Oxygen thrives in the rainforest

I’d heard, along with the other people who live in the U.S., about the influx of whole-body scanners to our airports. More than one’s average bear, those of transgender heritage disdain these things because well, it goes against our whole mantra of “I’m not just what I am in my pants/skirt.” In this narrow chamber, we are. Thinking about these things abstractly and then coming face to face with one, as I did last Wednesday, I discovered, are two different animals. The disgust after reading a newspaper article pales in comparison to stepping into one of these scanners.

There’s the whole putting your hands on your head and assuming the pose part of this process that really is just chapter one in humiliation. Before anyone thinks I’m exaggerating, go jump up in front of a full-body mirror after taking your clothes off. Stand full face into the mirror and then put your thumbs on your head with your pinkies facing up. Attempt not to laugh because you just stripped and stood in front of a mirror when a blogger told you to. And notice that your body probably looks a bit goofy. It’s okay, most do!

What any of this has to do with security, I’m not sure. I get that the abstract concept of x-ray vision sounds great. Superman checks out Lois Lane’s lungs because she’s a chain smoker. Hey, I just refused to date smokers—humans love a good workaround. So can’t we have one for this? Typical TSA employees do not have the grace or integrity of Superman, and I don’t mean to slight the TSA. But come on, the more of these machines that make their way into the nation’s airports, the more we’re going to hear of stories, like the one last night, of one agent calling another over because “this one’s a real cutie.” Too bad the woman they gawked at was a pilot’s teenage daughter. I can’t wait until the first TSA agent is indicted for some kind of criminal act related to the scanners because let’s all remember that each one comes with its own capacity for storing images and a USB port. It’s got to be only a matter of time.

At least the scan was over quickly. So now I was outed, but hopefully I could pass quickly, as they could all see I didn’t have the goods of any kind. But no. They wanted to pat me down. Why? Didn’t they just have the equivalent of a strip search? So now I stood with my legs apart and my arms sticking out like a voodoo doll, as a TSA agent felt through my clothing at the flab he’d just visualized. And while this was going on, another TSA agent was collecting my many bins from the conveyor belt, asking which were mine. Without moving any of my limbs, I attempted to point with only my head. Don’t get pissy with me, TSA lady, I thought. You’re the ones who make me put my computers into their own bins, and pull out the toiletries and take off my shoes and coat. Of course I have 5 bins! I’m just following your rules. And yet this guy behind me thinks I may have diamonds up my fat ass. If I have a present for him, I can assure him it’s not that. Pass that message on while you dump my belongings onto that bench for anyone to steal, okay? Thanks!

Finally we were on the plane and after some knee-numbing flight time, we arrived in Denver. Again, the mental concept of “the mile-high city,” and the experience are wholly separate events. The air is so thin, and I so unused to the elevation, that I made besties with a bottle of Advil. Typically I don’t drink a lot of water, due to a chronic condition that I have where water = bad, but here I was gulping down gallons of Colorado’s finest. Simple walks of a few blocks in the oxygen-light atmosphere and lactic acid builds up quickly in the muscles. I’m not sure how the football, basketball, baseball, and hockey teams manage. Over time, a human will produce more red blood cells in this environment to grab onto as many oxygen atoms as they can find but apparently, this does not happen in five days of living there. So ibuprofen and I bonded, big time.

Susanne attended her conference and I snuck in, just twice, once to hear Drs. Chandra Mohanty and M. Jacqui Alexander give their plenary on collaboration, and once to go to a panel of trans identities. The plenary I wrote about already and the panel presentation is a story for another time. It just amuses me that no matter the topic, conferences have the same effect for the practitioners in their field: they boil down nuanced ideas into brief talking points, they make cliques more established and impenetrable, and they help newer members in the field meet each other. They also usually have book sales. The great big piles of freebies though, those have disappeared. It’s a damn shame.

It was a few days later when I began to deeply appreciate the rainforest of the western edge of Washington State. Oh Seattle, there are things worse than rain. Denver is a pretty frontier city, and one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever seen. So if people would start handing out little air respirators, I might consider moving there. I do also have roughly 30 relatives in Denver, with whom it was great to spend time last weekend. And clearly they’ve found a way to breathe headache-free over the decades they’ve been there, so it must be possible.

We humans, we adapt. We just may grumble about it while it’s happening.

Photo credit: Dagpeak on Flickr
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4 Comments on “Oxygen thrives in the rainforest”

  1. hsofia
    November 15, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    Sorry to hear you had trouble breathing in Denver. I’ve been there twice (to visit places at higher elevation) and seem to be unaffected by the altitude, even though I’ve lived at sea level pretty much my entire life. The body is a funny thing. I liked your summation of conferences: conferences have the same effect for the practitioners in their field: they boil down nuanced ideas into brief talking points, they make cliques more established and impenetrable, and they help newer members in the field meet each other. Sounds so accurate to these ears.

    • evmaroon
      November 15, 2010 at 10:33 am #

      It was just a strange sensation, like I was a little loopy. Our first night out we went to an Irish pub downtown and had only made it through half a beer when we thought we were a lot drunker than we should have been. Our waitress laughed at us (with good nature) because this happens to visitors all the time. It certainly kept our tab down. One was enough for me!

  2. Q.V.
    November 20, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    I feel for you about the elevation. I was in Banff for 10 days once, and though it wasn’t quite a mile at 4,800 ft, it was enough of a change to send me to the doctor with strange headaches. Turns out it was less the elevation than the combination of some really effective binding and a free buffet three times a day. They gotta plan for the Indigenous Characters at the buffet, enough of us are zero-to-two generations from starvation that we can really shut that dessert table down.

    And your body scan story hits my heart, it is such an invasive process. Just watched an election worker hesitate over the “gender” part of my voter registration today, then decide to skip it altogether it couldn’t immediately be verified on my ID, and I was glad I didn’t need a pat-down to vote in a city council byelection.

    • evmaroon
      November 20, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

      I didn’t have that issue in Banff. I wonder if there’s a difference between flying and driving to these elevations. I was at a pass in the US Rockies that was 9,000 feet high, and I didn’t have too much difficulty, now that I think of it. And yes, binding will really put a damper on breathing!

      About the scanners: when I wrote this post people were arguing about sexism related to the TSA staff, but since then a woman has been told to take off her prosthetic breast, and a man has had his urostomy bag patted so hard it broke, drenching him in his own urine. These are not laughable incidents, so I don’t want anyone to think I’m making light of them. I just cannot believe this is the only way to keep travelers and residents safe.

      Canada requires gender for voter registration? Is that a Harper thing? WTH?

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