Then the internet was new. In the blush of coming out, I’m sure I posted regrettable material back in 1996 when I got my AOL account. And I had no idea about the waybackmachine. Facial recognition software was material for sci-fi novels. Now Facebook makes all but our birthdays and contact information available on the internet.
Now I’ve come to the realization the internet is forever. What I post in an instant may very well live long after my mortal body returns to the earth and air. Academic Juan Enriquez believes Andy Warhol had it wrong: In the future, everyone will have only 15 minutes of anonymity.
I recently wrote an article for Gentleman’s Gazette about digital etiquette. There I made the point that since we will probably achieve a kind of digital immortality, however tiny our slice of notoriety may be, it is best to behave like a responsible digital citizen. I stand by those words.
In the process of writing the article I became fascinated by the forever internet and my online life as a transsexual man. In 1996 I could not have known that everything on the internet will last long into my future. Now I post carefully and write only about myself.
This potential for internet immortality has specific implications for trans people. More than once in my capacity has a publisher I have been asked to remove photos, names, etc., from people who no longer want their images, names, etc., online. Happily I obliged them.
But the reality is this: What is searchable is saveable, and what is saveable is retrievable. It may be retrieved for free or to people willing to pay. Just because I removed the photos and names doesn’t mean it’s gone from the internet. Facial recognition software can now scan photos online and store them in a proprietary database. Once there, it will be probably stay there forever. Even if I’ve removed it here on my website (or Homofactus Press), it is still there in a company’s database.
There are no takebacksies on the internet.
What this means for trans people (and anyone, really, for that matter): Be very sure you want to post your own image and your own name. If you believe you may wish to live a different life in the future, a life where you had a gender congruent past, then don’t post your photo or real name. Also don’t post images of friends, family, and especially children, without their explicit consent. Too many of us get tossed to the wilderness by once loving friends and families. Better a strategically conservative online persona than one fraught with hateful comments from now evil relatives wanting photos removed, names changed and so on.
We don’t have the luxury of an uninterrupted, blissfully peaceful future. We are no different than anyone else. Except we are, because we know our very safety can be compromised at any moment. They don’t yet know that every future is a contingent one. Stay safe and plan ahead for your own online future and safety.