Girls like us tend to be resourceful. Although a bad selfie, after an hour of carefully applying our makeup, can send us into a pit of despair and depression (trust me, I've been there, and I am there more often than I would want to admit), we are generally determined to try again. I know girls like me who carefully modify earrings into a clip-on style because she can't get her ears pierced. I know girls who have developed an intricate, and multi-step process in blending different types and different shades of foundation to counter the slight blue-ish tint that a beard line can create. And which of us hasn't spent hours (or years) carefully balancing on five inch stilettos so we can confidently strut through a mall (or living room)?
I am amazed when I look back in my life at how often I dressed or shopped for panties without ever being caught. We have trained ourselves to be aware of our surroundings lest we are seen by someone we know while we shop for a cute bra to match our panties. Growing up I marveled at how quickly I would change as soon as my mom left for the day, and how fast I could change back right before she pulled into the garage. When this side of us is a secret, we do what we can, we do what we must, to acknowledge and, in a way, to care for this side of us.
As mandatory shelter-in-place orders are announced throughout the country, many of us have had our lives turned inside-out in a lot of ways. Basic necessities are hard to find, schools are closed, and events are canceled. We are careful with our hygiene, we watch the news as COVID-19 spreads, and we worry about... well, everything.
I am not minimizing the danger and seriousness of a worldwide pandemic. We all know what it is happening, and what the threat is. I know there are more serious aspects to all of this besides our personal gender identity. Smarter people than I have written about what is occurring out there. In times like this, we need to be aware of the physical impacts a virus can cause, but also the psychological and emotional toll this can create. This side of us is huge. For some of us, it is literally half of who we are. She is just as important as anything else in our lives. Not being able to acknowledge her can cause anxiety and stress. And since things are stressful enough, it is important that we are taking care of ourselves in all matters, and our gender expression and identity is crucial.
Girls like us are used to having a second life, so to speak. Hannah has different friends, clothes, (obviously) and interests than my male side. The internet and social media is a wonderful way for our femme selves to slowly introduce her to the world. We can make friends, learn makeup techniques, start a blog, and best of all, shop. Our online lives can require as much attention and work as our "real" lives. Our online lives are more accessible than ever before. It used to be we would need to be home to check our email, but now Hannah can reply to a tweet while in line at a coffee shop. Like most tools, the internet can be a wonderful and useful resource. In times like these, it's not as easy for me to stay connected to Hannah's life. I am used to going out en femme, I am used to seeing her friends... but until things start going back to normal, the internet is how she stays in touch with the world outside of the house.
As our real life adapts, and as our internet usage increases, it's an appropriate time to think about protecting yourself online. I know, I know... I sound like your mom. But this is a little different... especially if you are not out to everyone in your lives.
The internet is forever. If you post a photo it's there until the end of time, even if you take it down. Someone can easily and quickly download it after you post it and there's nothing you can do about that. If you post something, do so with the mindset that anyone can see it.
Including your mom, your homophobic supervisor, and neighbors.
A photo of you en femme can be used against you. It's not fair and your gender identity is no one else's business (except your partner's). I have had jobs where I know my life would have been a living hell if my boss or coworker saw a picture of Hannah and, well, figured it out. In some states you can be fired for being transgender and although you might identify as a crossdresser, let's face it, most companies don't know, or care, about the difference between those two terms. You might think it's unlikely someone would find your blog, your Flickr account, your Fetlife profile or your femme Facebook page, but it can happen. Assume it will, or at least be prepared for it if it happens.
I have my website, a Flickr account, and of course my partnership with En Femme. For every one photo of me in male mode, there are a hundred of Hannah. I am very much out there when it comes to being online, and although I tend to linger around the more queer parts of the internet, it's not unrealistic to suppose that one could find me. I am at peace with this. That doesn't mean I want everyone to know. Oh no, absolutely not. But I have prepared myself for this. I am secure enough of my gender identity that if I was discovered, I can have that conversation even if I don't want to.
Having a social media life is a wonderful way to connect with others. If you are feeling insecure about your makeup skills, a compliment from a stranger can totally make your day and boost your confidence. Making friends with others like us can help us feel less lonely. It's easy to see how a girl like us can be drawn to this. Not to be pessimistic, but this can be risky. I've written about the Pink Fog before and how the desire to have a connectivity to our femme selves can lead to hasty decisions and choices we should think twice about. Sometimes this can lead to us spending a little more on a stilettos than we probably should, other times it can cause us to post a photo or create a Facebook page for our femme selves when we should probably think about it before doing so.
I was always a little amazed that, as far as I know, I was never "caught". I've never been seen, again, as far as I know, by a friend or family member looking at bras in the lingerie section of a store. But the online world is another way not only for us to be out there, but another way for us to be outed. I tell myself it's unlikely that someone will stumble upon my blog or Flickr accounts unless they are specifically looking for trans-related things. If a friend who doesn't know about Hannah were to find her photos because they were looking for information about how to cover beard shadow or where to buy size 12 red patent heels, I am not worried about being outed by them. If anything, I will have someone new I can introduce Hannah to. But the risk is always there.
Is it possible that I could accidentally post a photo of Hannah to the Twitter account that belongs to my male self instead of Hannah's? Is it possible I could accidentally text a photo of her to someone instead of the picture I intended? Is it possible that Facebook, through their (slightly invasive) algorithms end up suggesting the page you created for your femme self to a coworker?Of course it is. It's happened to many girls I know. For those of us who aren't out to our partners, you run the risk of them seeing your Google history or a private message notification. This is the 21st century's version of your wife finding that box of dresses you have hidden in the garage.
Of course, I do not advocate hiding this side of you to your partner. I am not here to encourage you to hide this, or anything else from your significant other. In my opinion, it is a zillion times better for you to have "the talk" then have your partner find your online activity, a revealing photo, or panties stash.
When I was growing up, everything I had dreamed of is now possible. I can buy dresses online, I can chat with others like us. The virtual world is filled with resources and ways to express myself and websites where I can add to my shoe collection. It's wonderful. There is always a chance of us being caught for those who want or need to keep this side of ourselves a secret and going online opens up as many risks as it does opportunities.