Securitizing Gender

Tara Mulqueen and I have just published an article, ” “Securitizing Gender: Identity, Biometrics, and Transgender Bodies at the Airport.” It’s about how different security mechanisms in place at US airports assume that gender is an easily known, permanent, and reliable metric of identity, and the problems these assumptions pose for transgender individuals. If you don’t have access to Social Research, email me for a copy of the paper: pcurrah AT

Paisley Currah and Tara Mulqueen, “Securitizing Gender: Identity, Biometrics, and Transgender Bodies at the Airport,” Social Research 78:2 (Summer 2011): 556-582.

ABSTRACT: It is widely assumed that the more information surveillance apparatuses can collect about an individual, the less risk she poses. In this article, we examine how gender figures into and potentially disrupts the link between identity and security. Our analysis centers on one very particular event: the confusion that erupts at the airport when US Transportation Security Administration agents perceive a conflict between the gender marked on one’s papers, the image of one’s body produced by a machine, and/or an individual’s perceived gender presentation. Gender has been so deeply naturalized—as immutable, as easily apprehended, and as existing before and outside of political arrangements—for so long that its installation in identity verification practices largely goes unthought. In what follows, we describe how the two TSA programs, “Secure Flight” and “Advanced Imaging Technology,” operationalize gender differently. We examine what happens when different sources of knowledge about gender clash within the security assemblage of the airport. As part of state security apparatuses’ unceasing quest for more and better information, both programs securitize gender. We argue that the effects of gender’s unreliability as a measure of identity do not constitute a problem for the TSA but rather for the transgender individuals whose narratives, documents, and bodies reveal the category’s mutability.