Sunday, March 4, 2007

Rebel, Rebel

You've got your mother in a whirl
She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl
I recently received my copy of Second Life: The Official Guide. I'm sure I'm going to find much that is of interest in there. I've been in world only since the end of July 2006, and there is still a great deal I do not know. I must say, however, that I am disappointed with the simplistic treatment given to the issue of gender.

As you might expect, in my role as a counsellor, I run into people who have gender issues. It's one reason people come to talk to me. And one thing I know from having spoken to people and from having done my homework in this area is that it's not as simple as either female or male. So to say flat out that those whose avatars are of the opposite sex as their First Life selves have to come out to their friends, and that's that, seems to me to betray a lack of understanding of the issue.

The term transgender is very broad and encompasses several different gender-identity phenomena, so without further specification, it's not terribly useful. But it does get us started with the notion that not all people see themselves as having the gender that is assumed to go along with their biological sex. A biological male might see himself as female, or both male and female, or neither, or some combination of the two, and you might never know it by looking at him. Same for a biological female. Transsexual is a subset of transgender; not everyone whose gender identification is outside the norm undergoes sex-reassignment surgery (SRS).

After films like Boys Don't Cry, you'd think that Second Life would be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Now, no one likes to be deceived, and most people do not like being deceptive. I'm sure that among those who participate in SL using an avatar that does not correspond to their biological sex, there are some who do it to deceive and some who do it as a lark. But among those who choose an avatar of the opposite sex, there are some, perhaps even many, who do so very purposefully for one reason: because they feel themselves to be that sex, wholly or partially, yet for various reasons cannot live their First Lives as a person of that sex.

What if a man in FL goes through the full change, complete with SRS, and the result is good enough that she has no trouble passing? Is she forever obligated to tell sex partners and other intimates that she was once a biological male? Does it mean that she is not a "real" woman because she grew up biologically male? In SL, if someone has the right personality and commitment, "passing" physically is no problem (the beauty of the pixelated sex change). Is a person who is committed to living as that avatar and successfully "passes" still not a real woman or man?

There are openly transgendered people in SL. If they want to be treated as transgendered, that's not a problem. But if they want to be treated as the gender they visualize for themselves, forget it. A female avatar who comes out is no longer female but transgendered. A male avatar who comes out is no longer male but transgendered. Complete acceptance as a genuine male or female by one's friends? Well, maybe, and maybe not. To the SL world at large, not a chance.

So there's the choice. They can be honest and despised or treated like freaks, just as in First Life. They can come out to their friends and, in all likelihood, no longer be treated fully as the gender they see themselves as, except perhaps by an enlightened few. That is the price of honesty. They might as well give up the fantasy and stay in FL. Sadly, in order to live the cross-gender life they can't live in FL, they have to keep a lot to themselves and perhaps even deceive their friends (if that's how they see it). That is the price of living fully as a person of the opposite sex. They have to pass.

It's not a happy choice. It's not an easy choice. And it's a lot more complicated than the SL book makes it out to be.


anima said...

Hello Veronique. I'm a male who's been playing a female avatar for a year now.

In RL I'd class my self as a cross-dresser that:

1) Has not yet found the courage to be open

2) Can't afford a fraction of the RL equivalent of my SL fashion wardrobe were I to find that courage

The last year has been wonderful, It's been great allowing this side of me to blossom out and free in the open, all thanks to SL.

This is also why I'm deeply saddened by the coming of voice. It will change everything for me.

Cala, Wired Faerie said...

Well stated, Veronique. I really appreciate you speaking up about this, as you know it's a topic near and dear to my heart. I've decided to start blogging on TG in SL as well - anima's comment above is very typical of those I've been speaking to. See my post on the crisis of voice and I look forward to us carrying this conversation a little wider. Hugs!

VĂ©ronique Lalonde said...

Anima, I'm thinking now that voice might eventually dominate SL, but not necessarily. Even if it does, I think there will be a significant group of "typists." We'll find out, won't we.

Cala, my dear friend, thanks for the comment, and great to see your blog. New link added to my list. :)