Identity Issues

December 5, 2011 · 7 comments

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?”

Oh. Crap.

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.

eBags “Anti-Embarrassment” Packing Cubes

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.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Irv October 25, 2014 at 9:26 pm

My brother’s British wife was flying back to the US after having visited her folks. On the plane, there were two British men, friends who were traveling together. One was pasty white British and the other was Pakistani. They’re going through customs and the pasty white man went first, handed over his passport and whatnot, got a cursory glance, then was waved on. His Pakistani friend stepped up next and the clerk got really excited. “This isn’t your passport!” And sure enough, it wasn’t his passport. The two friends had accidentally switched passports, which meant that the pasty white man has passed through practically unnoticed, even though he had a passport with both a Pakistani name on it and a picture of a different man about 20 shades darker.

As an American, it doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.


Diddy April 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I lived for twenty years in Canada and I travelled a lot in the US, first on the east coast then on the west. I love Washington State and Idaho, passed many lovely summers there and made a lot friends. Then one day, as I was crossing from Alberta, I was stopped at the border for a whole day being questioned on and off and finally ended by being sent home again. My crime? I travelled in a US registered car of my American friend that he left with me in Calgary. US immigration tried to call him but as he was out shopping they did not manage to nail him down. We got nothing against you – I was finally told after eight hours- but this vehicle isn’t gonna make it this time. More than 15 years have passed andI live in Europe now but I never returned and never will. I don’t ‘underestimate’ US immigration agents and I think whoever does is fool and should only blame him/herself.


Peggy Vessey December 6, 2011 at 2:57 pm

What a story! My girlfriend just came back from a trip and told me this one. . .
Friday, before she left, she decided to plant five azaleas in her garden. Washed her hands, took a shower, got ready for her next day departure.
The next day at the airport she went thru all the security procedures – was called aside, re-checked and patted down. . .then taken to a secured area where she was “questioned” and wanded again. She finally burst into tears – afraid – scared . . . she didn’t know why she had set off any reason for panic. This is a beautiful woman of 80 years old on her way to Cabo for a well deserved vacation with family. Her husband of 55 years passed away the month before and the family thought this trip would be good for her.
Well, to the end of the story. . .on her hands was the fragments of the potting soil. . .contents of this is used in making bombs!
Be aware – do not do any gardening if you are going to travel and if you do. . .wear gardening gloves, because traces of soil could remain and get you into a lot of examination by the TSA.


rickandkathy December 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm

There are serious issues in this system… Thanks for sharing, Peggy!


Guri Stark December 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Wow! What a story. I knew you are a unique person, but have never thought about it in terms of identity conflicts.
I am glad you’ll have your correct identity back for your coming birthday.


Jane Lever December 6, 2011 at 9:37 am

…and you look younger in the new ID; how is that possible?



Sandi Fentiman December 5, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Sorry you went through that Kas. I hope that clerk got an earful from his/her boss. He/she’s lucky I wasn’t there….let’s just put it that way. Yep, very protective. 🙂


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