November 20, 2011, was the first time I had downloaded my boarding pass onto my iPhone, and I was feeling like one of the cool kids as I walked up to the TSA podium in Jackson Hole, iPhone and California driver’s license in hand. I had an Ellen DeGeneres “I’m too cool for my boarding pass” bounce to my step.
The TSA lady looked at my license and said, “Whoa! What happened to all your hair? And I see it used to be a different color, ha ha.”
I ha-ha’d back. When the TSA is in a jokey mood, you’re better off chortling along with ’em than bristling at the suggestion that you maybe had aged a bit in the ten years since the photo had been taken.
“Hmm…,” she mused as her forehead slowly converged into a knot. She pulled the card closer to her face for a more official scrutinization.
“This says you are a male.”
To say I was surprised doesn’t quite cover it.
I’ve had that license for over 10 years, but because I’m a squeaky clean law-abiding guest in this country (plus, I’m lucky), I have never been pulled over by the police. And since I have been traveling on my Canadian passport for all those years, none of TSA lady’s colleagues-in-arms had noticed the “M” where the “F” should have been. However, as my current Canadian passport is soon to expire, it was somewhere afloat on the international sea of red tape between the Victor, ID post office and my home and native land at the time of my humiliation.
By the time I recovered my lower jaw from the cold tile floor of the Jackson Hole airport, a supervisor had been summoned and “the situation” explained.
“Do you have any other form of picture ID with your current address on it?”
Rick and I had just moved to Teton Valley as full-time residents the month earlier. Part of the deal of being in the USA on a green card is that when you move, you are obliged to let Immigration Services know your new address within 10 days of moving. Did I mention I’m a law-abider? I had contacted the INS with my new address, but so far, the only photo ID I had to offer was my now completely discredited California driver’s license showing my old California address. I didn’t have so much as 6-month dentist check-up reminder with my new address on me.
As the intricacies of my dilemma washed over me, I remembered that I have conscientiously carried my green card with me everywhere I’ve gone since receiving it, as required by the INS. It was in my purse, which was tucked neatly inside my suitcase so as not to break the “only two carry-on items allowed” rule. (See!! TOTALLY law abiding. Mostly.) I unzipped my suitcase, noticing the long line-up of impatient travelers growing behind me waiting to get through security.
Loupe jammed into eye socket, the supervisor peered with intense focus into the teensy script that is apparently invisibly crammed onto the front of the green card (which is actually white, FYI).
“It says here that your birthdate is January 16, 1959. Okay, that matches, and it says you are female, so you’ve got that going for ya. But we’re going to have to put in a quick call to Immigration Services just to be sure. They’ll ask me a few questions which I’ll relay to you to answer. Would you mind stepping over here, please?”
I immediately lost all ability to remember my mother’s maiden name, what year I graduated from university, and how many children I have. Irrational panic tends to have this effect on me.
And I forgot my suitcase was still open.
In my adrenalin-assisted scurry to get-the-hell-out-of-everyone’s-way, I grabbed my bag, flipping it neatly over to dump the entire contents upside down in a disorderly heap directly in front of the podium. I stared into a spreading layer of intensely personal undergarments, grooming aids, cosmetics, and all the other “tricks ‘o the trade” that fifty-something women use to combat hormonal challenges, fading hair pigment, gravity, etc.
The only positive thing I can say about that particular two minutes of my life was that the line up behind me simultaneously took pity by averting their eyes, finding an immediate need to check their email on their phones, looking for dirt under their fingernails, etc. And aside from me, the only other person intensely interested in the contents of my bag was the TSA lady as she spoke to Immigration Services.
And thus the tide began to turn.
“No, no… no other alarm bells. In fact, there is mounting evidence that she probably is a woman, after all. DMV clerical error. Sorry to trouble you. Buh-bye.”
Fifteen days later, and I’m now officially a female again… for at least 30 days until my permanent card comes in the mail. And this time, I’ll be checking.