May 202011

The eels inside my hovercraft.

Do you know how to say ‘my hovercraft is full of eels’ in Dutch? I do: mijn luchtkussenboot zit vol paling. This helpful phrase was included in one of the guides I was looking at so that I could at least pretend to not be a stupid American without any knowledge of the local language when I go to the Netherlands next week. I’m not sure if I will actually need to inform anyone that my hovercraft is full of eels, but it’s good to be prepared.

This will be my first trip to Europe, and I am excited (so excited!) and nervous (possibly more than I am willing to admit). My international travels have been limited to Canada and Mexico. Staying on the same continent didn’t feel like traveling to another country the way that crossing the Atlantic does.

My trip is relatively short–just 5 days.  I am going to Utrecht (a short train ride outside of Amsterdam) to participate in the Performance Studies International conference. I’m not sure if I have any regular readers in the Netherlands (my google analytics report says I might), so if you’re out there… Come say hello at the conference! I will be speaking on Thursday afternoon about queer melancholia. You can check out the entire conference schedule here.

I’m less nervous about anything I might encounter in Utrecht than I am about the experience of getting there. As a trans queer, borders and customs agents are a bit of a minefield. There’s always the question of what the officials will see when they look at me, and whether or not that will match what my documents say. Several years ago, I switched my identity documents over to list my sex as ‘M.’ It’s not how I identify, but after several unpleasant run-ins with cops who took issue with the friction between the ‘F’ on my license and the way I inhabit my body, I decided it would be safer to switch it. Mostly, this has been true, but my gender is slippery (like all the eels in my hovercraft), and lately more strangers have been perceiving me as someone they could call ‘she.’ I don’t know what the customs agents will see when they meet me next week.

I just received my first full value passport since I was 16. For the past several years, US state department policy was to only issue ‘limited’ passports to trans individuals with mismatched documents.  The limited passport was clearly labelled as such, and it expired after one year. To even receive this limited passport, you would have to submit a doctor’s letter verifying that you were a ‘transsexual in the process of sexual reassignment who would be undergoing surgical reassignment in the next year,’ jump through a few more hoops, and pay the full passport fee–and go through it all again the next year.  I have countless expired 1-year limited passports in my files.

Thanks to the advocacy work of countless activists and policy workers, last year the Department of State changed their policy for issuing passports to trans people. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a very helpful guide that I recommend any internationally-traveling trans folks check out. Under the new guidelines, trans people with mismatched documents still have to submit a doctor’s note, but it only has to say that the doctor has treated you for gender transition, and does not have to describe what that treatment entailed. With the new policy, trans people are issued fully valid passports, with a ten-year expiration date. Now I have a full passport for ten years, with an ‘M’ on it. We’ll see what the border patrol thinks– with luck, my hovercraft of eels and I will slip right through.

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