Assistant Professor of Sociology
In 2016, I began making frequent trans-Atlantic research visits to Accra, Ghana. Since that first journey, every time I pass through Kotoka International Airport in Accra, I turn on my recording device. It is my sole comfort in the face of the harassment I expect to face as I pass through the national border. The first time I turned it on was when the British Airways gate agent stalled my check-in because he wanted to know if I was a footballer. While the question on its face might seem innocuous, as a trans* person, I was aware of its gender-policing subtext. I turned on my phone’s recorder because Perry was questioning me as if I had committed a crime. He asked to see multiple forms of ID in addition to my passport, questioned me about who paid for my airline ticket, and wanted to know why I was traveling. When he saw my recorder come on, he quickly informed me that I was not legally permitted to record “official security business.” His uncertainty about my gender was now a matter of national security. But nevertheless, he backed off. Perhaps it was the recorder, or my U.S. accent and passport. It’s hard to tell. Over the next year and a half, I visited Accra 3 more times, recording each interaction with agents at the airport. With the exception of my most recent visit in November 2018, I have always been harassed by some airport employee, whether from Ghana Immigration Service, the narcotics agent, or the gate agent checking me in. This harassment has always been because of my gender. On my last visit, I managed to pass through freely. But I was traveling with my partner, whose gender became a point of curiosity and conversation at immigration.