I imagine that one of the things many people would like to do once the pandemic is resolved and we can go back to doing what we desire is just go somewhere. Someplace like, say, Hawai’i or Florida or, once the U.S. borders reopen, Canada or Europe. Most likely, depending on the destination and travel arrangements, the travel will require getting on a plane… especially to Hawai’i and Europe because, the last I noticed, there has yet to be built a road long enough to cross an entire ocean.
Staying on good ol’ terra firma has always been my preferred mode of transportation. Oh, it’s not as if I’ve never gotten on a plane before. Indeed, I’ve flown on three occasions — once for a family vacation; once for a business-related trip; and once to a destination where, uh, I was expected to be spit-polish perfect (the more vague I am about that, the better off I’ll feel). The last of those airplane rides occurred 24 years ago…
And in all those instances, I flew as Male Mode Me.
Which brings me to the topic of a crossdresser flying the friendly skies in female mode — or “flying pretty” to borrow a term I’ve seen recently. It reminded me of an episode of the reality competition show He’s a Lady, which had a short run on TBS back in 2004. For those who never saw the show (or my blog entry recalling it), it featured cisgender male contestants being challenged to present themselves as women, learning tips on makeup and comportment and other activities related to the fairer gender. Their mission was to learn about being better men while being women… with the one judged the best at doing so earning a quarter of a million dollars.
In the second-to-last episode of He’s a Lady, the remaining contestants were required to leave Hollywood for their respective hometowns. While there, they met up with friends and family, performed housework, and baked apple pies. Oh, and they required to do all of that while en femme. See, outside of reaping rewards for winning certain challenges, they had to present themselves in female personas to anyone from the “outside world.”
But perhaps there was one other exception to that rule: As I recall how this episode of He’s a Lady played out, the remaining contestants at one moment were all dolled up with suitcases in hand, then half a minute or so later were seen walking down their home streets wearing the same wigs and dresses they wore in Hollywood. In between those moments, the show used as a visual bridge stock footage of planes leaving LAX; viewers actually didn’t see the contestants at the ticket gate or on the planes.
That moment led me to believe that, for the purposes of trans-continental air transportation, these men who were learning to be ladies still had to travel as men.
I had a couple of reasons for this theory. First, TBS and He’s a Lady‘s producers, outside of a promotional press release and on-air teasers, likely wanted to keep the show under wraps as much as possible before it hit the air. That meant drawing up and signing non-disclosure agreements; cloaking the production under a fake, oh-so-masculine title and premise (which was what lured the contestants to the show in the first place); and making sure the safety and privacy of those contestants were paramount. If that meant they had to travel back home as men — and not make them the target of Hollywood paparazzi or a disdaining general public — so be it. I’m sure the show’s production budget included hotel rooms where the men could change into and out of women’s clothing while back home.
The other theory I had in mind was much more serious, and for the show’s times: TBS produced and aired He’s a Lady in 2004, three short years after evil perpetrators utilized the American air travel system to bring about truly unimaginable horrors. It was a tragedy that, when He’s a Lady aired 37 months later, was still on everyone’s mind and impacting everyone’s lives in political, logistical, cultural, and psychological terms.
So, even if a production crew with big cameras and boom mics were there capturing their every move (“Don’t worry, it’s for a TV show”), the sight of men presenting themselves as women to the general flying public, all part of their aim to win a quarter of a million bucks, could have been — in 2004 anyway — peculiar to TSA security and, especially, unsettling to fellow passengers. After one look up and down at their appearance, even after learning the reason, they probably would’ve asked with bewilderment (and, heavens forbid, disgust), “What the hell is this?”
Suffice it to say, how the contestants of He’s a Lady got home in that episode (and how they presented themselves when doing so) was only a sidelight on a competitive reality TV show. I mean, it’s a world where anything can be conveniently edited out, or distorted beyond truthfulness, for the sake of making a compelling hour-long episode. Still, it’s tempting to think of how that show could have pulled a gender-bending move at such a daring location. Yes, doing so would’ve made the show the target of anti-LGBT prudes even more than it already was… but potentially speaking, it would’ve made the show the talk of the TV world, if only for a short showbiz news cycle.
But that’s reality TV. For me? I admit that “flying pretty” is something I’ll likely never do. Part of my reasoning is that I have always been a bit insecure with how I present myself to the general public. Yes, at this point I can hear you saying, “You look passable; you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.” And, yes, it’s not as if I’ve never been out of the house en femme. But compared to restaurants and coffee houses and pride events, the airport is a totally different, more urgent atmosphere. I would have to honestly confirm my male-mode identity to the TSA, which would breach that Berlin Wall-like separation I choose to keep between my male and female identities. Plus, the strange looks I might get from fellow travelers — people who may not appreciate any sort of trans person — would adversely affect the self-confidence I yearn for in presenting myself as Allison to the outside world.
What could alleviate any fears I might have “flying pretty” would be if I had a supportive flying companion with me… or at least a welcoming flight like what Virgin Atlantic did a couple of years ago. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, Virgin Atlantic conducted a “Pride Flight,” sending 284 passengers and crew across the Atlantic Ocean from London to Newark in time for WorldPride in New York City. Judging from at least this post-flight video from Virgin and this report by Forbes, it was a big honkin’ show: Rainbow regalia everywhere. A fully LGBT-identifying crew. Drinks were served. Music was pulsating. People danced (at least when they didn’t have to stay buckled in at takeoff and landing). Celebrities and drag performers contributed to the festivities. Wigs and extravagant costumes didn’t have to be stowed away in the baggage hold. And everyone felt safe flying as the identity they know themselves to be.
Obviously, that “Pride Flight” was a special occasion, one that doesn’t occur every day or week or even year. So in lieu of that, I would be comfortable enough if, hypothetically, at least one person from the trans/CD support group I’m part of were traveling with me. Here’s how I’d hope my interaction with the TSA would play out:
Me: Yes, I’m wearing a wig and a dress. That’s how I’m traveling today.
TSA agent: But your ID and documents say you’re male.
My traveling companion/hype person: Yeah, they do, but look at how gorgeous she is! Can we get a what-what?!
Luckily, according to this information link for trans passengers from the TSA website, if I am subject to a pat-down, I can request it be done in private, and have it done by an officer of the same gender I would be presenting myself as. In other words, if Allison needs to be patted down (uh uh, get your head out of the gutter), a female officer would perform the task and not require me to lift any articles of clothing to reveal my, uh, sensitive body areas. If you are trans and need to take a flight, here’s hoping that link will be of good use.
But more than how I may appear or who I may be flying with or anything else, there’s one singular yet extremely overarching thing that will prevent me from “flying pretty,” and that is… I hate to fly! Yeah, you probably figured that out way back at the beginning of this post. That remark about a road bridging one end of the ocean with the other is more of a wish than a throwaway line.
It’s not like I have any sort of phobia about flying; it’s just that I get truly, profoundly uncomfortable being on a plane in the middle of the air. Case in point: On the return portion of my last plane trip, the lights inside the cabin went out for just two seconds. While it didn’t appear to faze anyone else, it left me downright nervous the rest of the flight (“Gee, I hope it was just an attendant accidentally hitting a light switch”). Compared to that, transferring to the next flight and lugging baggage between gates felt like sweet relief.
If I had no other choice but to do so, will I fly again? Well, I admit that… yes, I’ll fly again. But in all likelihood, no matter the reason or who I travel with, I’ll do so as Male Mode Me. He’s the worrywart when it comes to getting from here to there (among other things). Allison is all attitude and confidence… but she wouldn’t look as pretty digging her nails into Seat 13C, nervously staring out the window at the countryside 30,000 feet below, as she would be driving through that same countryside on a bitchin’ set of wheels.
And when you think of it, the beautiful scenery is best appreciated when you’re traveling on the ground. No matter your own airplane experiences, you’d have to agree that’s one advantage flying will never have.