April 17, 2009
The Case of the Curious Customs Agent
We (Me, Anh, Samwich) went to France for a couple of weeks (more on that to come). We have travelled internationally a bunch since I’ve transitioned, and never previously had any challenges getting into other countries, or back to the states. (We’ve been to France, Italy and Spain (Canada too!), and I’ve been to Israel as well)
I was initially concerned that because my passport still (and will) says: Gender M; that it would raise questions or we’d be stopped for additional questioning. In fact, the only time we ever got stopped was coming back from Spain – and that was at customs, not passport control – as it seems like they additionally screen everyone coming back from Spain because of the prevalence of Ham Smuggling (I kid you not, and this is NOT a euphemism). We had no ham, just some gummi bears in that international smuggler Samwich’s backpack that under x-ray appear ham-like.
Now, I also do something a little trouble-maker-like (I know you are shocked) – I fill out only one customs form for the three of us, as we are a family, and it asks “Number of People in Your Family Travelling with You”. We are legally married, and I see no reason to do anything different.
Anyway, we got back Wednesday, glad to have gone, glad to be back. We flew direct on Air France from Paris (nice airline…. order the kids meal for your kids). When we got to passport control, I gave the passports and the customs slip to the agent, who was a late 30’s, early 40’s Latina woman. (The agent who I’ve gotten many times before, who is a big, bald, white guy was in the next booth, but we didn’t pull him. The most I’ve gotten from him before is “Where do you work?” and then a hearty “Welcome Home!”. It was not to be that simple…)
“Where are you going?”
Me: “Home? We live in Seattle.”
“Are you carrying any food items?”
Me: “Yes, chocolate.” (And declared on the form).
She flipped the form over a couple of times, looked at me, Anh, Samwich….. paused.
“How are you all related?”
Me: (Slowly, and looking right into her eyes, leaning forward slightly) “We are legally married.”
“Is this your son?” (Looking at all three passports again)
Me: “Yes, we are his parents.”
Here’s where it went totally off the tracks. She’s now holding my passport, looking at it intently, and she clearly sees the “Gender: M” thing.
“I have to ask, because of your appearance…. Can you explain?”
Me: “I am transgendered. I transitioned from male to female, because of the passport rules, I am still ‘Male’. However, we were legally married before, and we still are.”
“And you like it better, being a girl?”
I had no idea how to even answer that.
Me: “I am who I am.”
“And you are still married?”(To Anh) “What, are you just like best friends or something? Not really ‘married’?”
Anh: “No, we are married. Married.”
“How does that work?”
Anh: “It just does. We are married.”
“And you are ok with that?”
“And this is your son?”
Anh: “Yes, this is our biological son.”
“And you just like live together now, like friends.”
Me and Anh: “No, we are married.”
“Were you like best friends or something before?”
Anh: “No, I didn’t know about this before we got married.”
She shook her head, and kind of gave us that look like “Well, Whatever”
“I have to ask.”
I’m not sure she did.
“Huh…. I’ve never seen *this* before.”
What like, heffalumps and woozles?
“Ok, thanks for telling me your story.”
Like I had a choice?
“You can go.”
Anh and I looked at each other, kind of shocked as we walked to get our bags. It felt not great, and certainly not within the bounds of normal customs practice. I’m sure the fifty people in line behind us really appreciated her intensive questioning of the trans-family.
Don’t you feel safer knowing that Homeland Security is on the job?