Yes, What Air Transat Did To AB Silvera Was Transphobic.

Let’s clear some things up. Since it seems like people didn’t quite get the memo the first time.

If you aren’t familiar with the situation, please read my initial post on what happened on Saturday first. The tl;dr (although please do read it) is that my friend AB Silvera was denied boarding on a flight last Saturday because she is trans. The airline have not made things right.

Let’s go on to the clarification part, because some people are under the impression that what happened to her wasn’t blatant transphobia.

Transphobic Discrimination Detection Is Not Complicated.

Want to know if someone has been discriminated against? It’s actually pretty straightforward. You do not need to ask:

  1. Does this person/organisation hate trans people?
  2. Did anyone intend to do something bigoted?
  3. Is the person/organisation who did the thing a Bad Person overall, and do they feel deep within themselves that they’re not A Transphobe?
  4. Did the person or organisation deny that their actions were transphobic?

These questions are irrelevant. They don’t matter. Air Transat tweeted a bunch of times about their non-discrimination policy. However, if AB Silvera were cis, this would not have happened to her. Air Transat probably didn’t design their screening policies to specifically harm trans people- actually, I’ll bet that they didn’t think about trans people at all when they did so. It doesn’t matter. If AB were cis, this would not have happened to her.

Let’s take those points:

  1. It doesn’t matter if someone hates trans people or not. If they perform an action that harms someone because they’re trans, that action is discriminatory. The feelings of the person performing the action don’t change the reality of that action.
  2. It doesn’t matter if someone intends to do something bigoted or not. I have never once in my life intended to stub my toe on something. I still do it regularly and let me tell you, it still hurts like nobody’s business. If you aren’t looking where you’re going and you walk into someone? You’ve still knocked their coffee out of their hand. Just apologise and buy them a damn coffee already.
  3. Let’s just accept that all of us are complex mixes of positive and negative traits, k? Let’s even accept that sometimes we’re having a good day and sometimes we’re having a crap day and we take it out on people. Hardly anyone is a 100% Good Person, and hardly any of us are 100% Bad People. People do great things. They do shitty things. Give credit for the good stuff, and make up for the bad stuff. Adulting 101, right?
  4. People deny doing bad stuff all the time. Of course they do. “It wasn’t me” is almost a reflex for a lot of people, especially if you’re worried about getting in trouble or if you think the problem can go away if you can find a plausible excuse for it.

To determine if something is transphobic, there is only one question you need to ask: would this situation happen to a cis person? If the answer is no, then- ding!- you have transphobic discrimination.

Here are things that wouldn’t have happened to AB if she were cis:

She would not have had to bring a folder full of documents with her– passport, gender certificate, another form of ID to confirm that she’s the person in the gender cert (which by coincidence is also a passport) when she flew. I’m cis. I don’t have to do that.

Her passport- which has two years to go before it’s out of date- would not have been denied because she looks different to how she did back in 2008. I’m cis. Back when my last passport was coming up on 10 years old, I was in an LDR. I flew every few weeks. In the ten years I’d had that passport I changed from being a scrawny 19-year-old with a buzzcut who looked barely pubescent, to a several-stone heavier 29 year-old with curly hair almost to my shoulders. I looked different. But when we’re cis, it’s accepted that years will change us. If this wasn’t acceptable, we wouldn’t be able to get ten-year passports.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what I looked like a year or so after I got my passport (it’s the oldest pic I can find, so take a year or two off that face):

Picture of me at 19-ish: a young person with a mostly-shaved head and wonky glasses looking out of an attic window.
Aside: look at my babyface! Also I was taking selfies while most of you were in diapers. Just saying.

And here’s me in the last year that I had that passport:

A close-up picture of me at 29: chin-length curly hair, looking at the camera.
My current passport picture doesn’t look half as good as this. Given that I took it hungover after running halfway across town in the rain, I hope that it doesn’t look a thing like me at all.

Notice a difference? So do I. I look really different. But because I’m cis, it doesn’t matter. Even though my gender presentation had changed a whole lot. That’s cis privilege (specifically the AFAB kind) right there- I can even change the gendered ways I look any way I like and airline agents pay it no mind.

Of course, airline agents are used to that. Most people’s passports are relatively old. Everyone looks a bit different to their picture. It’s no big deal. As long as you’re cis.

She would not have been misgendered by airline staff. And if she had? They would have apologised and not done it again. How do I know this? Look at that top picture. That person? Got “he” all the time. A buzzcut and no boobs will do that. Especially in the winter when I was bundled up in great big coats. But the second I corrected people, they almost always apologised and then used the right pronouns. Why? Because I’m cis.

Time To Correct Some Misconceptions.

Did AB Have The Correct Documents?

Yes. She did. She was carrying a valid Italian passport in her name. She was also carrying the required document for an Italian citizen to get into Canada: a valid ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization). Those two, along with her ticket, should have been all that she needed to get on her flight.

However, she knew that she might need something to confirm her gender. This is not unique to travelling over this particular border: trans people are often questioned as to their gender, especially by officials. Knowing this- and having experienced it many times before- she brought along documents that clarify the situation.

AB has dual citizenship in Argentina and Italy. As it’s a lot easier to update your gender markers in Argentina than it is in Italy, she also had the Argentinian document confirming her updated gender- a sworn affidavit with a legalised translation. She brought Argentinian photo ID with her along with this affidavit.

The fact that the Argentinian photo ID she had with her was a passport is irrelevant. She wasn’t bringing it in order to cross a border. She was simply using it to confirm that she is the person who the affidavit refers to.

I’m not going to post you the photo of the two passports. I don’t post pre-transition photos of people. So you’re gonna have to take my word for this one: she is recognisable. Does she look different? Sure. But especially if you know (and if you’re an official: if you have valid confirmation) that she has had a bunch of estrogen since then? It’s blatantly obvious that she’s the same person.

AB had the documents she needed.

dual citizenship and Passports

If you have dual citizenship and multiple passports, who gets to choose which one you travel under?

You do. Dual citizenship, as I’ve mentioned already, gives you all of the rights and responsibilities of both of your citizenships.

Think of it this way: AB is an Italian citizen. Nothing else about her takes that citizenship away. Not the fact that she lives in the UK- she’s an Italian citizen in the UK. Not the fact that she’s trans. And not the fact that, entirely separate to her Italian citizenship, she also happens to be a citizen of another country. If that was the case, dual citizenship would be an impossibility. This isn’t theoretical: some countries don’t allow their people to have dual citizenships. Italy and Argentina aren’t in that category. Both allow multiple citizenship.

Who can take away your rights as a citizen of a country? The only way I can find to lose your Italian citizenship against your will is to go work for a country they’re at war with. And- let’s be clear- even if AB was off to go work for the government in a country that Italy had started a war with this morning, Air Transat’s staff’s authority isn’t up to the job.

AB is an Italian citizen. Her Italian citizenship gives her the right to travel to Canada with an eTA, no visa required. Her Argentinian citizenship does not affect this, regardless of how close to her person her Argentinian passport is at the time.

When you have multiple passports, the choice to travel under one or the other is at your discretion. Nobody else’s.

Why couldn’t she just update her Italian passport?

Here’s something that a lot of you cis people out there might not get: depending on where you live, changing gender markers can be complicated. Particularly if you live on the other side of the continent to the country where you need your documents changed.

In some countries it’s more than complicated: it’s impossible. In Italy it’s not impossible. It’s just, as AB has found out, a labyrinthine bureaucratic mess.

It’s not a matter of just popping down to the local office, filling out the green form and handing over fifty quid for someone to stamp the thing and send you the updated document. This is a process that can take time- especially if you live far away. AB has been working on getting her documents changed. It’s been incredibly difficult:

The expectation that AB “simply” update her gender markers on her Italian passport and get a more recent picture is not a reasonable one. It also assumes that she hasn’t been working hard to do just that, and that there aren’t massive obstacles in her way. She has. There are.

Say it again for the people in the back

What happened to AB?

She went to the airport. She had all the documents she required with her. When she went to the gate she was misgendered repeatedly and told that she should “travel as a man” in future. She was denied her right as an Italian citizen to use her Italian passport along with an eTA to travel to Canada.

Remember this: there is only one question you need to ask to ascertain if an action or experience constituted transphobic discrimination. Would this have happened if she were cis?

Of course it wouldn’t.

What happens now?

AB has still not been compensated for this abysmal, discriminatory treatment by Air Transat. She also hasn’t been able to get a flight to where she needs to go.

But it’s not- quite- too late. When this happened, AB and her girlfriend were travelling to the US via Canada to go to a wedding. (To add insult to injury, by the way? This was also to be their anniversary trip and would have been the first time AB met her girlfriend’s family in person. Yeah. Chew on that one.) That wedding hasn’t happened yet.

Air Transat can still make this right. What they need to do?

  • Get AB and her girlfriend on a flight, like, immediately.
  • Compensate her for leaving her stranded for three days (and counting) and for the upset  they caused her.
  • Train their staff in dealing with trans customers in a dignified and respectful way.
  • Apologise. Publicly. And mean it.

They won’t make this happen without pressure. Air Transat are trying to sweep this under the rug, despite days of pressure. We need to increase this. And we need to do it now, ’cause I dunno about you but I want AB and her girlfriend to get to that wedding, I want AB to get to meet her girlfriend’s family, and I want it to happen this week.

What can I do?

Contact Air Transat directly.

If you live in Scotland or Canada, contact your local MP and ask them to intervene.

If you have access to a larger media platform, or know someone who does? Tell them about this and ask them to share it or write about it.

If you are LGBTQIA? Contact your local LGBTQIA organisation(s) and ask them to publicise this and kick up a fuss. We’re a community. We fight for each other, right? This is a time to help out.

Share this post, and my earlier post on the topic. Tweet them both to Air Transat and let them know exactly how you feel about it. Share this widely and repeatedly. Make sure they know that we will not shut up about this.

Don’t. Shut. Up.

 

Photo by James Cridland

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Yes, What Air Transat Did To AB Silvera Was Transphobic.
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12 thoughts on “Yes, What Air Transat Did To AB Silvera Was Transphobic.

  1. 1

    Thank you. At the risk of sounding “me, me, me”, I’m in the process of applying for a UK passport to get Third Gender recognition so I can travel as a woman, something that Canada has failed to do despite being legally bound to provide it.

    I haven’t yet flown as a woman and wonder if I’ll have to put up with the same garbage. Both Taiwan (where I live) and the Philippines (where I usually vacation) are very trans-friendly on the street, on an individual level. But what about at the airport, at immigration? When I renewed my work visa a few months ago, Taiwan refused to let me have Third Gender on my card, even though the option is legally available.

    This person is great: Christin Milloy is a trans activist fighting for rights, recognition and legal documentation (e.g. passports) for others. She hasn’t get commented on Transat, but I’m sure she will.

    http://chrismilloy.ca/

  2. Pi
    2

    Thanks for writing about these things so well and thoroughly as you do. And just so you know, I linked to this and your previous post in my blog.

  3. 3

    Totally agree with this! It wouldn’t have happened if it had been a cis person. Air Transat, that has done some shitty things in my life, just added transphobic to the list of shitty things I call it!
    However (and this not remove anything from all the right things you posted !) there is a tiny factual mistake on your post:
    ” If you have dual citizenship and multiple passports, who gets to choose which one you travel under?

    You do. Dual citizenship, as I’ve mentioned already, gives you all of the rights and responsibilities of both of your citizenships”
    This is not entirely right. When you have several passports the receiving country gets to decide under which they let you in. For example, I cannot travel into the USA under my Portuguese passport because I have a Canadian one and the American border authority wants to see my Canadian one not the Portuguese one. I was almost sent back once when I landed in La Guardia.
    However, this changes nothing to the wrongness of Air Transat, they don’t get to decide anything besides making sure the passport doesn’t expire in less than 6months and that he photo on the passport sort of looks like the person in front of them. Anything else must be decided by the country’s authorities not the airline.
    I am furious at Air Transat, but ufortunately, so not surprised.

  4. 4

    Seem to that at least part of the problem is how difficult it is for transgender people to get the right documentation after transitioning. If the process was easier, this should really be a non-issue and it would leave less room for ignorant or bigoted people to twist the rules into causing problems where there are none.

      1. True. In fact, it seems she’s gone out of her way to have all documentation in order, so there’s really no excuse for this treatment.

  5. 5

    […] According to Ms Silvera, the problem arose because her Italian passport was issued before her transition, still describes her as male and uses her old name Ariel. Despite this, she said: “I have used it consistently to travel for the last eight years, both within Europe, to the United States and to South America, with no issue. This is the first time I have been denied boarding a flight.” She also said other airlines had accepted her Italian passport with the affadavit, these airlines including American Airlines, British Airways, Easy Jet and Ryanair. […]

  6. A
    6

    This reminds me of that British trans woman who got detained in Canada a couple of years ago because she overstayed her visa but claimed it was transphobia. Why did she think she’d be allowed to travel on her Argentinean passport when she doesn’t have a visa for that? Europeans never think immigration rules actually apply to them too…

    1. 6.1

      This post literally explains that she was travelling under her Italian passport.

      Also, you don’t get to describe someone as “European” in one sentence and “Argentinian” the sentence before.

    1. 7.1

      Not to the wedding, but they did make it to the US. No thanks to the airline. I’ll leave off the rest of the details for the moment- they’re off on their holiday so might have a chat with them when they get back about what went down. But for the moment: yes, they are on holiday! But they missed the wedding. And Still Very Unhappy With AirTransat.

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