Archive for the ‘Second Life Thoughts’ Category

I’ve found that when people create alts, an interesting thing happens: It seems to intensify their personality. When I’ve met people in their alt form they’re usually acting more intensely – more in your face, or more nice, or more cruel, or more honest, or even more funny. In turn, I also find that my reaction and first impressions of the alt reveals various truths about the original account holder. Let me explain with a few examples because I find this an interesting point and will be basing some further conclusions on it. In each of these examples I had no idea when I met the alt that they were an alt.

Friend #1 created an alt who I thought acted somewhat superior and exclusive, I had to be careful what I said and did around her, but when I acted the way she wanted I got plenty of reward from it and she made me feel special. Once I found out who she really was I realised that this matched what other people had been trying to tell me about her original account and how she made them feel. I realised that there was a lot of truth in it and I just happened to be in her inner-circle, and that sometimes I did have to do certain things to stay there.

Friend #2 created an alt who I thought was very funny, intelligent and intriguing. I instantly liked him and wanted to spend time with him. In fact, he created many alts and every single time I met them I thought “wow, you’re awesome!”. This realisation helped me appreciate my original friendship with them again – it had fallen by the way-side and I re-realised why I enjoyed their company so much.

Friend #3 created an alt who was cheeky and reserved. The alt had an intense precense in the room and people seemed to gravitate to him. He was impossible to ignore, even when he was silent o.O. When I found out who he really was I realised this was a side of his personality I had only dimly been aware of, but that it had always been there. We became closer friends over time, and I came to see that it was indeed a major truth of who he was.

And let’s end with a baddy: Supposed-friend #4 created an alt who came directly up to me and tried to push me out the pub (Three Lions). They attacked me verbally and physically, but were unable to express themselves clearly or convincingly. They got banned by a friend of mine at the time. When I figured out who they were I also realised they were an intensified version of the nasty judgmental and blind aspect of her personality which I had been aware of but hadn’t seen in full unbridled bloom until then.

So here’s the thing, every alt I am aware of encountering has revealed or reminded me of some truth of the original account holder. More often than not it has in turn changed my reaction to the original account holder, with the new realisations in mind. But this also tells us something about alts: A lot of people use alts to escape themselves / “play” someone else who they’d rather be. It appears though that the fundamental personality still comes through and is perhaps ultimately inescapable. No matter how much we try to hide ourselves, our words and our actions – even in a virtual world – reveals things we may not even be aware of ourselves. I realised a while ago that Second Life is not really an escape – if you’re miserable in real life that comes through too. So it’s not surprising that creating alts to escape the original account isn’t particularly successful either.

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AloneOne of the most intense and recurring experiences in my time in Second Life, has been talking to suicidal people. In particular, trying to talk suicidal people out of killing themselves. I have decided to write this post about suicide and Second Life, for three reasons: The first is I want the people who use Second Life to find someone to talk to about being suicidal, to know that they are not alone; many others do the same and it can be quite effective. There are dangers involved in using Second Life in this way as well and I’ll mention some of those. The second reason for this post is to let the people in Second Life who help these suicidal people, know that they are not alone either – to offer a little support to those kind souls. The third reason is to discourage the nastiness that some suicidal people come across in Second Life.

When I was at my university there was a national controversy over whether our student magazine should have run the article they did on suicide, which outlined all the ways to do it and revealed the truth behind what it would be like to attempt to and to die those ways. There was a huge debate that helped me establish my own views on the topic. One of my views that came from it is that you should talk about suicide openly in society, another is the realisation that is is rarely the professionals who have to deal with the problem at first – it’s often your average friend or family member trying to step up. This post I’m writing is with those things in mind.

So let’s start with the first reason I have for writing this post – to speak to those who use Second Life to find someone to talk to about being suicidal. The attraction in using Second Life in this way is the anonymity – “genuinely” suicidal people will often not tell those closest to them in real life that they want to kill themselves. This is in part because they don’t want to be stopped. They also don’t want people in their real lives to think they are nuts or emos, in case the need to off themselves passes. Talking to someone in Second Life is a way to reach out for help, for understanding, without confronting those extra complications. Plus, it’s free.

A major problem though with using Second Life to do this is that you don’t know some vitally important things about who you are talking to – unless perhaps when you go to the specific Second Life groups set up for suicidal people. Most suicidal people don’t seem to want to talk to these professionals, at least not at first – that seems to come after they have spoken to someone who has talked them round to acknowledging that they need that level of professional help. So the front line is your average Joe who you met and only know through Second Life. Here’s the thing – you don’t know what level of training, understanding or experience that average Joe has, you don’t even know for sure if they are adults. You also risk talking to someone who gets their jollies out of calling you an emo and telling you to just do it then. Yes, these people do exist and I will be talking about them later in this post as well.

So use Second Life for this purpose if you must – reaching out is good – but please try to do it with someone who you know well enough to not worry about them being underage (and therefore not able to nor should they be dealing with responsibility for your life), and also to know enough about them that they will not make you feel worse.

For the people who are the helpers – the listeners to these cries for help, you are not alone either. It is emotionally and mentally draining to feel that level of responsibility for someone else’s life. I know, I used to spend hours day after day helping numerous people. But I felt I had to do it and I did to the best of my abilities. Remember that it says a lot about you that these people feel they can talk to you openly about something so personal and essential. Keep in mind that there are those professional suicide help groups around – both in Second Life and real life, and that they can help you to cope with the level of care you are giving these people and they might be able to give you new strategies if you’re feeling overwhelmed and worried about your success. Don’t forget to use your own support network to keep you going.

At least three times I have had a Second Life friend tell me they already had or were right about to do something that would end their lives. The one I know who definitely tried something was talking to me on Second Life as she tried to retain consciousness. I did what you must be ready to do sometimes, even though they don’t want you to: I did everything I could to bring real life in to save her – I wanted to call her (this was pre-SL-voice) and tried to find someone who lived anywhere near her in real life. If someone is telling you they have done something already, you act like it’s real even if you have some doubt that it is. And that point very unfortunately brings me to a story about the sort of people who give suicide “a bad name”: The deliberate faker, and how you should deal with these people.

One person I dealt with openly admitted after I had “talked him out of killing himself”, that he wasn’t really suicidal, he just wanted me to talk to him. He was a stalker I had been trying to avoid. I was so mad at him for putting me through that level of worry and manipulating me like that, that that was the last time we ever spoke (well, as far as I’m aware anyway since he was a fan of alts). It is people like that who make so many people dismissive of suicidal threats and treat suicidal people like attention-seekers. So I want to – need to – talk to this point.

Take every threat of suicide as a real one. Let me explain why. Yes a lot of people use the threat of suicide to get attention, but if they need that attention – if they’re got to the point that the feel they have to lie about their intentions to kill themselves just so someone hears and cares for them – then give that to them. Answer the cry for help, don’t call them an emo and walk away. And if you’re not willing to help them then find someone who is. The other reason for this approach is because you can never be sure if they are “faking” or not, and though you would not be responsible for their deaths if they did kill themselves, you would feel like you were anyway – and no one needs that over their heads. Also remember the “half-hearted” attempts at suicide are always serious – not just because they are calling for help in a very loud voice, but also because they could go that accidental step too far and actually achieve what they were only “playing” with.

At the same time, if you are one of those people inclined to use the threat of suicide to get extra attention, stop using that method. Please. It causes extensive alarm and shifts the focus from dealing with the long-term problem to just trying to stop you doing your supposed current plan of action. Try instead to talk about your problems and issues with your friends and loved ones – you’d be surprised how much people actually do care very much whether you live or die. I care and I don’t even know you – I’m one of those crazy people who don’t believe in the death penalty even for mass murdering psychopaths, so nothing you’ve done could ever make me think you’re better off dead.

I need to end by saying I am not a trained expert. I have a lot of experience talking to suicidal people, and like most people I have had suicidal thoughts at times in my life, and it is only that level of understanding that I draw on when I try to help people. The reason people know they can talk to me, and the reason they (hopefully always) leave happier after they’ve talked to me than beforehand, is because I do genuinely care and want to understand. I am not the only one either – I’m a typical human being and there are thousands of people like me in Second Life who want you to stay alive in real life. So use Second Life for this if you feel it’s the only safe place you can do so, but do try to seek professional help too.

Thankies 🙂

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PradI’ve often considered doing a post solely about Prad, but the same problem kept coming up: When do I write it? He keeps doing new awesome things for me and I knew if I wrote one he’d just do something else awesome and I’d have to write another post. My whole blog could have ended up being an ode to Prad, and I really don’t like looking like a fan-girl / stalker. Finally though the time is right.

It’s so hard to know where to start, might as well go from the beginning. He was a DJ at Three Lions when I first got to know him, and I loved going along to his sets, they were a huge crowd favourite, with good reason. I just thought of him as some nice funny popular guy. Which actually sums him up really well to this day. It wasn’t until the pub closed and we all started hanging out on his roof that we started chatting a lot more and I got to know him better. And every new thing I found out about him just made him more real and more interesting.

Once Crown & Pearl started up, I knew it would be my home base, mostly because I knew Prad’s presence and influence would bring to it all the best people and aspects of Lions. It became so much more though. God I’m going to miss that place so very much, more than I ever missed Lions.

My friendly attitude and own popularity got noticed overtime and they made me an official greeter there. Then security, then manager. It was such a huge deal to me to be considered staff at Crown. And the first half year of being manager was the happiest time in my SL existence. The place’s existence, and my promotion to those positions, wouldn’t have happened without Prad.

And then there’s the art. I would be nothing in the art field without Prad. I only even noticed Flickr because of him and his own talents. I started my own Flickr account soon after and started taking my own pictures. He saw my potential and gifted me a year’s pro subscription to Flickr for my RL birthday last March. He offered me the use of his studio at his home, he gave me the pose ball script I ended up using everyday, and he gave me encouragement and support. I don’t hesitate to say that I became one of the well known SL artists in my time; I was included in exhibits, I won and got placings in many contests, I had my picture included in a well-known SL magazine, and I had a steady stream of paying clients. I also don’t hesitate to say that it couldn’t have happened without Prad.

Even this blog wouldn’t exist without Prad – I only noticed SL blogs because of him. So all the hits I’ve had (which recently went over 5000, yay!), all the people I’ve met through blogging, and the joy I’ve got from this experience in itself, again wouldn’t have happened without his influence in my life.

Prad’s been there on so many important occasions for me – one of my favourite SL memories is the day I became a mentor and Prad’s alt was there becoming a mentor too at the same session. I laughed so damn much and everything was hilarious, because he was there sharing it with me in IM the whole time. What could have been a very boring hour turned into one of my favourite hours. And that is the influence Prad has had on my SL life as a whole – when things should have been horrible or unbearable, he made it all OK and helped everything turn out alright. When I thought I stood alone, he always had my back. When I thought I couldn’t keep going, he let me know I had it in me to be great and helped bring that out in me. In every part of my Second Life he has helped me become so much more than I thought I could be and so in leaving SL I feel like I’m letting him down.

Yet even now he stands beside me and supports me. Even when I’m leaving so much behind he hasn’t gotten angry or indifferent towards me, he is still my friend today as much as he was yesterday. And hopefully years from now I will say the same.

Even though I won’t be in SL (except every now and then in the smallest regard – only for pictures), I will always do whatever I can to look out for him back. For his SL self, and his RL self. For everything I managed to achieve in SL, my RL persona is more successful and powerful, and those skills I have will continue to be at his disposal for him whenever he wants or needs them. In the same way that he has always been there for me, I will continue to do whatever I can to support and help him.

Of all my friends, I will miss him the most. I still have him on external message systems, but I’ll miss the way it always made me smile when he came up on the mystitool radar, and how the mood in a room always shifted for the better when he appeared, and his DJing, and his drunken singing, and just his very distinct avatar. There aren’t many people in either worlds like Prad who can make the world a better place in so many ways. He’s not just a builder, a DJ, a photographer, a bar owner, a blogger, he’s my friend. And that transcends pixels, even on ultra high graphics 🙂

Thank you Prad. For everything ❤

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IslandI’ve been doing a heck of a lot of sim-hopping lately – visiting about fifteen new places a day. And I’ve noticed something: A very large number of people put little effort into first impressions. They’ll do a write-up for their sim, they try to sell it’s appeal and the items available there, they spend how much time and money on actually purchasing and building the place, and yet two vital pieces of the first-impressions puzzle keep falling short: The picture in the search, and the arrival point on the sim itself.

The picture doesn’t have to be done professionally, but at least cycle through the four day-settings to find the best one for the sim! And consider boosting graphics to their highest level for the picture, that helps. I’ve even seen pictures in sim searches where the photographer didn’t let the sim rez properly before taking the snapshot (such as having big bubbled shapes of what are meant to be edged rocks when fully rezzed) – a bit of patience when taking the picture, or waiting until a good day when things rez properly, is a great idea. If I had my own sim and knew I couldn’t do a good quality picture for it I would pay someone what is often only a hundred or so lindens, to do a proper one – it’s a small investment that makes a big difference to how many people will visit the sim. (Hell, if you’re reading this and you want a picture done, ask me if you like, I’ll give you a discount if you mention that you read this blog entry.)

Then there’s the TP point. If someone has chosen to visit your sim, you can make them want to leave by placing the TP point in such a place that the normal camera angle makes sure all the arrivee sees is a wall, or a cloud of branches – both are equally off-putting. Sticking it in the ocean is pretty annoying too. Place it somewhere visually interesting and inviting as well if possible – as wonderful as the rest of the island might be, what will rez is what they are closest too, and if that doesn’t capture the imagination they probably won’t stick around for the rest.

I’ve been visiting places despite bad search pictures and very poorly placed entry points, and by doing so have found some very special places – places that are unlikely to be otherwise discovered by many people because of the lack of attention to these vital first impressions. It’s a shame – these are such small things that don’t require much time or money, that can make such a huge difference if done well.

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You may be aware that people can set their islands to only allow access to people with payment info on file. A friend told me about this a while ago and after a bit of thought I decided it was time to give Linden Labs my credit card details so I had payment info on file, and therefore wouldn’t be restricted from enjoying those sims. I gave Linden Labs my credit card details three weeks ago, and it still shows as no payment on file, in-world. I submitted my credit card details again a few days ago – still, though the Second Life site says they have my details, my in-world status is no info on file and I am suffering the consequences of not having access to these places. I have submitted a support ticket after reading that this is a very long running issue, according to this it dates back to at least June 2007. That’s a year and a half ago. Come on!

Now even if Second Life didn’t have this running issue, even if my payment info was showing as on file, I would still be think it a silly decision to make your island only grant access to people who had payment info on file. I can sort of understand the motivation for the people who have introduced this restriction: I’m guessing they think that it will lower the number of griefers, and will lower lag on their sim from having people there who have no intention of actually purchasing anything..? As soon as I say that though the flaw in the reasoning becomes obvious: There are huge numbers of people in-world (and I am one of them) who makes and spends lindens without ever having had payment info on file. By placing this restriction on access to their islands they are blocking legitimate customers from their products. Note also that having payment info on file does not mean you ever bought a single linden or have a premium account, all it means is you gave Linden Labs your credit card / paypal info.

As for griefers, having payment info on file doesn’t magically stop you being a griefer, though I’d agree that it lowers the chance a griefer would make it to your land. Having said that, you would have to have very wide spread griefing and significant lag issues, to think that blocking everyone without payment info on file was a good decision. I just don’t see it. I see so many more bad things than good things that come from implementing this policy on your island.

Having being blocked from one significant location so far because of this restriction, I can tell you another result of the policy: Bad blood. It’s a very unpleasant  feeling when you get told you’re not allowed onto an island, particularly when – for the one I’m talking about – I’ve given the owner lindens previously as a thank you for the sim because I loved using it for pictures. I was under no obligation to give them money for letting me do that, it was just something I often do. But now that I’m blocked I feel like it wasn’t appreciated and that my pictures which promoted the place as well, weren’t appreciated. Maybe it sounds like I’m taking it personally… well it is personal. I’m considered a lesser resident in the eyes of these people, even though I am part of the economy since I both make and spend lindens in-world. It makes me not want to go to these places once the payment info on file issue is cleared up. Once it is dealt with I won’t be able to tell which places do and do not block me based on this factor because I won’t get the warning when I try to teleport,  but in the meantime I will be keeping a not-happy mental note of each sim which does this to me.

Yes it is their own land, they can block or grant access as they choose. But it is insulting to the people excluded, and it strikes me as a bad business call. If I owned an island it is not a measure I would implement, not least of all because it detracts new members who are just getting a feel for Second Life from experiencing whatever I’d have to offer on my island – whether it was a store, a club or “just” a beautiful sim. I would actively encourage traffic and make people feel welcome. Maybe that’s just me, what am I missing here?

So until Linden Labs sorts out this issue (which they should have done before implementing the option for island owners to block people with no payment info on file, don’t you think?), I am on the outside looking in. And it all looks bad and pointless from this side of the divide.

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A recent survey has revealed that 1 in 100 Americans is being stalked. When I heard the story on the radio today I was walking back home from buying takeaways for my family (yes I use an old-school radio walkman, not an IPod). I looked up my street and figured there were easily over 100 people living there and started wondering how many were being stalked right that moment by perhaps someone in a car that I walked past watching their house…

Then I remembered I don’t live in America :p

But really, 1 in 100 is huge. I’ve written a few times before in this blog about stalkers in Second Life. I’d theorized that their prevalence in Second Life was because of factors like the anonymity and the pure ease of it. The article I’ve linked above says the technology available to stalkers now (in real life) has not increased their numbers, but rather is just “another tool in their toolkit”. Which has lead me to do some further thinking along these lines: Is there perhaps something about Second Life which stalker-personalities find attractive? The article has raised quite a few questions that I’m keen to address. The first thing I’d like to clarify is this though: Exactly how prevalent is stalking in Second Life? Is my perception of how wide spread it is, distorted for some reason, and if so, why?

So I’m setting up a poll attached to this post to see if you have been stalked in Second Life. I’m semi-reluctant to set up polls because it may be a tad pathetic if / when only no people take part in them, but screw it, I’m gonna run it anyway (and depending on the level of response will blog on the result later too).

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I tire of reading posts that state that gender in Second Life is irrelevant; that we simply do not need to know whether someone is male or female. It’s always stated with a sort of righteous air, that the writer is ever so liberal and evolved and why can’t we just see the light too! Then of course, it’s followed up with a lot of comments all saying pretty much the same thing – all falling over themselves to agree and jump on the righteous wagon. Each time I read these I want to bang my head against the table, because the thought processes seemed to have come to a halt at “let’s love the world” and gone no further into the reality of what they’re talking about and what they are suggesting. So, I’m going to go a little further for them, because I’m helpful like that.

We’ll retain the foundation claim: You shouldn’t really “care” whether you’re talking to a female playing as a male, a male as a female, a female as a female, a male as a male. But it already requires some vital clarification: The real claim should be that you shouldn’t think less of someone who wants to play as a different gender than they might be in real life – that this does not make them sick or confused or evil. That’s fine as far as it goes, but people very rarely stop there. They almost inevitably then say that gender is totally irrelevant and you should take no interest at all in the gender of the person playing in real life. This is where I veer away and I’m going to have to explain why else all the commenters who so praise the posts I have in mind, will make grumpy face. And no one likes grumpy face.

I want to first clarify that it strikes me that the really “enlightened” person, wouldn’t feel any need to be blind to the gender differences of real life to Second Life – to essentially stick their heads in the sand. Rather, they would quite happily know of the difference and not be disturbed by it, indeed I’m going to show that they should go a step further and take an active interest in the differences and try to appreciate and comprehend the reasons behind the variation in gender. Which brings me nicely to my first reason as to why we should “care”:

Deceit. Let’s make it clear – you are under no obligation to tell people your real life gender, so if you don’t tell them – don’t lie to them – no harm, no foul (generally anyway, I’ll be returning to this point below). There are some people who understand the prejudices they face and decide to live in Second Life as a woman because though in real life  they are a man, “inside” they have always felt female, and so feel obligated to lie when asked about their real life gender. This is a sad state of affairs – that they feel they must lie to people to feel accepted, but it is not something we should be OK with them feeling they must do. There is another strongly related point here – that for some men they see themselves as women in real life anyway, so when you ask if they are female in real life and they say yes, to them they really are telling you the truth, and it is an important truth for them. That’s fine. But you all know where I’m going with this deceit talk don’t you – the people that I feel every right to know the true gender of are those who use the different gender in Second Life to try to seduce people who otherwise wouldn’t get involved with them – especially men who log in as women and decide they are lesbians because they have a fantasy about watching two women go at it. If you have this fantasy as a man just find a woman who wants to play along, it’s not too hard to do, instead of actively lying when asked what your gender is so you can score some lesbian who might end up falling in love with you or being very hurt when she finds out the truth. I’ve seen it happen. It’s cruel, it’s not OK. Which brings me to the second category of reasons against not caring at all what gender someone is in real life…

Love. In the same way that you should not condemn people for being bisexual, you should neither condemn them for being heterosexual or homosexual. So if you are in a friendship with someone and you’d really like to know if the person you think you’re falling for could ever be to you what your dreams tell you, you cannot get all righteous on their arses for wanting to know if they are actually with someone of the correct gender and sexual orientation as would match their needs. If they don’t care what the person is in real life then fine, but don’t go telling others they are bad for wanting to know the reality of the person who has their love. It’s not just love effected by this of course it’s also…

Friendship. When you share your secrets and experiences with someone in Second Life it helps and matters in an extraordinarily large number of ways, what their true gender is. For example, if one of my female Second Life friends is actually male, I am hardly going to expect meaningful conversation and consult them about periods, being on the pill, having breasts, wearing bras, giving birth, breastfeeding, etc. We, quite rightly, vary the topics and experiences we discuss with people, based on who they are – their age, their marital status, their education etc. I have no doubt some women are really quite comfortable discussing their brand of tampon with their male friends, yay for them, but I would expect that to bore and be totally irrelevant to my male friends and so wouldn’t bother them with it – and it’s very likely that a lot of men playing as women don’t want to hear about that either. For me to form a good honest friendship with someone I want to know their true gender. I won’t “care” what it turns out to be, but I’d still like to know it, and I shouldn’t be condemned for wanting to know.

One final reason I want to put forward for why it does matter is because I think it actually promotes understanding and harmony if we all feel that we can be honest about our genders and why they might differ from our real life ones. It’s good to have an open environment where we know these things and learn to accept and understand them. I want to understand why that girl plays as a man, it intrigues me: What aspect of their true gender are they trying to escape, or do they love who they are and are just experimenting, and so on. If we say “you know what, I don’t care at all what your gender is because I’m so enlightened like that”, it seems to me part of message we are sending out is we don’t need or want to understand them, it’s a sort of wilful blindness to their plight and experiences. We’re saying “gender doesn’t matter” but can’t you see that by playing another gender in Second Life they are actually often stating the opposite – that it does matter to them; that it matters so much that they need one place in this world – even if it’s a virtual one – where they can live the gender they truly see themselves as.

Plenty of people don’t take Second Life seriously – they treat the rest of us residents like lab rats to laugh at while they try to deceive us into situations we’d have otherwise never consented to. We shouldn’t grant these people the open slather of saying we don’t care about gender at all, because in fact, love, friendship, trust, are tied up in it. Experimentation is fun, fine, go do it on a  role-play sim, or just avoid the topic of your real life gender, but don’t expect everyone on the grid to not care and be told off if they do care. Many of those of us who see Second Life as a gateway to real and meaningful real life friendships do care about the reality of who we are talking to.

A large chunk of what I’ve written here is backed up by personal experiences. Yes I have male friends who play as females for various reasons (and females as males which is far less common). Yes I 100% accept them when they do so – I actually do see them as women in world and often treat them as such while being conscious they are nevertheless male; no I do not feel the need to tell other people they are doing it – that’s up to them to share with whom they want, when they’re ready. But I respect them for telling me the truth. No I do not respect the many men who have tried to pass themselves off as real life women to me and only revealed very much later that the whole friendship was based around what turned out to be a lie – I don’t like being lied to, who does?

The topic can become complicated further by trying to define when someone is implying they are a different gender than they are in real life but haven’t said so explicitly, so haven’t “lied” per se. They just, for instance, always have an avatar with the “opposite” sex of that in real life. To me, this line is a debatable one, but if I’ve had quite a few lengthy conversations with the person, I expect them to tell me something like that before the friendship becomes a close one.

This is one of those topics that I think people get so intense about that they don’t stop to think about what they’re really saying – they end up sacrificing more important points they could be making to blanket statements that conceal deeper truths at play. I’m not saying there’s no prejudice around and it doesn’t need to be fought, I’m not saying the battle is already won, I’m just suggesting people think a bit more about their statements and stop giving the bigots a strawman argument to knock down instead of the stronger one they could be making.

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