Tomorrow is “National Opt-Out Day” for those of you who actually subject yourself to security theater at airports — not only the busiest travel day of the year, but a planned day of protest in which many people are proposing to opt-out of the porno-scanner in an effort to overwhelm the junk-touchers. Some (thanks to Violet Blue for this link) are proposing to take it a step further by wearing their kilts, for the explicit purpose of making the the junk-touching process as unpleasant as possible for the screeners — a consummation (well, not really, not unless the the screeners are fast and skillful and have been practicing with their Shake Weights) devoutly to be wished in my opinion.

somebody is laughing at us

But how’s that actually going to work out? What’s it going to be like, when the TSA screener reaches up under your kilt and grabs your junk? Well, it turns out that in this vast nation of ours, there exists a man who has already found out, and blogged about it in detail:

My friends were divided. Most thought I wouldn’t do it. Others dared me to do it. The people in first group still don’t know me very well, what can I say? On November 18, 2010, at about 8:15am, I walked into Raleigh-Durham International, ready to strike a blow in the name of civil rights…or at least kilt enthusiasts everywhere. Friends were bracing to watch the news that night and see my image plastered across Glenn Beck’s wipeboard. I performed the old security theater: my iPad in one bin, Macbook Pro in another, boots, jacket, flat cap, belt, and cane in a third bin, messenger bag in a fourth bin, and TSA approved Ziploc bag containing my travel sized toiletries in a fifth. My rollerboard bag made the caboose of my little public safety train. The TSA agent pointed to the ominous machine (which looks more like the “Shake Shack” that Danny and Sandy serenade one another upon at the end of Grease….come on, could it be that bad? If I broke out in chorus of “You’re the One That I Want,” would I get arrested, or just get strange looks from the TSA agents?), and I took a deep breath. Showtime…literally.

The agent rolled his eyes before I could finish telling him that I was opting out of the AIT. He put the microphone of his radio to his mouth and muttered into it. Meanwhile, something in my rollerboard had the attention of the guy at the scanner. Like I said, Americans go big or go home. I not only had a dream date with a patter-downer, but I got to have a luggage inspection with one of an online security school’s finest.

Officer Gill met me at the patdown area–a glass-enclosed area to the left of the AIT. There were the usual chairs and mat with the paired footprints in the middle of them. I dutifully assumed the position as he introduced himself. I wondered if I was getting a corsage? Candy? Maybe just a little dirty talk first? Gill was a kid–he couldn’t have been more than twenty three years old. He sheepishly and nervously admitted that he was new to the TSA and that I was his first patdown. Poor bastard, losing his virginity to a middle aged fat man in a kilt.

The enhanced patdown is very much like a consensual rape. The screener asks before touching each body part with the back of his hand. “I’m going to put my hand between your beltline and belly, is that okay?” Obviously, the only correct answer here was yes. I could have said no, but that meant that I’d be hitch hiking to Chicago…if I wasn’t arrested and charged with a fine. So Officer Gill starts with my backside, then chest and belly. After that, I stretched my arms out, and we finished the upper body. He then took a courageous breath and steeled his reserve, asking me to step forward with my left foot. This was it…

Gen X’ers, remember the old commercials for Milton Bradley’s Operation game? In the game, players take turns using metal tongs to remove plastic pieces from an electrified board with the shape of a man on it. If the tongs touch metal surrounding the piece’s cutout, the board makes a loud buzzing noise and the patient’s nose glows with a red light. “Don’t touch the sides!” warns one of the kids in the commercial. That’s the enhanced patdown, essentially.

With blue latex gloves on, the backside of Gill’s hand caressed my ankles and calf. The hand moved up my knee and vanished along my inner thigh, under the kilt…


Had I a light bulb for a nose, it would have glowed. I almost thought about even making a buzzing noise, but since I had the attention of several TSA officers, plus the one waiting to rifle my rollerboard, I stifled my smirk. I’d officially been felt up by Uncle Sam. Meanwhile, Officer Gill (again folks, he was a young’un) probably had no idea that most men in kilts are almost always wearing it regimental. His was a lesson that ended in a combination of metaphorical tears and probable gay panic. No sooner had the back of his hand hit the crease of my thigh (and he realized what his palm was cradling by default), his hand dropped to my ankle with near-light speed. He paused a moment. I could see the storm of trauma churning in his eyes, having accidentally felt up a fat man. He took a breath and rose. Meanwhile, I stood on my left leg and extended my right. Officer Gill knelt down, and with surgical precision, drew his hand up my inner thigh and stopped just clear of the boundary of inappropriateness. If anything, he learned a lesson that day. Ideally, I would hope that it would be the appropriate proportions of a male’s hips and groin region, but I suspect that it had more to do with not pulling the short straw when the fat dude in the kilt requests not to be thrown in the AIT.

Officer Gill rose. With all the awkwardness of any other moment of mutually lost virginity, he thanked me for my time and told me that I was free to put my accessories back on. I realized that I wasn’t going to get a phone number or email address, but couldn’t I at least get a little help getting myself back together? Not even a forced and awkward “see you later?” I mean, even guys at glory holes have a certain code of honor, and wasn’t that what I’d just been subject to? Once I had my boots and belt on, I went to the station where my rollerbag was waiting. When the officer learned what the curious, thick metal ring that had his attention was (of course, he also had it in his hand at the time), there were more blushes. What can I say?

So I get to my convention in Chicago, where friends were waiting to hear about the TSA confrontation that several had been reading about on Twitter in the previous days. “Operation” and “don’t touch my junk” jokes abounded. Three days later, I repacked my gear and stepped into O’Hare airport, kilt again snug around my belly. I was ready and braced this time. Once I set the safety train up (and explained to the agents that my cane is lacquered wood…and not a human bone) on the X-ray scanner, I turned to the agent and said the magic phrase: “I’m opting out of the AIT scan. I’m requesting an enhanced patdown.”

He cocked his eyes at me and told me that he wasn’t going to select me for the AIT anyhow. There was almost a nyah nyeah nyah tone in his voice as he visually scanned my kilt once more. I was pointed to the metal detector right next to the AIT.

I blinked. A metal detector next to the AIT? People going through the metal detector and not the AIT? People going through the AIT at the TSA’s choice and discretion? A guy with an online education diploma in “security” gets to decide who gets the metal detector and who gets the AIT…or the enhanced patdown? Didn’t we get over this in 2002, when they finally stopped “randomly” choosing bearded men for extra security procedures? How early-millennial…

Moreover, if the TSA is randomly using the AIT, why even have it in the first place? Wasn’t President Obama just telling us about a need to be more secure, when he justified the new program late last week? Wasn’t the point of the AIT to scan every passenger, to ensure that explosive britches aren’t finding their ways on to our commercial aircraft? Isn’t the point of an effective security plan to be consistent in it’s deployment? Since we’ve had shoe bombers, and then underwear bombers, I’m left wondering what the next bomber will be. The tampon bomber? The suppository bomber? What if the hypothetical internal-bomb-bomber gets the nod from the TSA agent to simply pass through the metal detectors and bypass the AIT? What’s the point? Why are we playing this game?

Answer: as security expert Bruce Schneier has been saying all along, it’s security theater.