What do you do when you're detained by powerful officials, everything you say is presumed deceptive, arbitrary "evidence" is held against you, and you're treated like a moral deviant? And what if its 2013, you're a woman, and the "evidence" is that you possess condoms?
It happened three times in two weeks -- being detained by U.S. border officials on my way to or through the States.
First I was held by Vermont border guards for two hours in the middle of the night on my way to visit Nashville. They searched my bags at least five times. I could not help but notice how often my lingerie and "sexy underwear" were mentioned, how often the condoms they found were looked upon scathingly, and how most of the four male officers' questions pertained to both.
I was baffled as to why this was any of their business and unsure of what their objective was, other than fondling lady's undergarments. In the end, having nothing to go on, they gave me a limited stay visa of two weeks and let me go -- at 3 a.m. in the middle of nowhere. I missed my bus and my plane, had to pay for a $90 taxi to the nearest airport and then book a new flight the next morning.
The next time it happened was two weeks later in Montreal's airport. After scanning my passport, without being asked a single question, I was immediately led to a back waiting room. When I was summoned into an office, the officer cut to the chase: "How much is he paying you to go on this trip?" He was referring to the man I was travelling with.
Confused, I just stared back at him for a few beats.
The next question was whether this man was married or not. The answer, unfortunately for me, was yes. He asked whether I was planning on sharing a hotel bed with this man. I'm not one to sugar coat things and decided that now would not be a particularly good time to be found lying. Again, I answered yes. Righteous, the officer demanded what exactly I was doing in a bed with a married man.
"That's actually none of your business."
I had kicked the hornet's nest. Inflamed, he raised his voice at me that it was his business and that adultery was a crime in America -- a crime that he could deny me entry for. He made me tell him my partner's name and date of birth and threatened to detain him, too. I pointed out that we would be in Miami for a total of 40 minutes to catch our next flight to Aruba; hardly enough time to run to our gate, let alone commit adultery. The next thing I knew he was searching my bags, pulling out condoms and waving them in my face.
"I could have you charged with being a working girl! The proof is right here!"
All I could do is shake my head. This can't be real.
"This is absurd," I murmured. But he was on a roll.
"You want me to call his wife? I'll tell her!"
I raised an eyebrow at him.
He stormed off again, leaving me shaking. When he finally emerged from an office, he held my passport and tickets in hand. He told me he was letting me go "this time" because I had told the truth. But that I was an educated woman and should change my life to reflect that. I blinked at him.
He looked at me meaningfully and repeated himself. I nodded, eyes downcast as if I was taking his moralizing into serious consideration, and took my documents. I was afraid that he would change his mind otherwise. Later, after a very short Internet search, I found that adultery isn't illegal in Florida, and even if I had been paid for the trip, mixing sexual and non-sexual activities constitutes a relationship and therefore makes any money exchanged a very legal gift under the law. Travelling together to Aruba to get away from cold Montreal, I would think, signals a non-sexual activity.
A few days in the sun later, it was time to face the same routine but in the Aruban airport. Again, I would be spending all of an hour in Miami's international airport and then carrying on to my home in Montreal. This time I had left the condoms behind. But it was too late -- there was a detailed profile of me, in which my nefarious condom-carrying behaviour was noted.
Again, I was told to sit and wait for further questioning.
I watched as my entire flight's passengers whizzed through customs in front of me. I was shaking. By the time someone got around to questioning me, I was told my flight was leaving.
I was detained, yelled at, patted down, fingerprinted, interrogated, searched, moved from room to room and person to person without food, water or being told what was going on for what seemed like forever.
Just as I thought they were tiring of me and going to refuse me entry but at least let me back into Aruba, a 'Bad Cop' type took me to a distant, isolated office and yelled at me that I was full of shit. He had found information online that in the last couple of years I had been modelling and acting. This, he concluded, was special code for sex work, and I was never going to enter the U.S.A. ever again. I tried not to laugh and cry at the same time. I told him I'm currently writing a book on the sociology of sexual assault.
"Are you looking to be sexually assaulted?"
I blinked at him. I couldn't breathe.
"Was that meant to be funny?"
"No, it wasn't."
"Ah, no. I'm definitely not."
"Well, it sure seems like you are."
He wouldn't elaborate.
I was with the U.S. officials for six hours. After two more hours put through the wringer with Aruban immigration, I was finally let go back into Aruba. I was told that if I even so much as approached the U.S. border again without a waiver I would be banned from the country for five years. My partner and I, both shaken, had to book a new flight to Canada that didn't pass through the U.S. (approximately $900) and a hotel for an extra two days until that flight.
For me, carrying my own condoms (in purses, wallets, camera bags; everywhere) is a routine act towards safer sex. For someone else with the power to not only deny passage but judge, moralize and intimidate, it has become enough evidence to put a woman through hell. My story has brought a number of women out of the woodwork stating that they have had similar experiences.
Whether border guards are copying police in New York and their condoms-as-evidence-of-prostitution model, or are simply so stuck in their gender stereotyping that a woman with condoms can't be a good person ("We've been told that there's nothing good about you," said one Aruban official), I'm also not sure.
I do know I won't be travelling for some time, until my name is cleared. Or until the puritanical, power-tripping, slut-shaming witch hunt is over. I won't hold my breath for either.
A woman with cancer was "embarrassed" at Sea-Tac Airport <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/michelle-dunaj-woman-with-cancer-asked-to-lift-bandages-at-airport_n_1951776.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa">when security asked her to lift her shirt and bandages</a>.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/sen-schumer-urges-undercover-investigation-of-tsa_n_1940857.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa">urged an undercover investigation of the TSA in a letter to administrator John Pistole</a>.
In 2012, we discovered that the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-elliott/what-the-tsas-ipad-theft-_b_1927834.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa">TSA had a serious iPad theft problem</a>.
A woman <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/09/tsa-keeps-woman-off-flight-as-retaliation_n_1868410.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa">accused the TSA of keeping her off a flight as retaliation for not allowing them to test her water</a>, according to a video she posted on YouTube.
TSA officers at Boston's Logan Airport have <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/12/logan-airport-racial-profiling_n_1769648.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa">complained that their coworkers are targeting minorities</a>.
In a total win for the agency, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/31/melissa-pineiro-tori-beato-kidnapping_n_1723523.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa">TSA officers rescued a kidnapped woman at Miami International Airport</a>.
An unidentified TSA agent left a note asking a woman to "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/24/woman-finds-sexual-note-in-luggage_n_1029382.html" target="_hplink">Get Your Freak On Girl</a>". The TSA agent was later fired.
Isis Brantley, a Dallas-area hair dresser, was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/21/isis-brantley-dallas-woma_n_973787.html" target="_hplink">mad at the TSA for checking her afro for weapons</a>.
Ashley Yang poses for a photo at Los Angeles International Airport, LAX on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in Los Angeles. Yang, a transgender woman, was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/04/tsa-transgender-training-_n_918838.html" target="_hplink">fired from her Transportation Security Administration</a>, TSA passenger screener job at LAX for using the women's room. She recently received a five-figure settlement, back pay and mandatory transgender sensitivity for TSA managers at the LAX airport. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
After a woman was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/02/tsa-molested-me-woman-scr_n_870583.html" target="_hplink">allegedly sexually harassed </a>by TSA agents at Sky Harbor International in Phoenix, AZ, her son documented the aftermath as the TSA, Southwest Airlines and Phoenix Police threaten him with arrest for filming the ordeal. Officials seem more concerned with the video than with the woman brought to tears at the security checkpoint. Video courtesy of YouTube.com/rynomaz111
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/14/donald-rumsfeld-patted-do_n_899348.html" target="_hplink">received a patdown</a> while traveling through Chicago's O'Hare airport. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File)
A 61-year-old Denver woman named <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/17/yukari-mihamae-61yearold-_n_900969.html?ref=tsa" target="_hplink">Yukari Mihamae</a> was accused of groping a TSA agent. People rallied around her, even creating a <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Acquit-Yukari-Mihamae/193771357344518" target="_hplink">Facebook page</a> in support of her acquittal. Associated Press
A <a href="http://news.travel.aol.com/2011/07/15/marian-paterson-94-year-old-women-gets-tsa-patdown/" target="_hplink">94-year-old woman named Marian Paterson</a> was patted down while standing. At the time, Paterson told ABC News she didn't understand why "of all people in America, why they'd pick out some little old lady." ABC News
<a href="http://news.travel.aol.com/2011/07/25/thomas-sawyer-cancer-survivor-gets-soaked-by-his-own-urine-aga/" target="_hplink"> Former cancer patient Thomas Sawyer</a> was soaked by his own urine in July 2011 when his urostomy bag was burst by a TSA inspector during a patdown. Sadly, this was the <a href="http://www.gadling.com/2010/11/20/tsa-pees-on-tom-sawyer/" target="_hplink">second time this had happened to him</a>. NBC
Ron Paul has come out firmly against the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/05/ron-paul-tsa-_n_890511.html" target="_hplink">TSA saying it should be abolished</a>.
A woman at Dulles Airport <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/03/woman-shares-vodka-at-airport-security_n_1936230.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa">shared her vodka with passengers at security before the TSA could confiscate it</a>.
This undated photo provided by Jean Weber shows her mother, Lena Reppert. The gravely ill 95-year-old woman had to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/26/tsa-pats-down-elderly-wom_n_884902.html" target="_hplink">remove her wet diaper at an airport</a> so that she could be patted down by security screeners and nearly missed her flight, her daughter said. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Jean Weber)
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee member Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. shows a picture he says is of a young girl being searched by the TSA, during the committee's hearing to examine ongoing transportation security threats, Wednesday, June 22, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
In this Saturday, May 7, 2011 handout photo, a baby boy, held by his mother, is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/11/baby-receives-pat-down-at_n_860436.html" target="_hplink">frisked by TSA agents</a> at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Mo. Federal officials insisted Wednesday that screeners at Kansas City International Airport were just doing their jobs when they frisked the baby, an incident that gained worldwide attention after a pastor posted a cellphone picture of the pat-down on Twitter. (AP Photo)
Former <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/28/susie-castillos-tsa-rant-_n_855038.html" target="_hplink">Ms USA Susie Castillo filmed her breakdown</a> at the Dallas airport after she felt she was inappropriately touched by a TSA agent.
Selena Drexel, of Bowling Green, Ky., sits in front of her home computer Wednesday, April 13, 2011, with a video showing her <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/13/tsa-pats-down-6year-old-g_n_848626.html" target="_hplink">6-year-old daughter Anna getting frisked</a> at the New Orleans airport earlier this month by the TSA officials. (AP Photo/Joe Imel)
Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, center, answers questions from members of the press after <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/24/rep-sharon-cissna-tsa_n_827934.html" target="_hplink">disembarking the Alaska Ferry Matanuska</a>, in Juneau, Alaska Thursday, February 24th, 2011. Cissna's four-day ordeal began when she <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/21/rep-sharon-cissna-tsa-patdown_n_825851.html" target="_hplink">refused to be patted down</a> by TSA agents in the Seattle-Tacoma airport following a full body scan that detected her mastectomy, which the TSA agent felt necessitated the extra security precaution of a full body pat down, Cissna's second in three months. She refused, and took a ferry from Prince Rupert, British Columbia to Juneau to return to her legislative duties. Cisna vowed Thursday to fight for the rights of travelers who have been subjected to what she considers intrusive airport searches by federal airport screeners. (AP Photo/Chris Miller)
A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/20/edward-hall-iii-forgets-i_n_811585.html?ref=tsa" target="_hplink">24-year-old Columbia University student jumped on a baggage carousel</a> at JFK airport in an attempt to make his flight after a TSA agent wouldn't let him through security without a valid ID. The TSA wins this one, but it's still pretty funny.
Former Minnesota governor <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/24/jesse-ventura-sues-tsa-ov_n_813460.html" target="_hplink">Jesse Ventura sued the TSA</a> over their techniques. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/04/jesse-venturas-tsa-lawsui_n_1075676.html" target="_hplink">lawsuit was thrown out</a>; Ventura has since <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/04/jesse-ventura-lawsuit_n_1076670.html" target="_hplink">vowed to move to Mexico</a>. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)
Surveillance video of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/31/aaron-b-tobey-airport-pas_n_802995.html" target="_hplink">Aaron Tobey</a> going through airport security at Richmond International Airport Dec. 29, 2010 after stripping to his undershorts in protest of the TSA surveillance methods.
Who could forget <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/02/tammy-banovac-wheelchairb_n_791222.html" target="_hplink">Tammy Banovac</a>, a 52-year old woman from Oklahoma, who stripped down to her skivvies (aka black lingerie) to get through security at Will Rogers World Airport? YouTube
Khloe Kardashian <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/07/khloe-kardashian-tsa-rape_n_793059.html" target="_hplink"> once compared the TSA's patdown techniques to rape</a>. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
An illustration shows lobbying material protesting against full body scans outside of a conference on Transportation Security Administration procedures at the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington, DC. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/15/john-tyner-videos_n_783678.html" target="_hplink">John Tyner (aka "Don't Touch My Junk"</a>) posted a blog saying he had been ejected after being threatened with a fine and lawsuit for refusing a groin check after turning down a full-body scan at San Diego International Airport. (AP Photo/Rebekah Butler) NO SALES
Former "Baywatch" actress<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/08/donna-derrico-baywatch-st_n_793909.html" target="_hplink"> Donna D'Errico said that a TSA agent "singled her out"</a> for a full-body scan at LAX. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
An enterprising traveler--in an attempt to avoid a full body scan--<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/24/traveller-wears-bikini-th_n_788127.html?ref=tsa" target="_hplink">showed up to the airport in a bikini</a>.
Paul Gambill, of Tempe, protests curbside at Sky Harbor International Airport Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010 in Phoenix. Gambill was participating in the National Opt Out Day protest against the use of body-scanning technology by the TSA.(AP Photo/Matt York)
This man successfully navigated a TSA security checkpoint in a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/24/speedo-tsa-_n_788137.html" target="_hplink">speedo swimsuit</a> at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday, November 23, 2010 with the words, 'SCREW BIG SIS' written on his back. Why the speedo?
Activist Lori Lamb distributes stickers to travelers to protest against TSA's new security procedures at Los Angeles International Airport, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010. Holiday travelers dismayed by airport body scans <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/24/opt-out-day-how-_n_788002.html" target="_hplink">planned protests</a> at bustling airports, while the head of the nation's transport security agency urged passengers to comply with searches to reduce the possibility of delays on one of the busiest travel days of the year. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A Taiwanese animation company took on the TSA's practices in a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/17/taiwanese-tsa-cartoon_n_784709.html?ref=tsa" target="_hplink">holiday-themed mocking </a>. <em> <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBL3ux1o0tM&feature=player_embedded" target="_hplink">NMA World Edition</a></em>
Whoopi Goldberg has called<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/22/whoopi-tsa-pat-downs_n_786756.html" target="_hplink"> TSA's patdowns "necessary</a>." (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
Carol Jean Price was on her way from Florida to Ohio to attend a funeral when she was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/19/carol-price-woman-accused-of-groping-tsa-agent_n_1609223.html?1342800084" target="_hplink">arrested after allegedly groping a TSA agent</a>.
Hundreds of passengers and workers at JFK's Terminal 7 had to be evacuated in June after it was discovered that a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/24/tsa-workers-metal-detecto_n_1622152.html?1342800652" target="_hplink">TSA worker's metal detector was unplugged</a>. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser, File)
Geraldo Rivera: I Was 'Manually Raped' By The TSA
William Shatner had an embarrassing experience with the TSA when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/29/william-shatners-pants-fa_n_1637586.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa" target="_hplink">his pants fell down while he was being searched</a>. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
TSA denied a report that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/tsa-says-video-shows-no-a_n_1669618.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa" target="_hplink">agents stole candy from a deaf man and cursed him out</a>.
Jonah Falcon, the man with the world's largest penis, found himself <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/jonah-falcon-largest-penis-frisked-by-tsa_n_1675767.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa" target="_hplink">getting frisked by TSA agents</a> in California.
A woman said she was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/texas-grandmother-humiliated-tsa-strip-search_n_1686533.html?utm_hp_ref=tsa" target="_hplink">pulled aside and patted down by TSA agents after they noticed a gastric tube hanging from her stomach</a>, which had been medically implanted after complications with a gastric bypass surgery.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/tsa-spills-ashes-of-passengers-grandfather-on-floor_n_1627703.html" target="_hplink">Ashes of a man's grandfather were spilled in an airport security line</a> by a TSA agent.