The Dangers Of Traveling While Trans

Every time I have to pass through a border control post into another country, I worry about what is going to happen to me. Most of you probably think that’s daft, but I invite you to consider what is happening to Avery Edison in Canada at the moment.

I get the impression from Twitter that lots of smug, self-satisfied cis people are saying this is all her own fault for having broken Canadian visa regulations, but as my own experience shows, such things are by no means written in stone. Besides, when I got denied admission to the US I was put on a plane home, not flung into prison. There are late night flights back to the UK from Toronto Pearson. I know, I have taken them.

In fact what constitutes a breach of visa regulations is very unclear. When I went to New Zealand for their NatCon prior to AussieCon 4 I discovered that having been denied entry to any other country, for any reason, can be used as an excuse to deny you entry to NZ. I spent a nervous half hour or so on the phone to immigration officials in Auckland (because there was no one senior enough awake in Wellington when I arrived) before being let into the country.

Actually I suspect that most countries allow their border control staff to stop anyone, for any reason, if they want to. They just have to be suspicious of you. The only thing reining them in is the sort of PR storm that is currently going on around Avery. I’m pretty sure that, despite all the documentation I have from the UK, my trans status is on the records that get shared around border control bodies. I am sure because I was asked outright whether I was trans once on entering the US. Lying would have provided justification to deny me entry.

Talking of those papers, they are not worth a damn in another country. Avery has an F on her passport. Canada doesn’t care. They have made their own determination of her gender, by their local rules. That’s a similar situation to this one where two Brazilian trans women have been jailed in Dubai for the crime of “Imitating Opposite Sex”.

I’m not up to date with what is happening in India, but last I saw stuff in the news it looked like that if Kevin and I went there as a couple we could be sentenced to life imprisonment for “homosexuality”.

For everyone out there who is smugly saying, “well Britain is civilized, we wouldn’t do that”, check this out. Britain routinely denies entry to LGBT asylum seekers, even those whose lives will be in danger back home, or who face certain arrest on arrival, because our standard immigration policy is to not believe anyone who applies for asylum on LGBT grounds.

More than once, on returning to the UK from an overseas trip, I have been given a look that clearly says, “If there were some way I could deny you entry to the country I’d do so.”

Travel is scary, every time. The only reason I get away with it is because I am white, middle class, and sufficiently old that my lack of good looks doesn’t raise suspicion. And because I am quite careful about which countries I travel to. I’m not sure that I want to go back to Canada in a hurry.

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3 Responses to The Dangers Of Traveling While Trans

  1. Liz Williams says:

    Our ex lodger’s GF was deported from Somerset for having the wrong papers: she was American, applying for citizenship in Ireland, and Irish immigration had given her the wrong stamp. They let her come to us overnight, but she had to return to Bristol first thing and be put on a flight. We later found it was some sort of arcane diplomatic retaliation for some fuck-up with a British citizen entering the US, so you don’t even know if you’re being used as some international pawn.

  2. Farah Mendlesohn says:

    I had a bad experience in the US in 1988. Nothing like as bad as this, or yours, but enough that I don’t assume anything.

    (I had been to the embassy for my student visa for crying out loud. I was sponsored by a very well known and prestigious college. And I arrived at JFK to find out I had the wrong visa, was held for six hours, and told I had to leave the country the day term ended to get the new visa. At 19 it was terrifying.)

    • Cheryl says:

      Which reminds me that the department that issues visas and the department that mans the border posts are entirely separate. If one makes a mistake, the other will not take that into account they will blame you instead.

      My problem was that the embassy insisted that I did not need a visa, and therefore they could not give me one, and the border patrol people would not let me in without one.

      All these things, however, are fungible. They let you into the country. They put me on a plane home. They put Avery in a men’s prison. The difference in treatment is, I believe, largely down to social perceptions as to who is a “good person” and who is not.

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