It's another one of those periods when nothing really blog-worthy has happened. You don't want to hear about yet another fun night at the Velvet, I'm sure! But I'm working on some stories for PixelPulse, and that always gets me thinking about social issues in Second Life.
This time, it's one of the big SL questions: why are there seemingly so many guys whose primary avatar is female? No one knows for sure how many, but it seems there are more than a few. I'm getting some interesting insights from some of the comments on my article on gender and integrated voice on the various reasons this might be so.
I don't doubt that a certain percentage of men playing women are doing it for kicks. I've met some. Men tend to view SL as a game, and being a female avatar would just be one aspect of game playing. Apparently, men have done it in online war games for years because of certain strategic advantages. In SL, men being female for kicks seem mainly to want sex, sometimes as escorts but often girl on girl. It's certainly obvious from first life that women, for the most part, control if and when they have sex and, if they want, can have as much sex as they want. Being female in SL brings the same advantage. Men might be the initiators, but it's women who say yes or no.
Of course, at least sometimes, the guy looking for hot girl-on-girl sex is having sex with another guy looking for hot girl-on-girl sex. Maybe the guys looking for hot action might keep this in mind. Or maybe they'd rather pretend it's not so.
Men playing women for kicks are sometimes called "transgendered." This is a misappropriation of the term. These men have no desire actually to be women in first life. They are simple doing a bit of role playing. Even though there might be some undertones for some of these guys that they're not admitting to themselves, for the most part we're not talking about transgendered men. There needs to be another term for these men, because it muddies the water.
Actual first life transgender male-to-female (MTF) people are another group who often play women in SL. I have spoken with many in the course of working on articles for PixelPulse. For them, being a female in SL is no game. Some are transsexual women in transition, at various stages, so it only makes sense for them to be female in SL. But many are MTF non-op transgenders. These would be biological males who feel themselves to be wholly or partially female but, for various reasons, are not transitioning. For them, SL is like a dream come true. They can live a life that is not possible in FL, but only if they live in stealth.
I've found an interesting in-between category. This would be a guy who is not transgendered but who finds playing a female avatar to be compelling. He doesn't want to be a woman in first life, but very much does in SL, not to have hot sex but simply because women in SL have more interesting lives—better social lives, more and better clothing choices, more opportunities. SL, unlike FL, is a woman's world. It's hard for a male avatar to demonstrate that he's a genuine person and not just someone looking to pick up a girl for sex. As in FL, the cool guys suffer for the sins of the numerous male asshats.
The influx into SL of "augmentationists"—those who consider SL to be an extension of FL—threatens to upset the equilibrium. Augmentationists always want to know the FL biological sex of other people, especially women. They abhor cross-gender role play, regardless of the reason for it. They do not distinguish among the different reasons for being cross-gender. To them, it's all deception.
Not many will cry over the hot-sex role players being "outed." They will just have to go back to being guys and taking their chances in the meat market, just like in FL. But the outing of transgenders, and even of the sincere non-transgenders, will be tragic. An opportunity that in unavailable in FL, that was unavailable until SL, will be lost. Not to get melodramatic, but at least one suicide will be the result. And many others will be crushed, lost, and depressed. Some might create new avatars and try again. Some will leave SL.
I sympathize with those who have been deceived, who have been having sex with someone who suddenly "outs" himself. That would be pretty traumatic, and something to be avoided if possible. But you can't have certainty in SL any more than in FL. You can try, and in so doing curb the freedom of decent people. But it's a bad idea. The level of control that attempts to achieve certainty is fascism.
It remains to be seen how prevalent augmentationism will become. Mitch Kapor might want to erase the distinction between SL and FL, but many long-time residents do not. "Your world. Your imagination." Many take that as an opportunity to create a parallel universe, a better world, a world of positive imagination. We have to see if the augmentationists have the staying power that the immersionists have already demonstrated. Whatever Mr. Kapor wants, he doesn't control what goes on in SL. The residents do. Unless the plug is pulled.