I became incredibly excited about the internet in the late 80s and early 90s when America Online and CompuServe were battling for the acquisition of new customers. At the time, I realized the possible impact the internet could have on civilization over time. Just the fact of having access to large data files with all sorts of information seemed a dream come true. But years later, I realized that my assumptions were quite low. I never had considered that the net would have a profound and personal direct impact on my life. This started to take place in the early 2000s. First, I joined CompuServe (90s) and later changed to AOL, since it was moving faster towards social communication. I was fascinated by the groups offered by AOL and promptly, I was joining a few of my interest. Most dealt with outdoors activities, such as skiing groups that organized affordable groups trips everywhere. And the net kept growing faster than I could have realized.
One day I accidentally found Geocities. Knowing I could set up a free website there, I started to delve into many of them. Then, I discovered one that totally blew me away: A transgender (TG) woman that displayed her beautiful images next to her bio, her history and many hints about the realm. I totally browsed her entire site and later discovered many dozens of other TGirls. Frankly, I never thought by any means that we were so many. But what enticed me to dig as deep as time would permit with slow dial-up connections was discovering that many of them could very well be my old friends, live in my neighborhood, people I work with, the same type of people I would chose to relate to and not because of the trans factor. Sometime later, I attempted to get in touch with a few. Some simply replied with a polite note but made clear they were not looking for friends, pen-pals, etc. A few of those made clear that the net is nothing more than a virtual reality in which anyone can pose as they wish and that a few characters can actually represent all sorts of risks to TGs. I understood that reality, especially because although I shared with them my being a closeted TG, without having anything to show for it, I wouldn’t be trusted.
Then, I started to work towards having my own pictures and creating a website too, a process that was lengthier than I imagined, because I didn’t have the skills to present a believable female image. Then, I did all I needed to do about make up, a nice wardrobe, etc. What a happy day it was for me finally knowing I was there. Slowly and gradually, I made friends on line and a year later, met a few at the Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) in Atlanta. I spent the entire week there and my life literally changed forever.
At the time, I was fully convinced that I was no more than a casual and occasional femme dresser. I even recall swearing to some friends that I was fully congruent in my male life and persona. Which was true. But how could I know femme congruency would have a larger impact in my self perception? SCC changed my entire way of looking at everything. Without the internet, I never would have known about SCC. That entire week, I recognized the many facets in myself as a female and I loved every bit of it.
Although my first experiences as a gender-variant person occurred when I was 5 or 6 years old, once I was discovered by a grown up and was lectured about boys and girls, I shut the door to that. The issue came along back and forth for many years, but I always managed to run as fast as I could – away from it. Therefore, finding the TG realm on the net allowed me to open myself to myself and I realized I was not being weird nor mentally insane. My wife knew all about it and supported it as far as I wanted it to be. Starting in 1998 I found myself indulging in the company of my wife, but doing so only at home was the extent of it and I always had a sense of remorse after indulging.
But by early 2004, I was dressing up for an entire day and seven days in a row at home, since I was working from home every other week. But that week at the ’05 SCC influenced me not only to continue doing it, but as well, to venture going out of my home. I already had been engaged in therapy with a specialized Identity Disorder therapist. With lots of reluctance and after revisiting many events in my life, I realized I lived with a deep and chronic denial that I couldn’t overcome, for fear of losing everything. But at some point, I realized that I’d been missing more with my denial. Before the end of 2005, I came out to everyone important in my life, began HRT, moved to San Francisco and started living full time, including obtaining a full-time job working as myself.
All of the above wouldn’t have taken place if I hadn’t found those maverick sisters on the net. It was as simple as that. Therefore, I dedicated a large chunk of my time delving into the net more and more. But at this point, my aim was to take the same place that those sisters had generously shared and to contribute my part. I became very active in several venues, never suspecting where I would land. Today, I dedicate as much as I can afford to contribute to our realm. In this precise moment, I am contributing to the newly out sisters that like myself, who have found a momentum in their life thanks to the internet.
Above, you have read something that many others have experienced as well. I’ve met a few trans sisters who traveled on their path alone and never delved into the net nor sought any support group etc., but those are only a few rare sisters. The rest benefited from knowing that they were not a bizarre being, alone, and learning that there is a true and satisfying life to be achieved but that such will require taking small baby steps, that it is better if they are slow rather than fast, for the purpose of becoming fully aware of all the issues that arise from breaking the leashes of judgment, stigmatization and ostracism. The road is not easy, simple or fully rewarding, but by taking the proper measures, the impact is minimized and the gains multiplied. In the upcoming contributions to xQsí, I’ll cover a lot of territory with many of the important topics of such a case.
Not everything is good when dealing with the net. It is not easy to keep the proper perspective because the discovery of this realm and its freedom, may blind us to some of the pitfalls that most encounter and that are learned the hard way. That’s where we can find those wolves that will prey on any innocent soul. And trust me, I consider myself streetwise, but I’ve been taken more than once and although the consequences have not been too bad, those experiences were absolutely unnecessary.
For starters we have to look at the fact that pornography is one of the, if not the largest, revenue makers on the internet. A great part of it relates to “She-Males”, “Trannies”, “Ladyboys”, TG escorts, TG dating clubs, etc. No, I am not warning you of possibly falling into those. Well, by choice and intention that is. But if you post your images on the internet, be aware that anyone wanting to steal them, regardless of any mechanism that exists on any website, always has a way to do so. Just consider that anything that appears on your screen, in reality exists inside your computer. Website predators not only know this very well, but have incredible tools to visit literally hundreds of pages and copy them in no time. Yes, we are talking about seasoned hackers that work for many porno sites. So, what about if that happens to you? When your images are posted in a website, you have no idea who is looking at them, nor what they will do with them. Most of these sites allow paying customers to download whatever they want. And believe it or not, many non-transgender males enjoy collecting this type of material. In case you’ve not figured it out, the best way for them to do so is to create their own pages in places like Flickr and many other social networks but then to use somebody else’s (mine or yours) images and pretend to be that person. I’ve run into many pages like those myself. But it can get much worse when their images end up at a sex dating club or porno site.
Another scenario: If someone you know happens to connect the dots with you and that profile, a lot can be at stake. I’ve met a few people that lost custody of their children because the spouse hired an investigator to find any possible clue in order to represent their spouse as someone not capable of doing a proper parenting job. Not to mention being accidentally discovered by your spouse. And that can be used at the negotiating table to gain more material benefits from the TG spouse. Again, I’ve known a few people facing this particular scenario. Another one, hard to believe as well, is when someone doesn’t like you and happens to know that you are a CD or trans. Therefore they can expose you to others. Another scenario that I know really happened to a few people: someone belonged to a TG group at Flickr and a neighbor of hers discovered her pictures in that group, the same group that his son belonged to. He recognized the front of his neighbors house and started to watch her. This trans sister then was exposed in their church and that started a serious conflict that evolved into divorce and she then lost her employment. But there is one bigger threat, one that most of us disregard in these times: the “moral vigilante”. Believe it or not, there are plenty out there. And their job is rather easy. All they need to do is to figure who is in their location, follow her steps, collecting data and at some point take “justice” into their hands as they choose. A good, long-time friend of mine was set up this way and the predator found her, beat her and left her in a ditch, taking her for dead. She survived the attack with several injuries, but after spending an entire year in a hospital, her recovery was minimal. She lost everything and sometime later committed suicide.
The big question is: is it possible to use the internet and avoid these types of problems? Yes, it is, but doing so requires a lot of dedication and tons of common sense. For starters, do not create a page, profile, etc, that anyone can easily access. One or two G rated public photos would do the job, but only let those whom you trust see the rest of your photo stream. Of course, this as well means no sexy/erotic photos for public display. Predators aim for this type of page first. But how do you know who to trust if you don’t know them? This is the common sense approach. In my past I’ve goofed a few times trusting some sisters who apparently were legitimate. Later, my own images were found in other places with someone pretending to be myself. Yes, that’s right. The entirety of the content in pages, including name, location, etc was used by not one, but several predators. Taking down such pages requires a massive amount of time to prove those images and identity are yours. Otherwise they will use your goods to prey on others, especially if your photos are pretty and much more so if they are sexy.
Here some ideas about screening your potential friends. A recent profile, old or dated pictures, website pictures or others’ pictures or no pictures at all are a “no go”. People that include thousands of contacts in their roster or mark as their “favorite” hundreds of pictures are a red flag. My rule is that no one with a profile less than one year old is allowed. Tons of the very same kind of pictures with no diversity through time show that they are not active frequently, otherwise such photos would not be included. A proven activity is a most. I never join any group, period! As well, I don’t easily accept (if I do) anyone that has erotic images available to the public. Those will expose you to a large number of predators that otherwise would not know you exist, unless by accident.
The easy and most secure way to gain contacts in social networks is: make only a portion of your profile and images available to the general public. In other words, only your contacts can see everything. If you chose to share your sexy images, do so only to your friends. Screen, screen and screen everyone before including them as a rightful contact. And do not get deceived by beautiful pictures! Predators know well that pretty pictures of women gain free access right away.
Perhaps you belong to a group of sisters that have nothing at stake if your images are used by someone else or end up on an unsuitable website. The inherent risks are much larger than what I state here, and the #1 reason I decided to blog about this, is because many sisters, like myself, were excited by having a large roster of friends or getting a good number of views on their pages, perhaps lots of comments. Although feeling popular and cared for by many others can feel right and good, those that I speak for, just as myself, learned a hard lesson: that it is much better not to go through the painful process of having to recover your images or identity. But more important is the fact that finding like-minded people is not impossible or hard, if you first weed out whom not to associate with. We all have very different reasons to navigate the internet and create a presence, but although there are all types of risks in ordinary life, being trans is not like being an ordinary person who has the same ease and access to everything that everyone enjoys.
I still believe the internet is a blessing and the benefits can amount to several things that in real life are not as easy and simple to pursue. But lets keep in mind that the internet is an alternative, not a true lifestyle. Many of us benefited from it because that was the only venue to deal with several things that are almost invisible in the mainstream world. BTW, those perks have been fading rather quickly because of the large, increasing amount of predators seeking a victim. But it is doable! All it takes is to find suitable people, to explore all those perks and to find something that delivers much more than the internet, or virtual reality. I’ve known many gay and trans people for years that literally are unable to leave their homes. For one reason or another one, they spend endless time reaching out through the net, or playing video games. I’ve been there and done that and the day I changed all that, life became many folds better and I can promise you that yours will be as good if not better. Just be safe, selective and invest all it takes to develop a lifestyle that enlightens you. You need no money, vehicle or charms. There are so many people like you and myself who are looking for precisely the same and they will benefit as much as yourself from the same. Perhaps a good alternative is to reach out for support in related groups and likely there is one in your region. Join them and don’t judge them, because diversity is a way of life in all domains. And at some point you’ll find, like myself, many sisters on the same page as yourself. Good luck in your quest!