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 or with a roommate who doesn’t know your deal, you should take precautions if you don’t want them to find anything out.
- Some computers let different users each have a password-protected part on the hard drive. 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 even the FBI, CIA or KGB 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.
I’d be extremely careful using group computers in high school or college 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 bock cookies and use ad blocking software.
Not secure: Google has a “cached” option at the end of the entry. A reader writes: “Regarding the recommendation to use Google cache to browse websites: 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, sign website guestbooks, fill out forms, take polls, or respond to phone numbers on websites.
Bottom line: surfing 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. Though a lot of parental control blocks proxy’s as Annoymous Proxies so it is very hard to find a good one.
I also found that if I look the page up on Google then click the cache link you can visit an older version 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 wrote with ways to purge the History file most browsers keep:
There’s a functionality on almost all browsers that logs all sites you visited during say the last 20 days. It’s called history and the sites visited can be listed by pressing CTRL-H on most browsers. What appears in the address bar when you are typing something comes from this list.
Its data is most compromising thing stored in a computer.
To clean it in MS Internet Explorer, you go to:
Tools > Internet Options > General
and press the Clear History button.
In Netscape Navigator you press CTRL-H, mark what you want to hide and press DEL.
In Opera you have a wonderful option called Delete private data that clean EVERYTHING. You should recommend this browser.
You should put this on your site and warn the others. History is the easiest way to discover what others are doing in the Web.
A reader writes with an additional security tip:
With respect to “deleting” browser cache and history files: For maximum security, you may want to further suggest that users concerned with the discovery of sensitive information after a web session may want to consider not only deleting cache and history files–which remain on the hard drive after a delete operation and can be resurrected and restored by many disk recovery utilities)–but to also use a disk wiping utility to overwrite these files so that they cannot be recovered. I use a freeware program called “Sure Delete” to perform this task; there are many other similar products available.
A reader suggests TorBrowser:
I use TorBrowser, and it functions nearly like FireFox. I get rendered pages, images, and everything. I can download stuff. The only thing is that I cannot enable Flash without breaching the tracing, so that’s never been running. Other than that, it’s just a little slower than the others.
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.
A good rule: Never email or post anything you wouldn’t want everyone to see if it were taped up at work or school.
I recommend using a “throwaway” web-based email address from Hotmail, Yahoo, or Google. Don’t choose an email address containing identifying information, like your chosen name, your area code. Don’t pick something that identifies you as transsexual. Pick the name of a celebrity you like, or a flower, or something like that. Note that some web-based mail clients like Hotmail betrays your IP address (a number which shows your general location): Hotmall puts it in the message header.
Webmail systems are only as safe as the good intentions, skills, and luck of their administrators. Many large websites have had their systems compromised.
A correspondent adds: “Web based email services have the advantage that they don’t store all messages locally. Just don’t forget to clear the browser cache after you’re done reading.”
Probably the safest form of online interaction is private email correspondence with well-known people in the community. I recommend contacting TransYouth Family Allies for information on transition as a minor. I am also happy to answe questions not answered on the site.
Almost everyone in the second group didn’t transition until after 25 and are obviously not exercising the option of deep stealth, but some of us are for all intents and purposes living lives where many people don’t know their status. For instance, Lynn was stealth for over 30 years, but was then outed when pioneering computer work she did prior to transition was uncovered. She then chose to go ahead and be open about her past. Personally, I have a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy going on, where my history is never discussed at work or with non-trans people unless I want to. However, I’m obviously not hiding it, either.
In addition, most of the women listed above are in contact with numerous women who maintain even deeper levels of stealth (i.e., not out online).
Use caution when emailing someone. Many people claiming to be transsexual, especially those claiming to be “transkids,” are not. People pretending to be transsexual could run the spectrum from relatively harmless middle-aged wannabes engaging in fantasy role-playing to dangerous sexual predators.
Anyone pretending to be transsexual has the potential to to be problematic, just in different ways. The “harmless” types who are “just having a little fun” have been known to dole out advice as if it were based on their personal transition experiences. I consider this a serious problem. This type of behavior is nothing compared to the tiny handful of pretenders who deceive young women for exploitative purposes, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
Keep in mind that some of the people attracted to transsexuals are themselves transgender or transsexual. Only a tiny handful of transgender and non-transgender transfans are predatory, but it’s good to understand that some transgender folks who want to help are doing so because they secretly hope they might score a little action with you. And a few “helpful” women are far more interested in scoring than in helping.
If you’re asking a question, try to do it without divulging personal information.
Some email programs store your correspondence where anyone can read it, so be sure to find out where your letters will reside if someone shares your computer.
Trans forums, sites, apps, and platforms
This has been expanded into a separate article. For tips on interacting online with others, as well as a list of transsexual forums, please see Trans forum list.
A good rule of thumb is not to use these. They provide a ton of identifying information, even at the most private settings possible.
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 and sanity. There are a lot of people in the community who may want to be your friend and meet in person. Most will not pass, and a few are emotionally disturbed.
Do not speak to someone on the phone until you have emailed for a while.
Remember, once you call someone, they will have your number and will be able to call you back.
Do not call from home if you live with others.
Do not call from work if you aren’t out at work.
Only meet someone after you’ve emailed and spoken on the phone long enough to be satisfied the person is not a kook.
Another good rule of thumb is to meet people close to your own age, since it’s more likely you’ll have things in common.
Meet in a public place, but not where you might run into people you know. Early on, I met a couple of people who were not as passable as they claimed and I was getting clocked left and right by association.
As I mentioned in the section on email, be aware they might be attracted to you. This is true for trans people, as well. Generally, the older the trans person, the more likely this will happen.
After you’re full-time and done with SRS etc., I suggest trashing your old email account, username and Internet service provider and starting over.