Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

Second Life, Second Gender

One of the things I’ve always been intrigued about in Second Life was the issue of gender.  In an anonymous environment like SL, honesty can sometimes become a victim to one’s subconscious desires.   I say that not as a moral judgment, but as an observation of fact — a surprising number of Second Life residents are probably not anything like they portray themselves.   For many, the anonymity allows them to explore facets of their personality that are repressed by social inhibition.

One of the common ways some SL residents explore is to roleplay as the opposite gender. How important is gender-honesty in a virtual world?  If mechanisms were put in place to force gender honesty, would it destroy the fantasy element of SL?  Would it make it harder for people to explore their own sexuality in ways that are not permissible in real life?

I know quite a few residents who have female avatars but who openly admit they are male – some of them transsexual or transgendered individuals who find a wonderful method of release in SL.  Others feel that they have feminine characteristics they want to explore.

In my opinion, the degree to which this is simply roleplay as opposed to deception  depends on the nature of their relationships — how much do their friends and virtual lovers risk by trusting them?  If the truth comes out, will anyone be hurt by knowing of the deception?  It’s the difference between a casual acquaintance dancing at your favorite club versus that hot blonde you fell madly in love with and proposed marriage to, only to discover they have a tab instead of a slot between their legs.

I submit that this issue is far more widespread in Second Life than most of us believe.  Though I like to think I’m worldly-wise and a bit cynical, I think the real breadth and depth of gender deception would startle most residents if the truth were known.  It would probably even startle me.

So what motivates someone to pretend to be the opposite sex?  What is their Second Life like?  I went to someone who would know.   This individual worked at a club with me right after I joined SL.  I was a manager at the time and they were one of the dancers.  The club had “VIP” rooms where girls could take clients for escort work if they so chose, with the club getting a small percentage of the fee. In a moment of candor, this girl confessed to me that she was really a he.  (For the record, she wasn’t the only one – and we added screening questions to the hiring process to try to prevent a recurrence, hoping they would be honest).  I had to encourage him/her to resign or be fired in view of the damage to the club’s reputation if it slipped to a client that we employed gender benders as escorts. 

It wasn’t personal.  I kept him on my friends list.  He was always an intelligent, sensitive person with a great deal of wisdom to impart — intelligent enough to slip past most people’s “guy-dar”.  His fundamental deception aside, at heart he was still an interesting person with feelings and motivations of his own.

I believe that every human being has varying degrees of male and female in their makeup — I believe that gender is not a black-and-white, male OR female phenomenon.  I think of it as a spectrum.  All of us are somewhere along the spectrum between all-female and all-male.  None of us are completely 100% one or the other.

I’ll call my friend “Doug”.  I won’t reveal his SL identity here or his real name, as I promised him total anonymity in order to do this interview.  I’m posting this heavily edited for the sake of clarity and to give you some insight into a mindset.  I don’t think his case is unusual.

Cindy:  “Doug, how long have you been playing a female in SL?”
Doug: “About three years.  Maybe longer.”
Cindy: “Do you tell people you’re really a guy?”
Doug: “Most of the time no.  It just never comes up. “
Cindy: “Has anyone ever guessed without being told?”
Doug: “Not yet. “
Cindy: “Why do you think that is?”
Doug: “I’m not sure.  At first I was sure people would spot it.  I have usual male hobbies like sports and beer.  But I also think I have a female side in me that’s been dormant most of my life.  SL gave me the chance to explore that female side.”
Cindy: “Explore it how?”
Doug: “Sexuality, mostly.  For lots of men, there’s a layer of homophobic attitude that has been programmed into them.  It prevents them from even wondering what it’s like to be a woman, to have periods, to be penetrated, to be pregnant.  It takes some major social deprogramming to ponder those things.  Exploring them has been a major life experience for me.”
Cindy: “And SL has helped you move across that barrier…”
Doug: “In ways I never imagined.  And it’s true what they say about women being placed on a pedestal on the one hand, treated like royalty, protected … yet on the other hand not having their opinions valued and being viewed as the “weaker sex”.
Cindy: “What’s your biggest challenge in trying to keep your ‘secret’?
Doug: “Hmm.  Probably guys who think they’re in love with me.  I like doing cyber – I’ve worked as an escort and it can be exciting.  But when they stalk you it can be scary.   I was a little concerned about ID verification but they haven’t done anything with it.  Now it’s voice.  I don’t voice for obvious reasons but I’ve heard there is software you can use to modify your voice to sound female.  I have to decide how far I want to take this.”
Cindy: “Do you ever have qualms about deceiving people you know?”
Doug: “I try to avoid that if possible.  In the end I try to remember that this is just a fantasy.  If someone falls in love with my cartoon pixels, that’s their problem.”
Cindy: “I’ll assume that you don’t do anything to encourage that?”
Doug: “I try not to.  But when you work as an escort or a stripper, part of the job is appealling to male vanity.  Flirting, making yourself attractive.  I don’t have any talent as a builder so this is how I make money in SL.  I kind of remove myself from my avatar, mentally.  When I’m cybering with a guy I feel more like I’m making my avatar do things and I’m watching her just like the guy is.”
Cindy: “Do you think being male gives you some insight into what men like, more so than a genuine woman?”
Doug: “I think so.  I don’t talk sports.  That would be a giveaway.  But I dress my avatar the way I, as a man, think is sexy.  I gave her a hot body and blonde hair.  Guys dig the Pam Anderson look.”
Cindy: “What will you do if and when the day comes that we have ID verification and you’re forced to prove your gender?”
Doug: “I’ll either leave SL or start over, I guess.  It would ruin most of the fun I’m having right now, making money and exploring what it’s like to be a virtual girl.”
Cindy: “You and I talked about this when I had to let you go from the escort club.  You told me at that time that you were ready to move on anyway and knew what would happen before you confessed your real gender to me.  I had suspicions at the time but wasn’t sure enough to ask if you hadn’t told me.  Have you had similar experiences with other clubs?
Doug: “No.  Every experience like that only teaches me lessons that I apply later.  I haven’t been found out since then by clients or managers, but I keep my mouth shut. “
Cindy: “What about guilt?”
Doug: “None. *smile*  I’m not out to hurt anybody.  This avatar is my alter ego.  She’s my inner woman.  Sometimes I wish I could really be her but a sex change operation isn’t in the cards for me.  I hate knives *smile*.  So I guess you could say she really is me – a part of the real me.  That part is real and genuine.”
Cindy: “So what advice would you give to guys out there about figuring out the real gender of that hot Barbie blonde they are chasing?”
Doug: “I won’t give away all my secrets *grin* but for one thing, if they’re a Barbie blonde with huge hooters, they’re probably a guy.  If the relationship is really getting serious I would just urge them to make real contact outside of SL.  Phone calls, face-to-face, that sort of thing.  Even if they turn out to be a real woman you don’t know what their physical reality is until you experience it.  And you can’t do that in a virtual world.”
Cindy: “And if it’s not serious?”
Doug: “Then I don’t think it matters.  It’s just a fantasy, after all.”

September 20, 2007 - Posted by | Second Life

10 Comments »

  1. I also have a SL female identity.

    I seem to pass as a female and yed dance and do escort….have to make money to have fun.

    No one has picked me as a male and I hope they do not.

    But I iwll disagree with one thing re advice. If a malen falls in “love” with a female in SL contact in RL.

    So all you married ladies please ensure my male Av gets you telephone number ASAP. Please.

    I do not think so.

    It is as said a fantasy SL world not the real. And it seems from my perspective that most of the “men” in SL want RL contacts and a free “****” without any issues.

    My AV does not have blond hair and big hooters.

    Interstingly I have found most women(if they are in RL) tend to go for other women and TGirls…So men when you get your wish you may find there a re no one around to play with.
    I suspect that is why voice is being pushed and ID verification.
    So “little boys” can ensure they get their jollies with 18 YO. So all you real ladies over 18 get an AV that looks like you, after all SL is not a game is HAS TO BE IDENTICAL TO RL thats what makes it a fantasy…*scratches head* how can it be a fantasy if we are all the same as in RL ?

    Comment by Bette | September 23, 2007 | Reply

  2. I have a confession…I’m male IRL :/

    Comment by Shailas | September 29, 2007 | Reply

  3. I saw a figure in a blog a while ago where it was claimed that a study by psychologists at Nottingham Trent University has found that 54 percent of all males and 68 percent of all females “gender swap”–or create online personas of their opposite sex. Of course such statistics assume that gender is clear cut and unambiguous in real life.

    What about intersexed and transgendered residents? Whether or not their avatars are cross-gender is problematic, isn’t it? And what about furries and non-gender specific avatars? I mean, no one assumes that if you’re a furry in second life that you’re one in real life. I’ve met avatars in SL that don’t seem to have a gender, like anonymous blanks, clouds of blue mist, and robots. Also, what about residents who have one or more ALTs and have mixed genders with their Avatars?

    There’s more than just “virtual cross dressing” involved.

    Comment by Laura Seabrook | April 25, 2009 | Reply

  4. I find this article very interesting and the comments reflect the wide spectrum of feelings about the topic. In rl from as far back as I can remember I have experienced periods of intense desire to be a female. However rl did not afford me the opportunity to become transgendered. I discovered sl and was absolutely blown away when I realised that a few mouse clicks were all that was required to transform me into a 100% female….I was hooked. I wanted, however, to be accepted as a transgendered person and so in my profile I show myself as a male av under rl and a female under sl and describe my transformation by a sl ‘goddess’. I am hetro in rl but I absolutely adore being treated as a sexy woman by guys in rl. I dont have to act the part it seems to come naturally. I just respond instinctively in a natural female way and have never been queried (by males or females). Sometimes guys read my profile and run. other times they are attracted by the idea of sex with a transgendered person. Most times they are so intent on laying me that they dont bother to read the small print. My av is tall, willowy with a gorgeous tanned skin and hair down to my waist. If I say so myself (based on my experience as a male av with females) I am one of the best lays in sl….. Anyway before I get too carried away I want to say that sl has given me the opportunity to live a part of my life that just wasnt possible in rl and I am grateful.
    I would venture to suggest that virtually nobody in sl is a true representation of their rl selves whether it be gender, age, physique, social standing…etc. and that is the way it should be..it is after all a virtual world.

    Comment by Derry Docherty | June 16, 2009 | Reply

  5. I play the parts of male or female depending on my mood…I am totatlly open to what I really am and the clubs I work at require me to be completely open. It might reduce the number of clients I get but I have also seen an increase in the number of clients who have particuliar fantasies they want to fulfill and not being able to find a more open person to help them with their fantasies. I really don’t view it as much of a problem unless it crosses the great divides into the real life. We all sign on to have our fun and if it is being a female then that is our second life, just like others would have their second life’s being an furry animal.

    I just wish that everybody wouldn’t take it as serious as they do…it is an online virtual world and how do you know that anybody portrayed within that world is what or who they claim to be. Just have fun with it and keep in mind that these are people you might never meet and although strange they might be they provide an insight to a different culture, region, and fantasy.

    Comment by T | July 31, 2009 | Reply

  6. I like to play as a female in SL even though I’m really a male which I keep secret. My goal is to just show off a chic avatar and chat, even if I’m pole dancing. The problem is all the guys think I’m there looking for a relationship and then they try to pry into my personal life. I would tell them I’m not looking for a relationship, but it seems they never believe me. At that point when they persist I just say “it was nice meeting you” and then I leave and don’t see them any more. This happens all the time, it’s just odd.

    Comment by Mike | February 17, 2010 | Reply

  7. I started out playing a male avatar and after a few days of not having any fun, I swapped out and created a female avatar. I played for several months and then wanting to try some new things I recreated a new female avatar and played over a year. I operated a club, and was involved in several “relationships” with RL men. I eventually did come out to the people I was closely involved with, either intimately or as friends.
    My experience was that most people did not care, and other than one individual who claimed she knew the whole time (yah mmmhmmm), everyone else assumed I was exactly how I portrayed myself.
    It wasn’t all that hard. I created an avatar based not on what I thought some guy would be into, but based on what a woman would likely choose. I dressed classy, not slutty, and casually a lot of the time. I was careful to assume the role of a female, like an actor playing a part. But the biggest thing was I pulled in aspects of my RL constantly. When something funny would happen at work, I would share it “as if” it had happened to my avatar’s female typist. If a RL issue came up, family illness, financial etc, I talked about it as I would if I were truly female.
    People would nag me about voice on occassion, but I discovered that by stating that I was staying with family, or very conservative roomates, most were content to let me be. If someone got too close to the truth, I would let that particular friendship dwindle or chop it off at the knees.
    Finally my decision to come out came about as I had made several close friendships that I no longer wished to lie to to the people. Hindsight, I would not have come out, but now having done that, I’ve found that most people were very open to seeing me as a guy, and I’ve not lost any friends as a result of it.

    Comment by Bailey | August 14, 2010 | Reply

  8. I found out my husband has 2 female avi’s he played regularly on SecondLife. He used them to go to lesbian clubs and sex places, then would chat up all the other female avi’s and talk about how “hot” and aroused he/she was getting in RL. He told them all he was female in RL and even described his arousal as a woman. I NEVER KNEW THIS WAS GOING ON until I needed to clear some files because SL was not running properly. He did it while I was asleep, or out of the house. He even nearly lost his job because he satyed home to play lesbian games with these other female avi’s. It really upsets me, because he tells me he is not interested in sex with me for medical reasons. Now I know that is not true. I am attractive, loving, supportive – all the things men usually look for in a wife. It hurts me so much!! Th eironic thing is, if he were to tell me about this, I would probably be okay with it, with the caveat that he include me in his fantasy. I love my husband so much, and I feel so betrayed. I have not told him I know, but I did block our network from being able to log in to SL. I am absolutely devastated and I don’t know what to do. We have only been married for 2 years, and should be having sex like crazy! Any comments? Please no haters – I genuinely need advice. I want my marriage to work.

    Comment by Betrayed by SL | January 31, 2011 | Reply

  9. I am a RL stright male who plays a SL female alt. I did it one day just by couriosity, and since the beginning I found myself in a totally different situation. I had sex with anoher female avi the firs moment she put me into an animation bed. I never had sex with my male avatar, so it was kind of shocking. The though I had been raped by that woman came to my mind and made me laugh. Of course I shared the animation wth her willingly, and I must say I enjoyed it very much, otherwise I would have cut off inmediately.

    I come sometimes as my female alt and I have got sex with lesbian women in several ocassions. You will smile at this, but I have learned a lot with it.. SL is a game where you can learn about yourself a lot. I keep being stright in RL, and use all these things I learn to make my wife happier when we have sex together (in RL of course)

    You may call me a liar but I have discovered I am not. SL is a big role game for me and for 95% of people. When I see a woman who is looking for a “real” relationship (it comes normally in her profile) I do not try anything with her. If she wants to have fun or frienship, I usually respond to her wishes. Many of them may be males in RL like me, but as far as they play well the game, I do not mind.

    I never look for sex, by the way, but sometimes I find it. It is part of the game, so if it comes, it comes. I pretend to have orgasms when there is a reson for it, though I do not get to that point in RL. I know this is an addult game and not a dating web. My only concern is that I could find a minor pretending to be an addult. In two occasions I think that was the case, and I TP away inmediatley.

    I have a sort of girl friend in SL who is with me for six months. After such a long time I think she knows for sure I am a man. She even knew my male avatar, though she preferes my female one. I have thought she could also be a man, but even if such is the case, i feel for her such a tenderness I would stil be her friend in SL. I dont speak of RL of course. RL is not a game, but SL is.

    Ariel

    Comment by Ariel | February 15, 2011 | Reply

  10. In SL I am a female, living as a male… I am straight in RL…

    Comment by Ganja | February 25, 2011 | Reply


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