected closer, that I have a prescription/I am not juicing and/or intending to distribute. Planning wise for your trip, it depends a lot on the half life of the T you take, and how you feel or deal with being at trough.

If you’re on something with a day half life, such as a gel form of T or pills, especially if you’re travelling more than a few days, then it’s about discreetly taking it as you do on any day. If you’re flying, don’t have checked luggage, and take T as a gel, it will need more than 100ml during your trip, separate it out into containers of no more than 100ml.

If you’re on injectable T, flying, and don’t have checked luggage, and it’s a trip during which you would need no more than 1 shot, broadly speaking, you have two options. If the shot would fall somewhere in the first half of your trip, you can take your previous shot or two, a day or two early, so the last one before your trip falls on the day before or of your departure, and thus don’t have to worry about taking T with you. If it would fall towards the end of your trip, and trough doesn’t send your mental health down a spiral, consider delaying your shot until your return. It’s simplest not to travel with a controlled substance and sharp edges. If you’re not comfortable nudging your shot schedule a little, you will need to either put your needles in checked luggage (only needles that may need to be used during the flight e.g. for insulin dependent diabetics) or buy some wherever you go. I’ve gotten away on domestic flights, for which security tends to be a bit more lax in my experience, with taking needles with me on the flight, but the ease in doing this depends entirely on how close to the letter the security staff is following the policy around sharp edge.
Once, in the early days of my transition, when I was more carefree about such things, I had my sharp edge container, with some used needles already in it, in my carry-on. I was told I had to empty my sharp edge container, which I did with my bare hands, picking needles out pretty much one by one because the left over T oil makes the needles unwilling to slide out with gravity alone, as the security officer watched wearing protective gloves. I wasn’t sure why he wore the gloves while I did it with bare hands, but it worked out, I din’t stab myself. But I also didn’t do that again.

Personally, I prefer to keep my T in my carry-on, vial in the little box with the prescription label. I don’t bring it up unless I’m directly asked about medication, and then I show it, and it’s yet to be an issue, even when travelling to countries such as Australia and New-Zealand with some of the strictest laws around this. If I’m taking more T than for a shot or two, I like to have a letter from my MD that confirms my prescription and medical necessity (it does not state why you medically need it.) I’ve only had to show it once, when entering New-Zealand.

chuttersnap-gate closing signage-unsplash
[Photo titled Gate closing signage by chuttersnap on Unsplash.]

Full body scans – pre-surgeries, during, post

I’ve gone through them with packers, tissue expanders, and implants. No full body scan or metal detector has given a damn about silicone outside or inside my body nor saline water in an in-body contraption (tissue expanders, and penile implant reservoir.)
If my penile implant comes up at all, it also has yet to cause me any grief. I pack upwards in briefs. Some of my friends who hang their post-phallo dicks down in boxers with longer than average for flaccid-sized dicks have been told the unusual length of their dicks along side their thigh was why they were getting an extra patting down or questioning. This has only happened to my black friends, so anti-blackness possibly plays a role in this.

yolanda-sun-654660-unsplash
[Photo by Yolanda Sun on Unsplash. Description: the shadows of a row of travelers at a line up at an airport seen through blinds over a glass wall.]

Customs – Flying with incongruity between identification and expression

Some automated passport scanners won’t recognise your face shape as matching the one in your passport picture if you’ve grown facial hair and/or your jawline/hairline has significantly changed. You will be redirected to see a customs officer. This isn’t uncommon at all, and should not be cause for concern. You can expect them to pass a comment on how much younger you look on your passport picture; that’s about it.

I traveled a lot, all around the world, but especially into the US, while having a male name, on T, post-chest reconstruction, with a F on my passport. It was never the reason I was pulled over. It came up once while I was detained, but I had been detained for a non-related reason, I matter-of-fact confirmed I was trans, and that was the end of that portion of things. I got grief more than once the longer my relationships with American citizens went on. There was commonly fear that I would try to stay and get married, especially if I traveled by bus. If I travel in my own car, or by plane, usually, confirming I had a job was enough. But the trans piece never came up.

I know stories of people harassed for the visibility of their transness on/with their passport. Mostly this has happened to my racialised friends, especially those of the muslim faith and/or of South or South West Asian descent.
There are stories of white trans people given grief, but by and large, as has been my case, white people whose transition comes up, usually it dies following other concerns raised such as under or unemployment/lower income, if a romantic relationship with someone in the country being visited is suspected/disclosed, etc. The trans element can complicate how the detention unfolds, I’m not saying it’s without consequence. But mostly it’s trans racialised people who get given the worse grief, and then there are often elements of anti-blackness, islamophobia, and/or whorephobia at play. On the occasions when I was given grief explicitly centring on my transition, I focused on confirming that medical transition is legal, and does not alter the veracity of my citizenship.

Traveling for surgeries

My non-legal-expert advice if you’re travelling for surgeries: don’t offer the medical reason for your travels. Most of the time, I was only asked length of my stay, the address of where I’d be staying and what, if anything, I was bringing into the country that would stay behind, and sent on my merry way.

When I was asked about the reason for my trips, I disclosed it was for a medical procedure. If I was asked which one, this wasn’t the case often, I inquired if I was correct that I didn’t have to disclose confidential health information, as is my understanding. Every time, this has been confirmed and ended that line of question. This may be a viable approach only for white people, or for people from certain parts of the world going to certain other parts of the world; I don’t claim it’s necessarily a good strategy for everyone.

kelly-sikkema-child on shoulders
[Picture by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash. Description: a blonde child seen from behind on the shoulders of an adult standing in a field of green plants and trees.]

Family consideration

If traveling with a significant other and/or kids, check if the country/countries where you’re traveling have homophobic and/or transphobic laws. While some countries where same-sex intimacy is illegal support medical transition, it doesn’t follow that you’ll necessarily be safe or fine if you’re a straight trans person. Their and your understanding of transness and queerness may not be the same. Some will grant you a visa regardless of any online presence as an LGBT advocate, but there are stories of some who were not.

I’ve traveled through 5 countries, and spent a few months in 4 countries where queerness is illegal. My online presence (which makes up more than a few pages of Google search results) was either not checked or deemed objectionable prior to granting a visa. The 1st time I went to such a country, I was post-social transition/visibly gender incongruent, pre-medical and legal transition. The 2nd time I went to a few of these, it was on a passport reflecting my male name but with a F; I’d been on T a while, had some ops but not lower surgeries. The 3rd time, my passport reflected both my male name and sex marker, but I was still pre-lower-op. The 4th time and from here, my passport reflects my male name, sex marker, and my genitals have been reconstructed. I’ve yet to go to one of these countries with a significant other, though I’ve traveled to 1 of them with a fellow trans guy, whose passport and bodily configuration was equivalent to my own.

It doesn’t matter if you’re married in the country where you reside if it’s legally a same-sex marriage and the country/countries where you’re going don’t recognise same-sex marriages. If there are no kids, my recommendation is to go through customs individually/not presenting as a couple, preferably not passing in front of the same customs officer, esp one right after the other. If they ask where you’re staying, and you go to different customs officers, they won’t clue in. If you go one right after the other, they might raise an eyebrow and ask if you’re traveling together. There’s nothing wrong with friends traveling together, though you may have a hard time selling that story if one of you took the other’s name or your merged your last names. My friends non-legal-expert tip is to aim for least likely to raise an eyebrow, ergo: go in separate lines, as adults traveling on their own.

Things can get more complex if traveling with kids. If you’re presenting as a single adult, you may need a letter from the other parent affirming they know about and are okay with the trip that includes their kids in their absence. If you have legal names likely to be interpreted as belonging to a same-sex couple, this can be a problem in countries where same-sex marriage is not legal. You’re call of if it makes some sense to have the kids go with the parent with who they share a family name and/or genetics. Cishet couples who adopt or used egg and/or sperm donors and/or a surrogate travel with their kids. It’s a matter of your comfort with the possibility that in your case, these things might raise the possibilty that you(r family) aren’t/isn’t cishet in some fashion or another.

Photo by Jonathan Allison on Unsplash
[Black and white aerial view of a round about by Jonathan Allison from Unsplash.]

Closing thoughts

It’s not in the geopolitical space of borders where I’m willing to put my freedom on the line to argue with a representative of the state with the power to detain me indefinitely. I try to keep them on the tracks they tend to favour, those being:
– I won’t be over-extending my stay
– I have the documentation required to travel
– I don’t pose a threat to fellow travelers or the country I’m visiting
– I have the means and motivation to return home.

If disclosure and/or acute focus on your gender/transition typically leaves you upset, travel often doesn’t lend itself to managing this in the ways we can when not traveling. Consider arriving a day before you need to do whatever it is you’re doing where you’re going and/or plan a 1st day to be filled with activity optional things, in case you need to swap in some self-care.

It’s been a while since I’ve traveled while variably visible as a trans person. Let me know if there’s something I didn’t cover, or a specific scenario you’re wondering about.

Bon voyage !

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