The Pat Down

“Any last questions or concerns?” The female security guard asks before beginning the Pat Down.

I request that she changes her gloves. On rare occasions when hunger meets unpreparedness, and I end up at Subway, I also ask the sandwich prep worker for a glove change. However, at the airport, a failure to change gloves could contaminate my body with something more dangerous than pork.

“Ma’am, I just got on the floor. And I just put these gloves on. If you want me to change them again, I guess I will. But I just put them on.”

Because I would rather not make her angry before she pats me down, I say “OK, I trust you,” and proceed to obey commands.

Hands out. Palms up.

One leg in front of the other. Now switch.

She explains how she will examine sensitive areas, with the back of her hands, circling around each breast. When she gets there, she says, “Hmmm. You got a lot of layers on, and I can’t find your…”  “Good,” I think to myself: proper hijab is supposed to cover the chest.

Prior to the advent of The Body Scanner, I always got randomly selected for a Pat Down, after walking through a non-beeping metal detector. The level of invasiveness of this pre-Body Scanner Pat Down varied from airport to airport and person to person. My worst experience occurred in the summer of 2009 when I ended up in a private screening room with my jeans unbuttoned. After that traumatizing session, I avoided airports for as long as I could; ultimately, I realized that it is not practical to travel across oceans by boat. My best experience happened a few months before the traumatic incident, when the security guard offered me the option of patting myself down.

Since the Body Scanner came out, the modern Pat Down procedure has been standardized, and my experience has been professional and consistent from airport to airport and person to person. As a teenager, getting pulled aside every time I flew for a “random” pat down felt humiliating; today, when I opt out of the Body Scanner, I feel liberated. Although the circling, pressing, and patting from the Pat Down does not feel comfortable, at least I have some dignity still, with my clothes on, and not subject to a device that reveals a naked-like image of the body to a stranger in another room.

After a few more minutes of patting me down, the security guard instructs me to stand in place without touching my stuff while she tests the gloves. Less than a minute later, she clears me to proceed with my travels.

I thank her, and collect my pieces: shoes on feet; wallet in pocket; laptop in backpack; mini-liquids in carry on; smile on face.

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