The terror attacks of September 11, 2001 sent shockwaves of ugly consequences into the world. Some of those consequences were intended, immediate, and grave—things such as the death of many innocent people and the fear and political unrest that settled over our great nation and over much of the rest of the world—but there have also been other more peripheral and far-removed instances of fallout from that fateful day, things that few people would have imagined at the time. For example, would the nineteen hijackers ever have imagined that their confused and deplorable actions would result in my near sexual assault at the hands of a tattooed TSA worker nearly sixteen years later? Did they ever dream—as they boarded the planes and readied their box cutters—that one day their actions would lead to a Christian man from Wisconsin publicly and humiliatingly getting his package felt up by another American male who was also probably Christian (if we play the numbers game regarding religious identifications in the U.S.). No, the terrorists probably didn’t imagine that scenario—which would be like some vanilla icing on their death-to-the-West cake—but I’m sure that they would clap, hoot, and snicker if they could view footage of my ordeal from beyond the grave. Two grown, Christian men forced to take part in a humiliating and emasculating public display, HA!
I hadn’t flown in a while, so when my wife and I got ready to pass through security at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell airport to embark on our much-needed escape to Miami, I was excited to be leaving behind the gray skies of March in Wisconsin, but I was also a little nervous about the unsmiling TSA employees and the strange security scanner that stood between me and my vacation.
The full-body security scanner looked otherworldly and intimidating, like something that was going to send me up to the starship Enterprise or simply obliterate me with impunity. It looked like one of those plastic canisters that you put into the pneumatic tube system at the bank’s drive-through, except this container wasn’t used for something as jovial as sending birthday checks and deposit slips over to some overdressed teller so she could credit your account. This thing was life-sized—big enough for a large adult to fit into—and it appeared to have been made to break, or at least humble and humiliate, all who entered it.
The scanning chamber had yellow footprints on its floor, and travelers were supposed to align themselves over these footprints as they assumed some sort of “surrender pose,” or maybe we could call it a “being-arrested” pose. Regardless of any semantics regarding the stance that entrants are encouraged (ok, obligated) to take inside of this futuristic contraption, the pose is undoubtedly one of submission, one where hands are thrust up into the air and behind the head. (Or was it hands just to the side of the head? I couldn’t tell specifics from the diagram, and perhaps that contributed to what occurred next).
As previously mentioned, I hadn’t flown in a while, and in my naivete—or perhaps simply in my vitamin-D-deficient hast to get to Miami’s beaches and sunshine—I flinched inside of the scanner. I moved my feet off the yellow marks too quickly, or maybe I just turned my hips or hands the wrong way, but suddenly we had a problem. And by we I mean me.
I was told to step out of the contraption and off to the side of the main security line. I was told that a pat-down was about to take place, and based on the lengthy preamble given by the TSA worker, it promised to be a good one.
“Sir, I’m going to have to touch you all over,” said the bearded TSA worker who seemed grim and jaded beyond his years, “and I’m going to have to move my hands especially slowly and deliberately as I approach and then manually investigate your penis.” Or at least that’s the way I heard it. And then this defender of liberty proceeded to feel me up and down, running a hand into and around the waistbands of my jeans and boxers.
“What set this all off?” I managed to ask through my confusion. I was feeling a mix of impatience, embarrassment, and righteous anger rise up inside of me as our little sideshow played out for the rest of the travelers to see, but I still managed to ask a pertinent question. Somehow I knew that I’d later wonder about the stated reason for this all.
“Something right in there,” the TSA agent answered, pointing, I think, to my crotch. “Would you like to go into a separate screening room?”
Visions of sinister and unchecked TSA agents planting narcotics on me or sexually abusing me behind closed doors flashed through my head. “No thanks,” I said. “You can just do whatever you have to do right here.”
I looked in front of me and noticed that my wife was also getting what seemed to be special attention from the TSA agents. My wife is from Argentina, I thought. Maybe there is some special security threat that has everyone on alert today for interracial couples who are traveling through airports. Or maybe this is just some new, quasi-racist policy from the desk of The Big Trump. Or maybe this particular shift of TSA workers is just prejudiced in some way (or just calloused) and does these things for fun. Such is the paranoid and conspiratorial nature of a man’s thoughts when he has been whisked aside and treated as a probable threat to his fellow travelers. I hadn’t as much as a contraband bottle of shampoo with me, but here I was being treated as if some evidence of a next-generation explosive had been found scotch-taped beneath my scrotum or nestled into a more covert location that would lend new meaning to the term dirty bomb.
“Listen, I don’t enjoy doing this either, man,” the TSA worker said as he moved on to Part Two of our search, the part that really seemed to focus on my inner thighs and beyond.
I nodded with pursed lips, indignant. It took every ounce of restraint that I had to bite my tongue so that I didn’t say, “I highly doubt that” or something similarly smart-assed. But bite my tongue I did, and then I thought for a moment about how the murderous actions of nineteen assholes in 2001 had thrown us all into a different world and put so many people into scenarios they didn’t want to be in.
We were all just taking family vacations (I was in Boston with my parents and wife) and pursuing degrees and watching the markets go up and unknowingly enjoying the last few days of a world that was about to change. And then the planes crashed, laws changed, long wars started, and people became less trusting. And then somehow, sixteen years after the fact of the fallen towers, this underpaid TSA agent ended up with his hands on my manhood in a public sphere at 5 o’clock on an otherwise pleasant Monday evening. This world can be messed up, and we are all victims of the chaos at times.
“I know you don’t, man,” was all that I said to the TSA worker who had become my momentary captor. And soon enough the whole scene was over, and I was enjoying a Dos Equis on a cramped but safe plane bound for the Sunshine State.