Guest Post by Shay Hansen: Gynecomastia & the TSA

Hello Everyone,

One of my commitments with the store is to help all people find the intimate apparel which suits their needs, preferences, and budgets, including men. Men wear bras for any number of personal and medical reasons, and I have been a strong advocate in not only helping men traverse their own unique fit problems but also in encouraging broader societal acceptance. Through these efforts, I came to meet Shay who has a medical condition known as gynecomastia which causes the benign growth of breasts in biological males. In some cases, the most comfortable way to live with the condition is to wear a bra for support, but while that may be the simplest solution, it’s hardly the easiest one. Our culture is exceptionally hung up on gender norms and body policing. Boys should dress like boys, and girls should dress like girls, right? It not only assigns certain clothing and even behaviors to one gender as being “acceptable,” but it also leaves no room for anyone to depart from those norms, to say nothing of the implications on trans people as well as those who are non-binary or genderqueer. And unfortunately, people can be exceptionally cruel and malicious when presented with someone who behaves outside of the way they expect. Shay and I have discussed this many times via email, and I told him I would really love for him to guest post occasionally on the blog, particularly because he brings a completely different perspective to the table. After some poor timing on both our parts, we finally came together for his introductory post focusing on a terrifying experience where being outside cultural gender norms can have embarrassing repercussions: a body search by the TSA.

Erica

The Guy Wearing a Bra who got searched by the TSA

Who is he?

Have you ever wondered what that guy in a lingerie store is doing, besides shopping for his significant other? That guy is me. I have a benign condition called gynecomastia, which causes breast growth in males, and I wear bras for comfort and support.  Over the years, I have discovered just how fun and expressive bras can be.

I first started wearing bras when I was twenty, as detailed in this blog. The decision was hard since I felt people would view me as less of a man or a freak.  However, I felt more comfortable with the support that the bras provided, so I continued to wear them.

A before/after male breast reduction surgery image courtesy of www.gynecoma.com.

That was 15 years ago.  It is no longer a decision for me.  It is just a piece of clothing that I put on every day.  My tastes in bras have evolved since I bought my first bras – all of them lacy.  At that time, I did not know that there were other, more comfortable and practical bras to be had.  Nowadays, most of my bras are T-Shirt bras.  One of my everyday bras has lace, but most of them do not have any lace.  For the record, I do not wear panties – I am a boxer man!

Over the years, I have had various experiences in wearing bras.  One of the more colorful experiences happened while the TSA was screening me.  It opened my eyes as to what women potentially go through in airport security checkpoints.  Sure enough, one of my female friends shared her horror story with me.  I am surprised this did not happen to me until now.

The Experience

“Sir, are you wearing some kind of brace?”

I looked at the computer screen for the full body scanner.  The squares plainly indicated an alert on the underwire on one side of my bra.  I was annoyed.  Whoever or whatever was monitoring the scanner images ought to be able to spot an underwire for what it is.

I answered the officer in the affirmative.  The officer searched me with a metal detector wand, which beeped on my bra clasp and underwire.  He began feeling me up.  His hands felt rough on my body.  He ran his hands up and down my back, across my bra clasp and up my bra straps.  I felt violated.

The officer told me I would need to lift up my shirt to show him.  Oh, great!  I get to show my underwear to a TSA officer that I just met and who may not react appropriately!

Image from http://www.newsweek.com/tsa-investigation-finds-73-workers-uss-terrorist-watc-341696

The officer asked me if I would need a private room for the secondary screening.  I indicated that I would.  Two officers came up to me and asked me to identify my property.  I pointed to 3 bins.  I walked over and grabbed my watch.  By this time, I was ticked off and not going to miss my flight without complaint.

“Sir, please don’t … eh … I guess that is ok.”

I had grabbed my watch from the bin and looked at it.  It was just after 5:00 am.  I still had 40 minutes until they started boarding my flight.  Hopefully, this would not take long:  Flash male TSA officers.  Let them see that an underwire bra is an underwire bra.  Go to the gate.  Catch plane.

One of the two TSA officers escorting me grabbed my property bins and roughly stacked them.  He followed me as the other officer led me to a small room.  It had a metal counter, with a single desk lamp providing the light in the place.  There were no chairs. The carpet looked like the TSA had not vacuumed it in 6 months.  The TSA had various items stacked against the walls.  A rectangular mirror leaned against the right wall.

“I am wearing a bra!  I have a big chest, and it is more comfortable that way”, I asserted.

The two officers who were in the room with me and blocking the door did not immediately respond.  They asked me to lift up the back of my shirt, which I dutifully did.  It seemed like an eternity as I held my shirt up as high as possible without having to slide it over my chest.  I waited and waited, having no idea what they were doing back there.  After what seemed like an eternity, the officers indicated that I had passed inspection.

“May I get dressed now?” I asked in a thoroughly annoyed voice.

“Yes, you can,” one of the officers responded.

Then they were gone, and I was alone in the room.  I put on my socks, shoes, belt, and jewelry.  I packed up my laptop and other electronic devices (I have a lot!), grabbed my bags and left the security checkpoint.  The officers whom I’d just shown my bra were nowhere in sight.
The Aftermath
I could not help but wonder if the officer reviewing the full body scans, supposedly able to see my guy parts, thought it would be funny to subject me to secondary screening.  Upon further research, I learned that the scanners now use Automated Target Recognition (ATR) software so that TSA officers do not have to review the images themselves.  It is unclear to me whether it is true that there no human component in evaluating the raw scans, and whether the TSA erases the scans after review.

I left the security checkpoint feeling violated.  I did not expect the TSA to put me through such an intimate inspection.  I suppose I should be thankful that they did not stick their hands in my bra cups or make me take it off.  However, I find it hard to feel that way when I was taken to a dark and imposing room and asked to show my underwear.  As a survivor of several sexual assaults, it is quite hard for me to reconcile that what happened was somehow OK in the name of national security.

Reflections

Some friends of mine have asked me if I would stop wearing bras through the airport because of this.  The answer is no.  I may wear a wireless bra, but I do not see a purpose in not wearing a bra altogether.  I do not want to dodge something that women deal with all the time – and should not have to in my opinion.

Fifty-one percent of the population is female, and the vast majority of bras on the market have underwires in them.  The TSA’s scanners do not alert on every person who walks through a checkpoint with an underwire bra.  These scanners can recognize metal implants, artificial joints, and other implanted medical devices and not return false positives.  As an experienced technology professional myself, I find it hard to believe that these scanners cannot be (and have not been) taught to recognize an underwire bra for what it is, regardless of the gender of the wearer. As an aside, if the TSA ever pulls you into a private room for additional screening, please know that you have a right to take a witness of your choosing with you, in order to witness your screening.

The experience made me more sensitive to what women can potentially go through when being screened by airport security.  I told a couple of female friends what happened and they both told me horror stories – with one having to remove her bra in public for French screeners.  In a way, it does make me want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these women.  I suppose it is my way of saying, “if you are going to screen women’s bras with a potentially unnecessary level of scrutiny, you might have to end up screening my bra too.”

Guest Post by Shay Hansen: Gynecomastia & the TSA
Erica

Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.


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17 thoughts on “Guest Post by Shay Hansen: Gynecomastia & the TSA

  • December 21, 2017 at 3:41 pm
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    Your experience is uncalled for and reflects the humiliation we’re expected to endure for some nebulous (and imaginary) “security.” I have had extra and somewhat invasive patting due to wearing a bra extender as well as underwire. I wish we had recourse. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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    • December 29, 2017 at 11:33 pm
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      You’re welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your support. 🙂

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  • December 21, 2017 at 5:19 pm
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    Thanks Shay for sharing and to Erica for posting his story I have had similar stories. TSA yes but in stores women have made not so nice comments and so much more. There is really no place in our society for this kind of behavior. Robin you are right we need recourse.

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    • Erica
      December 22, 2017 at 2:25 pm
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      I’m glad you enjoyed the post although I am sorry to hear you’ve been on the receiving end of hurtful comments from shoppers. 🙁

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  • December 22, 2017 at 7:21 am
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    Erica, I cannot thank you enough for posting an article like this! The only reason sometimes make it through with out being checked is because I am TSA pre approved and I emphasize the sometimes part. I know that the second I go through and see that display with 2 squares on my chest that I am getting checked somehow, underwire or soft cup does not matter. Although I have not needed to lift my shirt yet for them. But I always get the patting on my chest and back and it drives me crazy! One thing that helps is that many underwires are not actually metal, many are actually plastic and fly under the radar better so to speak. Just a thought for the next time you travel because I love my underwires too.

    Shane, kudos for bra wearing! I find most are very understanding and even more so once you explain the condition.

    Erica, I bet you cannot take the dogs on the plane since they are “Jack Russell terrorists”! 😉 I love the term, I have two dogs and have referred to them a terrorists for the longest time!

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    • Erica
      December 22, 2017 at 2:25 pm
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      You are welcome! I was appalled by his experience and thought it showcased some of the larger issues bra-wearing folks face. Are your dogs terriers? I find terrier owners call their dogs terrorists more often than not. I always say mine have a lot of personality, not all of it’s good but it is a personality! 😀

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      • December 23, 2017 at 6:22 pm
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        I have a beagle mix and a Caviler King Spaniel mix, the beagle is a ruthless tyrant that runs the house and has better engineering skills than most people to get to food and is not afraid to “speak his mind” for what he wants! The Caviler is a pure lover. two very dynamic personalities!

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      • December 29, 2017 at 11:49 pm
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        Oh – I didn’t know you were appalled. I feel validated. 🙂 It was quite the sub-optimal experience.

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  • December 22, 2017 at 6:38 pm
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    Thank you Shay and Erica for enlightening people about this condition. I had never heard of it. Very well written, informatuve, and entertaining.

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    • December 29, 2017 at 11:50 pm
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      Thank you for reading. It means a lot to me personally to have women such as yourself read and understand my condition and why I wear bras.

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  • December 23, 2017 at 1:38 am
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    Shay, Thank you for posting your experiance. I have apreciated your posts on another blog and your efforts to be so very helpful to us all. I am male and need wear a bra full time. I have yet to fly in these days of the TSA. However, if I do your advice will be valuable. Thank You Erica fot all you do and for having Shay as a guest.
    -Terri

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  • December 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm
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    Jack Russell terrorists — well said, daughter had one. Jack was ok, but needed to know who was boss, especially when it came to walks — best to you and great on the TSA, as to be expected…guess under-wire, looks suspicious —- maybe just a chance for a feel..

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  • December 23, 2017 at 9:21 pm
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    It was quite the experience! It was the first time I actually got searched by the full-on. I’ve read some blogs that say that guys that decide to go the bra route with their gynocomastia ought to stick to sports bras, and that “straps are for girls”. I really do find that to be quite unhelpful, since you often need different bras for different situations. I shouldn’t have to stick to wire-free bras or whatever won’t set off the scanner just to avoid getting molested by the TSA.

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  • December 24, 2017 at 3:57 pm
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    Erica,

    As a bra wearing male with an unwanted prominent chest, thank you for serving this underserved and growing population. And thank you for highlighting these kinds of things that Shane and all of us bra wearers (male and female) must endure. I didn’t ask to have breasts and would have rather lived my life as a regular flat chested male. But that is not what happened. There are so many times I wish I could put on just a tee shirt and go about my daily business, like any female with breasts do and no one cared. I hope that day is not too far in the future. I look forward to visiting you store soon. I reside relatively close to Burlington. I would rather spend my money with a business who understands their customers needs, even if it means going out of my way/spending more for the product. Again, thank you.

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    • Erica
      December 30, 2017 at 2:39 pm
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      You’re welcome, John! I look forward to working with you and helping you find the right size and styles for you. I too hope that one day there will be a lot less judgment in the world around us and people can do the things which make them happy and work best for them without fear or disdain. <3

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  • December 24, 2017 at 4:55 pm
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    Kudos to you both for authoring (Shay) and hosting (Erica) this post. It’s only through a willingness to speak out about offensive, abusive behavior that it can be addressed and dealt with appropriately. Those in the TSA that are abusing their “authority” need to be disciplined or even dismissed. Training for secondary screening requires modification as well as agent retraining. There’s no excuses for undignified treatment–that applies to both men and women. Complaints should be filed against agents who abuse. If you don’t receive a response indicating suitable corrective action is being taken, I would suggest escalating the issue to a member of Congress that you trust. That might not be the one from your own district–select one who spearheads sexual harassment legislation.

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  • Erica
    December 30, 2017 at 2:40 pm
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    To everyone I didn’t respond to personally, I am very happy you enjoyed Shay’s post and experience, and I am glad I could lend a platform to voice these experiences. He is an incredible person, and I am hoping he’ll write some more posts for us in 2018. *hint hint*

    Reply

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