Okay, the bus gets to the truck crossing. We file out, get in line, same as usual.
The Homeland Security agent/guard/officer/whatever I get looks like a cliche stereotype. Navy blue uniform, short, squat guy, thick neck, looks like he sweats a lot, bulldog physique, super-fine military buzz cut, looks like he drew his hairline with a ruler.
He looks at my passport and says, where are you going?
I know you aren’t supposed to say, “I’m travelling on business,” because then they start asking about whether you’re taking money or goods into the US. I also decide that being evasive about my trip would look bad. I decide honesty is the best policy, but hope he doesn’t pry too far. “I’m presenting at a conference in Maryland.”
I hesitate a bit here. Then say, “Consensual master-slave relationships.” Being vague would only make him more suspicious.
He seemed completely baffled by the concept, as if he had never heard of anything remotely like it before.
I explained a bit. “it’s all consensual, all role-play.:
He still looked at me like I was talking about putting live frogs in blenders and hitting frappe.
He asked me about my profession, and where I lived, which I told him. He asked to see some proof I had been invited, and I showed him the email with my plane ticket information.
He still looked confused. “Is this a sexual thing at all?”
I said, truthfully, “Yes, some of the time.”
I took a book out of my pack and showed him a picture of Hannah Cullwick and gave him a 10-second presentation on her relationship with Arthur Munby.
He looked and said, “And she enjoyed this?”
“Yes, she did.”
He said, “I have a freelance journalist travelling to present on master-slave relationships,” as if this was something completely unprecedented.
This is when I started to sweat a bit. I was imagining that he’d take me into some little room, there’d be another officer, there’d be latex gloves and CSIS and they’d beat me with phone books or something…
Finally, he put up his hands and said, “I just need to know you aren’t doing anything illegal.”
I told him, “No, there’s no touching. I just give a lecture.”
At long last, he turned away.
Just to make absolutely sure, I asked, “Am I free to go?”
He said, “Yes.” He looked like he was thinking, There are weird, messed-up people in the world, but if they’re not doing anything illegal, I can’t do anything about it.
I ran my bags through the scanner and got back in line. THEN I got the shakes.
When I’m in a scary situation, I stay quite calm externally while it is happening. It doesn’t hit me until afterwards.
By comparison, my encounter with Canadian border authorities was over in less than 30 seconds.