Online resources have changed how our community lives and learns. As with anything, there are good and bad parts to that. We have to think about our personal safety, and that includes when we are online.
The very safest option is only going online to gather transition information and not using it to interact with others. Even then, you should take a few precautions to avoid being outed.
Safest option: Your own device
- The safest option is to use your own phone or personal computer at home, to which only you have access.
- Put a password screen lock on your computer or phone if you live with others.
- Be sure you securely hide any information you print out or store on media.
Less safe: Multiple users on a device
If you have to share a computer or device with family members, you should take precautions if you don’t want them to find anything out.
- Some computers let different users each have a password-protected storage area. See if that’s an option on yours.
- Some internet service providers might let you set up several different accounts on the same billing. See if you can set up your own.
- Most browsers store different kinds of information on your device, even if you don’t bookmark them as favorites yourself. Take steps to hide your history and not get tracked.
- Don’t leave anything visible on the screen when you’re done or if you’re away from the computer.
- Be careful printing anything out: don’t leave copies lying around on your home printer. And don’t leave it on a shared printer or lying around where others might see it. Don’t print things at work or school unless you have to.
- If many people use your computer, don’t download files onto the hard drive which they can find. Save it to removable media and hide that media.
- After you’re done, empty your browser cache. The manual or the help menu should have information on how to do this if you don’t know how.
- Be sure to exit any programs and shut down the device when you’re done. This helps purge temporary files stored on your computer when you’re surfing.
- You could use password protected zip files to store sensitive information, or maybe even PGP encryption if you want to keep law enforcement from finding out too much about you.
Potentially unsafe: computers outside the home
Avoid browsing on a computer outside your home (like at libraries, work, school, or at a friend’s, printing shops, cafés, etc.) unless you’re certain no one you know will find out. If you have to use a computer outside the home, you should only look at stuff that you wouldn’t mind if your boss, instructor, friends, family, classmates or coworkers saw. There’s always a chance they might.
Using a work computer is probably the most risky, for these reasons:
- Some companies monitor employee computer use.
- They might find out what you’re researching from clues you accidentally leave on your computer.
- Most companies have a policy that office equipment is for business purposes only. They could have grounds to fire you.
- They might discover your plans and use it as an excuse to fire you (it is perfectly legal to fire someone for being transgender in some areas). It might also give them time to find other reasons to force you out.
Be extremely careful using group computers at school if you aren’t out. Word could spread very quickly among fellow students.
If you absolutely must use a computer outside the home, take all the precautions above for multiple-user home computers.
Social networking and forums
- Don’t use these until you have considered all the risks.
- Don’t put pictures of yourself online until you have considered all the risks.
- If you do use them, use ones where you can set your account to be anonymous or pseudonymous.
- Don’t pick a screen name or pseudonym that identifies you in any way.
- Don’t put any info in your online profile that might get you outed.
- Don’t post to proprietary bulletin boards or chat rooms without considering the consequences.
As I mentioned at the top, this is the safest way to get information. Just make sure the site is legit. In recent years, there have been several fake transgender teen sites put up by pathetic scumbags. Sometimes these sites have erroneous advice, but usually they want you to email them. If you aren’t sure if someone is the real deal, contact me, and I’ll see what I can find out.
Remember, not only can people monitor you from your end, but website owners can monitor you from their end. For instance, I can tell when someone visits my sites from a corporate site. If you are worried about this, you can browse safely through several ways.
Browsers have a private browsing mode, which can help but is not foolproof. You should also block cookies and use ad blocking software.
Not secure: Search engines like Google often have a “cached” option in results. That does not prevent your visit from being logged by the website in most cases. If the website contains images, you are still loading those images from the website rather than from Google.
As a general rule, don’t order stuff, write comments, fill out forms, take polls, or respond to phone numbers on websites.
Bottom line: browsing websites is generally quite safe, but only you can decide what level of precautions is right for you.
Parental controls and monitoring software
If you are reading this page, you probably are not being blocked by parental controls, but some computers may not let you visit this site. In addition, your parents may have software installed that allow them to see where you have been going online. It’s important to be careful if you think they will respond badly.
A reader writes:
- I have Norton Antivirus and it likes to block the website and put it under my blocked content under parental control. Here’s the message:
- Norton Internet Security has blocked access to this restricted site. Blocked categories: Sex Education/Sexuality If you think this web site is incorrectly categorized, visit the Symantec Internet Security Center to report it.
- I’m positive that any other parental control would block your site
Proxies and VPNs may be a way to get around business or family computer filters but there will still be the trace of the proxy URL. So I think the proxy would be more for kids who need to visit these websites under anonymity. A lot of parental controls block anonymous proxies, so it is very hard to find a good one. Sometime a search engine’s cached copy lets you see a site without it being blocked.
Purging your web browsing history after a session
In most browsers you can set your hard disk cache to 0. This will keep your computer from storing files from pages you have visited, but you still have to do something about that pesky history file, though
A reader suggests TorBrowser (torproject.org)
Safely interacting with others online
Many people have found support, friendship and good advice by interacting with others online. However, some have also been outed or attacked by those they met online. If you decide it’s worth the risk to interact with others online, there are still some precautions you should take.
You’ve probably seen this basic list before. Think of the web as a bunch of strangers in a park. You shouldn’t give strangers any of the following:
- Birth name
- Birth date
- Chosen name
- Street address
- Phone number
- City or State
- Employer, school, church
- Friends’ names
- Social security or credit card numbers
- Hobbies or activities which might identify you
- Name of therapist, support group, clubs you go to, etc.
Email and text
A good rule: Never email or text anything you wouldn’t want everyone to see if it were shared at work or school.
I recommend using a “throwaway” web-based Gmail address. Don’t choose an email address containing identifying information, like your chosen name, your area code. Don’t pick something that identifies you as trans. Pick the name of a celebrity you like, or a flower, or something like that.
Probably the safest form of online interaction is private email correspondence with well-known organizations. See my list of youth resources for more.
Use caution when contacting someone you don’t know. People pretending to be trans could run the spectrum from relatively harmless middle-aged wannabes engaging in fantasy role-playing to dangerous sexual predators.
If you’re asking a question, try to do it without divulging personal information. It’s better to do that using a throwaway account on a transgender forum or subreddit.
Calling and meeting people from online
Be very careful calling or meeting anyone who is aware of your trans status. A good rule of thumb is not to call anyone unless someone trusted whom you have met in person will vouch for the person who wants to meet you. I don’t recommend calling people you meet online unless you are absolutely certain of their identity.
Once you have made a transition, you should consider scrubbing your internet presence under your old name and starting fresh. Trans people are frequently targeted by people who will look for your old name and information and use that to hurt you. Even if you plan to be out and proud, you may wish to be more private later. Starting fresh gives you a few more options.
I was doxxed almost as soon as I set up this website in the 1990s. I have no regrets about being out and proud, but it has caused me some problems. It’s not the end of the world, but it is something you may want to avoid if possible. I hope this helps you in making this very personal decision!