Trans-border crossings

Strip searching transsexual or intersexed individuals has never been easy, but it’s about to get more complicated

by Alex Ballingall

Trans-border crossings

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Nothing is simple in the post-9/11 world of border security. That’s especially so in an era when a person boarding a plane might refuse to be identified as a man or a woman. Given that, the Canada Border Services Agency has developed a new strip search guideline. But now it’s a question of whether they’ve made things even more complicated.

Released in August, the protocol applies to “transsexual or intersexed” individuals; people who strongly identify or seek to live as a member of the opposite sex, have undergone surgery to physically change their sex, or were born with a mix of male and female reproductive parts. Such people can now choose from three options when faced with a strip search at the border: they can be searched by male border officers or female border officers—or receive a “split search.” That’s where things get interesting.

Two groups of officers perform the search. The person being examined strips the clothes from their upper body, and a team of officers from one sex perform the search. Then, the person puts their top back on and strips off the bottom half of their clothing before a second group of officers of the other sex scrutinizes down there. The whole process is observed by at least one non-participating officer to ensure everything is on the level. For those counting, that’s at least five officers for every split search.

The CBSA’s Patrizia Giolti says the agency had no previous guidelines on how to search “transsexual and intersexed” people. The change brings them in line with the practices that were adopted by many police agencies after a 2006 decision by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. It ruled that Peel Regional Police should have allowed Rosalyn Forrester—a transsexual born as a male—to choose the gender of the cop who strip-searched her. “It’s always been problematic for trans people,” says Marie Little, chair of Vancouver’s Trans Alliance Society. She says the CBSA guideline—despite its complexities—is a step in the right direction. “The fact that it’s a choice, or an option, that’s completely positive.”

The fact that many border officers will now be preoccupied with a single strip search, maybe not so much.




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Trans-border crossings

  1. Sigh……only in Canada.

    • No, there are Intersex people everywhere. 1 in 300 men don’t have the XY chromosomes most men do, for example. In some parts of the world, 2% of people change sex naturally from the one they look like at birth, it’s more common than the mutation that causes red hair.

      Most Intersex people don’t know they’re Intersex though, many conditions can only be detected by lab tests.

      Others are blatant, and easily detected by a strip search. Yes, it causes problems. This sounds like a humane solution that will only be applicable to a few thousand passengers a year, out of a million. There are millions though, so tens of thousands are affected.

  2. my guess is the reality really is, rather then typical over blown ideas, that how ever many officers typically are part of a search would be the total number at any given time. So if typically there are two of them, then that’s how many would be in a room at any time. Not 4.  Do keep in mind this is an article and not a real quote from the guidelines. I expect the guidelines read much different then what is reported.

  3. Most ‘acceptable’ identification shows a ‘sex’ designation. I personally ran across this issue more than once in my career. My decision at that time was the clients identification determined their sex. If they wished to be treated as the opposite sex of that displayed on their identification it was their duty to have it changed.
    The issue at that time was a male having undergone hormone therapy to grow breasts and therefore insisting on a bed in a female dorm. I refused it on the grounds his identification showed him to be male, backed up by his recent incarceration in a male federal prison.
    I did accept his complaint that he was being stared at when changing clothes in the male dorm, I also pointed out that his unique physique would likely cause a similar response in the female dorm. A male with a full beard and breasts generated this sort of curiosity from both males and females. However in the female dorm when changing clothes the female clients there would be subjected to him exposing male genetalia when changing clothes, and this was clearly against the institutions policy.

    • Except if they’re born in Ohio, Florida, Tennessee or some parts of Texas (but not others), they can’t get the documentation changed. An Intersex woman will still have a male birth certificate even if she’s given birth to three children.

      This means that some people end up with different Federal and State ID documentation. If they were born overseas, they can be male in one country, female in another. There’s been plenty of court rulings that say that when it comes to Intersex and Trans people, ID documentation isn’t worth spit. Some states will change the birth certificate – but courts in that state will ignore it.

      Just because a person was incarcerated in a Federal male prison, that’s not reliable. There have been court cases where it was clearly ruled that the government has no responsibility to make sure someone is put in the prison for their sex – even if they’re not Intersex or Trans, but cis- like you. Yes, women have ended up in male jails, with the foreseeable consequences. Sometimes Intersex women, sometimes Trans women, and sometime plain old vanilla cis-sexual women of the usual kind.

      Sorry, I know our existence complicates your life – but yes, some women have genitalia more male than female, and were born that way. Other women contract Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and can end up with full beards as the result.

      If someone is undergoing hormone therapy as the result of medical treatment to feminise them, then they should be treated in all respects as female. For one thing, if you don’t, the treatment may be discontinued. I know that sounds absurd, but in it’s true: in order to qualify for a male-to-female transition, the patient must live as, and be treated by others as, female for a year before surgery can be authorised.

      • So in your opinion I should have subjected 3 females to being forced to stay in the same dormitory as this functioning male who was male, had male genitalia, and had recently undergone hormone therapy to grow breasts… because the 3 females rights were less significant that the males rights?
        I disagree.

        • If this person was being prescribed HRT, then yes. One of the first effects is chemical castration, much to the patient’s relief. Or didn’t you know that?

          Note I said “prescribed”. There’s a difference between someone misusing black-market hormones, and undergoing medical treatment. I was careful with my phraseology. I suspect you see no difference, which is why you refer to them as “him” and as “male”. They may not be. If undergoing prescribed feminisation therapy, they’re not.

          • Clearly you only see what you want to see, note above in the previous post prior to your latest rant ” FUNCTIONING MALE” now reread your response.
            And NO this persons rights do not supersede the rights of others. Your bias seems to have you feeling entitled to rights above and beyond those of others, sorry, you get the same rights, not more, and neither did he.

          • Okay, Cleargreen, let me turn things a little bit for you.  If the individual in question had been on hormones for a significant period of time and generally appeared to be female and lived full time as a woman (e.g.  short of a strip search, you’d never know), should that person be forced to stay in the “men’s quarters”?

            Think carefully about this, because there are significant implications for all involved.  The shape of the genitalia are but one dimension of gender.  Would you consider that person to be “safe” when placed in a male space?  (especially in environments such as prisons, although college dorms have their own issues with safety for trans people)

            Further, in what respect does this person represent any kind of threat to other females?  Yes, for a brief period of time, they may “raise a few eyebrows”, but do they in fact represent any kind of threat?  … and if they do, please provide the supporting evidence upon which you base that claim.

  4. I’m Intersex.

    I look normally female, but anyone looking at my chromosomes and endocrine system would wonder whether I qualify as human, let alone a woman. It doesn’t show. Oh yes, and I used to look as normally male as I look female now. Fortunately the transitional period was short (the changes nearly killed me, but that’s another matter)

    There are women – and men – with “ambiguous genitalia”. Identification documentation is not reliable, some laws are positively stupid, unjust, inhuman and plain bizarre. My birth certificate says “boy” because that’s what I looked most like at birth – yet my passport says “F” based on biological reality as well as current appearance. I can’t get it changed without a change in the law.

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