Saturday, May 26, 2007

Men who are women who are men

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.


anima said...

Hi Veronique, thanks for this thoughtful post. I'm a RL guy who's played a female avatar for over 6 months. I'd say that in RL i have crossdressing tendencies but am othewise quite happy with my gender.

I love playing my female avi, i did try a male but it just seemed so...well, dull.

Most of my SL friends are female, none know my RL gender, I do fear what will happen with the arrival of much this will hurt them if i'm uncovered.

Anima x.

Gemini Congrejo said...

Hello Véronique, bravo pour ton texte, qui permettra peut-être une évolution favorable des tendances à tout vouloir vérifier sur SL. Car après l'age (peut-être le plus nécéssaire des controles), le genre, il y aura l'orientation sexuelle réelle ;-)et nombre de SLiens et SLiennes lesbiennes, homosexuelles et autres bi qui trouvent dans SL l'occasion de vivre l'espace d'un instant des fantasmes que la FL permet moins facilement.
bref, 1984 d'Orwell nous ouvre la porte en grand si nous n'y prenons garde.
Je t'embrasse
ps: je te laisse faire la traduction si tu le souhaite ;-)

Véronique Lalonde said...

Thanks for the comment, Anima. And Gemini, I will respond in English for those who cannot read your comment. :) I agree with you that age verification is necessary, although if the adult grid is for those 18 and older, it should have been in place from the start.

I don't think there's any big worry about sexual orientation, though. In SL, from what I have seen, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are pretty open about their orientation. RL genders might be hidden, but not so much RL sexual orientation. Even though there seems to be some RL intolerance creeping into SL, I haven't heard about those of minority sexual orientations being harassed -- yet.

2E Leven said...

I have 'unmasked' a few gorgious SL girls myself. They admitted to be a man in FL, after we had lesbian cybersex. And I am sure there have been several SL-girls I had lesbian encounters with, who are probably FL-men. But that I don't know, and don't need to know. And I don't mind it at all, as I am bisexual anyway.

With some of the 'unmasked' I still keep contact, because this cybergenderbending is one of the many things that fascinates me about SL. And offcourse I am discreet about their role. They even sometimes give me quite good tips and suggestions how to improve my avi! :-)

Ok, female bodies are generally speaking more atractive to look at for me then male bodies. (FL as well as SL) But I don't have sex with 'men' or 'women': At first place I make love with _people_ that turn me on in their communications. Wich bodyparts they then appear to own (in SL or FL), is just a next thing.

But I must admit I haven't yet met a person in SL with a male av, who has managed to seduce me into cybersex. I'd like to keep that kind of virginity for a really hot cyberguy. A FL-female with a male avi perhaps? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I play a gorgeous and petite blonde in SL, even though in real life I'm a man.

Why ? Well.....unlike some people think, it is nothing to do with being gay....'exploring one's sexuality'...and all that. I think the REAL reason men do it is vicarious. It's nice to watch some hot piece of totty wiggle her ass around the place....especially if you've make her really sexy. I love watching my creation dance. And when other people enjoy her....I feel almost like I am in their place. I would say this vicarious enjoyment is what motivates most men to do it.

I'm too good at it to ever be 'found out'. And so what if I am ? I mean....the whole of SL is make believe. Why is it lying if a man pretends to be a woman.....but not lying if some scrawny 90 year old grandad dons a trenchcoat and pretends to look like Keanu Reeves ? Howcome the average age on SL is 34.....but you never see anyone who looks past their teens in SL. Men playing women is just the tip of the iceberg of make believe.

Anonymous said...

Oh.....and an interesting point, and someone will probably slap me for this......but from what I have seen men are actually better at creating a female avatar than women are. People tend to create their idealised image....which for a man is a real life female image. Women tend to exagerate body parts, be far too thin, have no idea how big a woman's ass should be, etc. So if you want to spot the men......look for the most life-like women.

Veronique Lalonde said...

@Anonymous -- you're right. It has nothing to do with being gay. Sexual orientation and gender identity are separate things.

You've given us your reason for having a female avatar. I'm sure there are other men with similar reasons, but I don't think you have the evidence to say that most men who have cross-gender avatars do it for the same reason as you do.

I don't really think you have the evidence to back up your claim of who does a "better" job with their female avatars either. If anything, nontransgender men are more likely to create Playboy bunny types (I've seen some). I should think women are the ones more likely to create realistic female avatars.

Anonymous said...

I've given fairly simplistic reasons, largely because it is a lot more complex than a few paragraphs can explain. So while you have a self-confessed gender bender here....I may as well enlighten, as I've spent years doing it online, so at least it will go some way towards answering why do hot blooded hetero males ( I am happily married in real life ) do it.

There's a whole series of different modes a non-transgender man is in when playing a woman in a place like SL. Yes, there's a base level of titilation.......well you know what men are like. Why spend ages chasing women when you can BE one ! And of course a character you create yourself can't run off. This is the base level....pure titilation...some men maybe never get beyond it....which I think is a shame.

Next above that is a sort of ' Barbie girl, in a Barbie world ' level of play acting. Pure fantasy 'what if ?' role play....more intellectual than sexual. What's it like being a woman ? You get to see all the little tricks that men use...from the other perspective ! Can be quite amusing....and VERY enlightening. I personally think that ALL men should give it a go.

But I have to say....the REAL joy of being a female avatar for me is not sex or play acting but the next level. It's the level where I can be dancing to some beatiful trance piece on the dance floor and actually feel weepy over it, know exactly the female dance moves to make, know how to ward off that guy who wants you just for your body ( is that all men think about ? ) and thinks ' do you want to be my friend ?' is the best chat up line, and of course don't chose the pole dance option ( how vulgar ) , and know when 100 men have been leching at you and don't think ' cor.....I could watch my avatar having sex !' but just calmly stroll off the dance floor at the end and leave after a good time.

That's the point where you begin to FEEL what it is like being a woman.....and even gain a sense of self respect as such ( hence not bonking every male in sight ) It's not exploring sexuality so much as emotions. Not a case of being a closet woman.....but of discovering a side most men are culturally conditioned to ignore.

To re-phrase Higgins in 'My Fair Lady'.......'why can't a more like a woman ?' A lot of men reading this will think I've just become a pansy......but in real life I am 6 foot 4 and built like a brick sh*thouse and they are welcome to say that to my face. Women rock..........that's why I play one.