Mercedes Allen

Safe Dating, the Silent Alarm, and Signs of Predation (draft)

Filed By Mercedes Allen | August 04, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: dating, police, safe sex, safety, transgender, transphobia

This is a draft for comments, and I invite discussion of any additions that are needed. It will eventually be posted to DentedBlueMercedes and archived at AlbertaTrans.org (brochures will also likely be printed for local distribution as well as available online). I do not take credit for the safecall concept -- it has been around for decades, and I first encountered it through the leather community (a version of it has also been present for a long time among escorts). But I do consider this advice important to anyone in a risky dating situation, i.e. for pre- or non-op transsexuals, queer communities, online dating communities, some sex trade or adult entertainment performance situations, or even just simple everyday blind dates. This is written without prejudice, in the understanding that in no circumstance does a person ever deserve to become a casualty. As such, permission is given to reprint this without modification (although it can be prefaced or followed with additions) anywhere that people feel this advice will be useful. I cannot guarantee your safety, but it's my hope that this can help.

Blind dating is never risk-free, especially when some aspect of a person's life exists that can cause negative reactions, or when an aspect of their life means that they might be potential prey to predators. When meeting a person for the first time, you will be completely unaware of any history of confusion, instability or biases they may have. First impressions are never enough, and the greater the risk, the more secure the safety net is needed. The recent and tragic murder of Angie Zapata is only one of thousands of stories in which dates have gone bad, and it demonstrates how serious the consequences can be.

One habit that can minimize the risk is known as the "silent alarm" (sometimes also called the "safecall"). There are several variations of this procedure... you can settle on what is most comfortable for you.

For your first meeting, it's best to insist on a public place. A restaurant or a mall coffee shop is ideal. Never agree to meet a stranger in a private place such as a hotel room or home. Make sure that your transportation to and from your first meeting is under your control -- don't rely on your date for a ride home. And don't let someone know your home address until you're comfortable with them first. If prior discussion indicates a mutual plan of going someplace later for more private fun (which might include your place or theirs), agree on the location in advance, and have the address to this location. If this location changes unexpectedly, this may be a warning sign to get out or call for help.

A "silent alarm" is a situation in which you tell a trusted friend where you are going, and when you expect to be back; you also give him or her any information that you may have about the person you will be seeing and the place you will be going. You arrange with that friend to call at a prearranged time, no matter what the events of the evening bring. If you don't check in, your friend is to call the local authorities immediately, with any information they have. It's also a good idea to prearrange with this friend to have a code word or phrase that you might include during your phone conversation, in the event that you are forced to make the call under duress, and need to indicate that you need help, without arousing suspicion from a person threatening you.

Helpful points:

  • If you have your date's phone number, try to arrange to call it first, to verify that it is correct.
  • Inform your friend beforehand what your plans for the evening are: time, place, etc. If anything changes, let them know during a check-in call.
  • Don't use your date's phone or cell, in order to help avoid the call being traced later, thereby potentially putting your friend in danger. Cell phones add a certain element of potential danger to your friends, so depending on the level of risk, you may want to consider this.
  • This isn't just a first-time procedure, but can be maintained (perhaps relaxed gradually) for as long as you remain uncertain about someone.
  • The "silent alarm" is most useful as a deterrent. If your date knows that you need to check in with a friend, they'll know that if they harm you, this will alert someone else. The point is that he (or she) knows that there will be some accountability if anything goes badly. Some dates may be offended by this, but most should understand that it is sound advice for blind dating.

This all sounds paranoid, of course, but when it comes to blind dates, people met online and the like, there is virtue to it. You can, of course, modify the procedure to suit your situation, and if you feel that a more relaxed system of simply passing your date's name and number on to your friend and arranging to call them whenever the date is over will suffice, then do that. But any Plan B is better than nothing.

If the situation arises such that your friend does need to call police, they should stick to referring to the encounter as a date. They should not disclose any information that might bias the dispatcher at the other end of the phone (i.e. if you are a member of a racial group or transsexual, if any money is being exchanged or if porn is being produced).

If something goes seriously bad, vigilantism is not preferred to police intervention. However, in some communities, such as where racial bias, homophobia / transphobia or discrimination against sex trade work may be present, silent alarm planning should also include having a personal supporter drive to the scene of a situation in the event of an emergency. That person is not to intervene unless circumstances leave no other option to ensure personal safety. That person's first role should be to act as an advocate in whatever aftermath may occur -- not to interfere with the police on the scene, but to observe (a camera recorder of some kind may even be warranted) and hold them also accountable for their actions; also to follow you to anywhere you may be taken, and help obtain your release if charged for any offence. Discrimination has not been completely dealt with in society, so unfortunately, this does need to be a consideration.

In addition to the silent alarm / safecall, there are other things to remember:

Never let your drink out of your sight. If it is being poured in a private setting by someone you've recently met, be sure you've observed the pouring of the drink, right from when the glass was first selected. This may sound paranoid, but the use of date rape drugs is not a new thing.

If you hadn't planned on anything sexual but are suddenly directed that way by someone you've just met, be suspicious. Your best bet is to get out of that situation at that time, and assess how this person reacts to your refusal. A non-predatory person is much more apt to understand and respect the word no, and the reasons that you would have for not wanting to jump into anything too quickly.

For beyond first dates, it is also important to watch for signs of predatory behaviour. It is true that some signs can be misread, but if they are cumulative, the evidence grows stronger. Be wary of:

  • Attempts to isolate you from friends, family and / or acquaintances. This can include insistence on moving right away to a location that is inconvenient or impossible for them to visit, or wanting to prevent people from knowing where you are.
  • Attempts to make you dependent upon them financially or emotionally (i.e. trying to turn you against your friends).
  • Controlling behaviour which restricts where you go or who you talk to.

There is often more to safe sex than condoms (but don't forget those, either!). The greater the risk, the more you may want to do to prepare yourself.


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Mercedes, this is all really good advice. I totally agree with the point about a person trying to isolate you from your family/friends. One of my old roommates started dating this woman who was TOTALLY anti-social. Whenever she came over to our apartment, she would spend the entire time in the bedroom and expect that my roommate would do the same, even if there was a living room full of people who wanted to see her. It's a huge red flag to me that this person didn't make any attempts to get to know her girlfriends friends/roommates. Glad to see that I'm not the only one with this opinion.

Good advice. I'd drop that "it might sound paranoid" parts, because that distracts from the message and invites the reader to doubt what you're saying, but it's pretty good overall.

Then again, I don't work in the safety field.

Mercedes -

First, thank you so much for writing this. Unfortunately, it is desparately needed. Second, could you please clarify the following paragraph:

"If you have your date's phone number, try to arrange to call it first, to verify that it is correct.
Inform your friend beforehand what your plans for the evening are: time, place, etc. If anything changes, let them know during a check-in call.
Don't use your date's phone or cell, in order to help avoid the call being traced later, thereby potentially putting your friend in danger. Cell phones add a certain element of potential danger to your friends, so depending on the level of risk, you may want to consider this."

I had trouble following your thinking.

Next, I think it's very important to tackle the issue of "disclosure" when addressing this safety issue. The decision of if, when, and how to disclose your trans status in a dating situation call literally mean the difference between life and death. It can trump any other safety precautions undertaken.

I'd also add that people need to listen to their gut. I'm afraid that too often transpeople are so anxious to be asked out that they sometimes ignore those nagging little warning signs that trouble is lurking ahead. It's hard to value yourself when you're looking for acceptance from others, and a little fun, and if you're afraid no one else will ask you out.

Finally, one other warning sign I'd look for several dates down the line is if they don't want to even meet any of your friends. At some point, your friends need to eyeball an ongoing companion.

Oh poop. That was ssupposed to show up as an unordered list, as was a bit near the end.

1) If you can get his phone number and make a way to call him back -- to verify it -- you can be certain that you're passing accurate information on to your safecall friend.

2) Let the safecall person know all the facts before you go on the date, so no one has to try to determine later where you are and who with.

3) With cell phones, the call history features sometimes make it easier now for someone to trace who your safecall friend is or where. Is your friend stored in your contacts? Does their name turn up on the call display? Have you saved home info with the entry? In an encounter that goes seriously bad, it can get worse if they decide to try to erase the trail of people who know.

I'll clarify those points for the final draft.

I don't think there's a right or wrong answer regarding disclosure. I will probably write a little about it, but in the end, whether someone discloses or not, there is potentially serious risk and not just in terms of physical safety.

I said I would never post here again...FWIW, I'm making an exception on this one.

If the person is post op, there is a bit more latitude as when to disclose. Personally, I don't think post ops have a need to disclose unless they think the relationship is going some place...whatever. There is latitude there...I've only disclosed twice, both times over the net...both times after I had dated the guy for a while...both times I contintued dating the guy and things went well. And I have dated a lot of straight guys since post op.

But it is insane for a pre-op to go out with a straight male before disclosing FIRST, NO EXCEPTIONS...either over the phone or the net, and then even AFTER disclosing, continuing to chat to make sure the guy is cool with it. And never meeting the first time even AFTER disclosing until following the tips Mercedes gives, i.e., meeting in a neutral place, independent transportation, etc.

Mercerdes, it is a good article and very practical advice.

However, the issue of disclosure in my opinion is of an utmost important nature and should not be relegated to secondary status.

More so when an individual is integrating themselves into "hetero-normative" dating practices and they are either pre-operative or non-operative.

The reality is that too many trans-peeps have been lost to violence from heterosexual men freaking out and the likelihood of heterosexual XY males changing is slim to none.

Therefore, it becomes our responsibility as a community to implore our fellow trans folks to understand these deadly consequences.

Debating whether or not people should have to disclose is a non-sequitur, the reality is, failure to disclose is taking your life into your own hands, and far too often,ends with another dead trans person.

Disclosure is another method of safe-sex practices within our community.

Until, it becomes the default, akin to condoms, we will continue to lose individuals to this senseless, but wholly preventable act of violence.

Having a friend drive by the scene in the "aftermath" just means someone to send the additional name to the "Remembering Our Dead" website.

As a pre-op, I have to totally agree with Susan on this. However, there is one thing that worries me about post-ops who don't disclose very early on. Even with surgery behind the person, there are very unstable men out there who would go bezerk once they find out the person they held hands with, of even kissed "used to be a guy," as they would put it.

The Remembering Our Dead list has several victims that told their date too late into the relationship, regardless of how far it had progressed. There are even two women on the list who revealed their situation after getting married. It is not much better for lesbian post-ops, But it's more emotional. I haven't heard of any lesbian murdering a post-op trans woman after finding out.

All very sound advice, Mercedes. I just gave a friend of mine hell for unsafe dating off of the internet. With three different people in a row.

*sigh*

I like it Mercedes and I think disclosure of ones status requires more than a quick thought.If possible and in subtle ways try to see what the person's reaction might be.If it looks like it might be positive or if your a little unsure go for it in a safe place like a restaurant or someplace others are around in case it should go poorly.

I really do need to echo part of what Monica said.

There are other ways to discover someone's trans status other than through sexual intercourse. So being post-op isn't exactly a magic shield. And once someone finds out, if they're a homo/transphobic nutcase, they can freak out just as much, regardless of surgical status. They don't exactly differentiate levels of "queerness".

Arguably, they might feel tricked and humiliated, especially if it's been an ongoing relationship; and that could lead to a very violent response.

On another note, I really wish it was possible for people to not have their surgical status as part of their identity. Among other things, it is a false dichotomy within the community and leads to assume a measure of safety that may not exist. Gender isn't affected by surgery.

How would it be if Bil were to predicate his posts by announcing how many testicles he has and if he's circumsized? Would we assess his viewpoint differently depending on his genital configuration?

Just saying.

I think that even in a enlightened future (as in "Star Trek" future) human nature will still have a strong influence on how people will view transsexuals. I wrote a futuristic novel (taking place 100 years in the future) where one of the characters was a TS Baby. At birth, the doctors knew the baby should be a girl instead of a boy and made the necessary changes. In her 20s, she had a boyfriend and when he found out, he freaked, but not violently. He did call her nasty names, which did hurt. I wrote this long before I began living as Monica and would probably make some changes to the TS Baby idea.

Rory said "Gender isn't affected by surgery"

In the grand scheme of things this is a scientifically true statement, but we don't live life scientifically do we. From the point of view of most heterosexual men, surgery (GRS/SRS) very much doe's affect their conception of your gender. Those that have not had corrective surgery are considered by most to be the gender their genitals are. In the case of Angie, we are told that the murderer became suspicious of her percieved gender and went for a physical check by grabbing at her crotch area. Had Angie been post op, even if the guy was still suspicious, the outcome may have been completly different.

FACT: Heterosexual guys don't do well when presented with male genitals no matter who they are attached to.

I have been post op a very long time now but back in my pre-op and foolish days I occassionally put myself into bad situations. One time was with a guy I met at a bar that became suspicious. He confronted me with the statement that if he were to grab my crotch area and didn't come up with a vagina that I would be seriously beaten. Fortunatly, I had my car with me and left immediatly. Another time, when I was newly post-op, the very fact that I was post-op probably saved my life as the guy I had gone home with became suspicious, locked me in the room with him all night while he angrily confronted me and would not allow me to leave till the next morning. Had I been pre-op I can only imagine what might have happened. It still sends shivers down my spine to think of it.

That was a couple of decades ago. These days I am in a good relationship with a great guy who knows and doesn't care. He is heterosexual, was married for 18 years before we met. Even so, I disclosed early on in our relationship, in fact right after he told me he was in love with me. Up to that point I felt no need to disclose. I am a woman and what I was 20 years before that doesn't need to be told to someone that I was dating, that had no clue of my past. However, I still believe they have a right to know something as important and basic as corrected gender but ONLY if you are both considering anything more than casual dating.

If your pre-op, it's a no brainer. You need to disclose every time and before you accept the first date. If your a non-op, well, you are heading into territory you don't belong in when your contemplating accepting any date with a heterosexual man. Even most lesbian women are more likely to consider dating or a relationship with a post-op rather than a pre-op.


So, "Gender isn't affected by surgery" is truthfully wishfull thinking and usually what pre-op's and non-op's tell each other to help them feel better. Having a Vagina doesn't make you a woman, but having a Penis precludes you from being a woman in anything tangible to the outside world no matter what your inner self may be. In the real world, if your "credentials" are not in keeping with your appearance you can put yourself in a world of hurt.

Seriously? Nothig about disclosure?

Then again, should I be surprised?

Just a note to let anyone interested know that a revised version has been posted to dentedbluemercedes.wordpress.com