On traveling while trans

Let me just start off by saying, I’m not great at the whole “passing” business that many trans people aim towards. My girlfriend would probably disagree, but she is of course highly subjective on the matter. I am tall, much taller than most women, clocking in at an impressive 6’ 3’’, and I have an Adam’s apple that reminds one of the nose of a great white poking through my throat. I’m not hideous looking, and I’m quite comfortable with my appearance, but the point is, most people looking at me will at the very least hold suspicions about my gender identity, if not outright clock it immediately.

To a trans person, travel can be one of the more stressful parts of life, in particular international travel, because you are stepping very far out of your comfort zone. Most of us have heard the horror stories, such as the discrimination often present at airport security, but a lot of those tales which circulate on the wonderfully wicked web are America-centric, so here I thought I’d share what it’s like on the other side of the pond, in beautiful Europe.

What it’s like in an airport

It’s utterly fine. No, seriously. I have never even gotten so much as a strange glance from airport security. At the bag security check place, I have been patted down, twice, once because I set off the alarm, and once because of a random security check (the “random check” was at about 2 in the morning in Stansted airport, and I was the second person through on a very quiet morning, so we all had a giggle about it!) and both times, all was good.

The security check pat down people are always two people, one male, one female, so you have someone of your gender patting you down (airports subscribe to a gender binary approach it seems). Both times the female officer did the pat down, and was completely professional about it. No awkwardness, nothing, not even around the crotch area. They treat you exactly as you present. I am lucky in that my passport also reflects my gender identity and has an updated picture, so at passport control, I also receive no problems. In any of the countries in Europe I have visited, including France, Spain and Germany.

People are kinder than you imagine, but you still have to be careful

I’m not sure what expectations travellers from outside of Europe have of Europeans, but those in Western and Central Europe are, by and large, a live and let live kind of people. They see a gigantic trans woman strolling down the street, hand in hand with her girlfriend, and the most you get is a quizzical glance.

This can and does change, however, at night. If you are going out for a night of drinking and general merriment, be prepared for some people to start making comments, or even coming right up to you and asking questions. I was once at a bar in Spain, ordering drinks at the bar when a woman, who was standing next to me at the bar, leaned over and asked, rather loudly, if I was a woman. After I had reassured her that I was most definitely a woman, she smiled, and said that she would kill to have my legs, and wandered off. Also, in Britain, it is not uncommon for young men in fast cars to yell things at me as I walk down the street and they drive past.

Changing rooms can cause you anxiety

A lot of people like to shop. I myself freaking love to go clothes shopping, and when abroad, that’s even more fun, as many places have unique shops and styles you would be hard pressed to find in your home country. German, for instance, has the dirndl, and a more adorable little number you couldn’t hope to find on an adult woman anywhere.

However, this also brings up the age old fear many trans women have about changing rooms. You’re in a foreign country, you have no idea whether anything will fit, and you are even more nervous about trying it on, because you have no idea whether the people here are going to discriminate against you. Well, don’t be scared. Like most retail store workers, they just see another customer, with clothes to try on. You will be fine. My partner and I occasionally play a game where we go into town, find a big shop and see who can find the most awful and ugly outfit for the other to try on, and not once has anyone seemed the least bit bothered by me using the changing rooms, so just go for it!

But overall, it’s totally worth it

Europe is lovely, come and visit! I had many fears about travelling as a trans person, but honestly, once I got started, I haven’t really stopped. I’ve flown five times since July, and the amount of hours spent on trains, ferries and in cars beggars belief One of the biggest lessons I learnt that most people everywhere really don’t care about your gender identity enough to bother you as you go about your holiday. You keep to yourself, and don’t cause trouble, and you will have a wonderful time exploring here.

Sally Higginson is a writer, amateur adult and professional quidditch player (no, seriously), finding life in all the weirdest places.