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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. For more, see my page on internet safety and the option of stealth.
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:
A good rule: Never email or post anything you wouldn't want everyone to see if it were taped up at work or school.
There are several good private mailing lists available only to subscribers. Members are screened by the list owners, and unless you respond to a mail, no one except the list owner will have your email and contact information.
A correspondent notes: "If you join a Yahoo Groups or Topica mailing list, check first how public it is. If it's an open list, even non-subscribers can read along. If it's subscribers only but no screening procedure, everyone can join on a whim and search the archives. Only moderated mailing lists that screen would-be subscribers can be deemed safe."
Once you have read on for a while, you can either mail a question to the list owner, to a person who made an interesting comment, or to the list,
Some lists get an awful lot of mail, so if they have a Daily Summary option, you might use that so you get one big mailing rather than tons of individual notes.
Internet bulletin boards and privacy
I strongly recommend against posting to trans newsgroups and forums unless you have thought it through carefully.
This is especially true about posting photos.
There will almost certainly be a record of your participation somewhere with these types of forums. Some have ways of opting out of having your stuff archived, but it's no guarantee. Someone else can always copy and paste your post into their own posts against your wishes, and you'll be powerless to remove the information once it's in someone else's post.
Bulletin boards and newsgroups are often not reliable or useful sources of information. You'll often have to wade through a lot of worthless crap to find any useful stuff, and it's usually not worth the effort. Many people on these boards share misinformation or opinions that are uninformed or biased. In addition, many of the participants are just starting out like you, so they often know little more than you do, even if they act like they know a lot.
Some emotionally disturbed people regularly post to various trans newsgroups and bulletin boards.
If you anger some people online, they will not hesitate to spend a big part of their lives trying to track you down to out you. Many of these newsgroup "hangers-on" are very adept at using sophisticated computer techniques to discover your electronic trail, and any posts you make can give them clues as to your identity. Not long after this article was originally put up, someone was outed by another trans woman on this Internet "support" newsgroup. The person who outed them included the closeted person's full name, their wife's name, the occupations of both, a list of hobbies, activities, and biographical information.
Do not participate in any forums until you've considered the risks and know the regular posters and the tone of the discussion. Read or listen, but don't participate. This is called lurking, and it's the smartest option.
Research before posting
If you're considering asking a question, it has probably already been asked and answered, perhaps several times. Use the search feature before asking.
If you decide to post
Most web-based bulletin boards allow you to post anonymously, but the webmaster may be able to collect certain computer information about you from your posts, like where you are from or what type of service or computer you use. Generally, they're pretty safe, though. For additional security, you might consider an anonymous remailer.
If another poster insults you or angers you, it's best to ignore them. They want you to respond. Bring it to the attention of the moderators. If you do respond, try to be civil. Do not engage them by insulting them back; they may perceive this as a challenge or threat, and they may try to escalate things. This is how stealth people get outed.
A reader writes in March 2006:
A special warning on USENET (the worst of the worst)
USENET once had its uses as a place for public discussion and debate. However, USENET is now completely overrun by people to avoid under any circumstances. Do not contact anyone who currently posts on USENET, because anyone still using that forum is deeply troubled and is not to be trusted. USENET and some other public and semi-public web discussions are very dangerous places to argue with people, because of the likelihood that it will escalate into something personal that can jeopardize stealth for those who seek that option. For the typical young surgery-tracked women seeking transition information, USENET is completely worthless at this point.
For instance, groups like soc.support.transgender and alt.support.srs were supposed to be places for support and information for surgery-tracked transsexuals. However, many posters are not actually surgery-tracked transsexuals, even though you'd get the impression from their posts that they are. Arguments and grudges that have been ongoing for years and years among a dozen "regulars" have collectively managed to cripple what was once a lively and useful forum for support and discussion. There are also several "lesser lights" who post for a while, then inevitably get into a war of insults with someone they disagree with. They then usually threaten to leave forever, but always come crawling back eventually like dogs to their own vomit. Their disdain for each other is seemingly endless, and they all seem to think they'll be able to shut each other up or get in the last word. They can't get past their own stubbornness and arrogance to settle their issues in private or simply ignore each other. It's as pathetic as it is dangerous for anyone stealth who crosses their paths.
Anyone posting there should be considered unreliable and unstable, and possibly dangerous. These are support group rejects who have proven they are unable to play nice with others.
Every transsexual forum develops its own personality over time, which is largely a factor of the restrictiveness of their joining policies and their level of moderation. Unmoderated communities where anyone can participate tend to be the worst in terms of finding useful information. Those groups also tend to be populated by kooks and trolls who get kicked off moderated forums for being disruptive and unproductive.
A number of good online forums will have like-minded people. It will take time to get a sense of the community, so don't rush in and blurt out your life story. A brief and friendly introduction after reading for a while is the best way to proceed.
Any forum moderator will tell you that all it takes is a couple of trolls to ruin a valuable support network, so I have listed resources based on how tightly the trolling is controlled. In addition to finding local friends for support, many people are able to find support through online role models.
Good forums on a broad range of topics.
Yahoo Specialty Groups
Selected groups from their wide-ranging list. Use their search feature to find other possible groups of interest.
Lurking only recommended at first
These sites are new and/or have what I consider high levels of trolling, confrontation, and/or disruptive losers, but they may have information of interest. Many are primarily geared to older crossdressers. Some are too new to get a sense of the readerhsip. Proceed accordingly.
These are designed for debates of a theoretical nature and tend to repeat themes after a while.
Trans-specific dating sites (proceed with caution)
Most of these devolve quickly into sex sites, so participate at your own risk. See my dating safety page and my warning about posting photos online on my internet safety page. If you feel up to it, you might just try regular dating sites or meeting people through non-trans interests and activities. You might even be pleasantly surprised!
If you have a forum you feel should be considered for inclusion, please contact me.