Posts Tagged ‘gender’

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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This is another post that comes from thinking about an issue Bailey raised in her Blog ( http://baileylongcloth.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/why/ ). This time about people who play as genders in SL different than they are in RL. But I want to focus on one particular reason for what is usually a man playing as a female: The question of what their true gender is in RL. Let me explain.

Many men play as women in SL, for whatever reason, and there are many reasons for doing so. The one that I find most interesting is when men play as women because they think of themselves as women in RL, but haven’t had a sex change yet or feel they never could because of how society would treat them. Whether you view this as acceptable or not will necessarily in part reflect your RL attitude to the flexibility of gender assignment – to whether someone can be born into the wrong sexual organs, so to speak.

I openly and unquestionably accept that people can be “trapped” in the wrong sexual organs – sexuality in humans is a continuum more than a black and white thing. For some children their sex is actually “assigned” at birth because they have traces of both organs, they are declared one or the other and that is that. Sometimes they are surgically “corrected” and sometimes they are not. Hormones always confuse things further, you can change your body chemistry and enhance consequently features that would otherwise only appear on the opposite sex. Some women and men physically appear to never reach sexual maturity too. There are so many variations, so I have no problem accepting this gender continuum as readily as I accept a continuum of sexuality from heterosexual to bi to homosexual.

With this as my background knowledge and attitude, I have no issue at all with people in SL playing as what they think is their “true” gender. And they don’t owe me information about their gender according to their sexual organs. In fact you could argue the deceit is happening in RL when people look at them and see someone that they believe they are not. This is part of the beauty of SL – it can show you in some ways for who you trully are.

Having said all this, I am in no way disillusioned enough to think that this is the real reason most men who play as women, do so. It is however an interesting aspect of SL life, and of the gender we choose to play and why.

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