Monday, June 16, 2008

About My Second Life Avatar Gender Identity

My avatar's gender in Second Life (SL) is male. I look to be in my twenties and my skin is blue. In real life (RL) I am female, caucasian, and a baby boomer. But I didn't start out with a male avatar in SL, I started as a female. So what happened? And why do I remain a male avatar?

My first avatar was a large overweight female (I had not even considered making it male, though I did think about possibly being a furry (animal like avatars). I made myself large because I had seen videos of anorexic and voluptuous looking female avatars and was not interested in being either. Within my first three months of joining SL, and after spending little time in-world, my female avatar had run into two rather negative incidents. (Note: This was before the advent of private orientation islands, where new SL residents currently can be more safely oriented in SL.)

Simply put, one incident was verbal rudeness from a female avatar and the other incident involved being physically accosted by two creature type characters. Neither incident was major, but they both bothered me. After the second incident, I wondered to myself whether they would have occurred had I been a male avatar. Would I have been treated differently if my avatar's gender was male? This lead me to experimenting with my avatar's gender. What took place after participating in SL as a male avatar (or my perception of that) has led me to remain that way, at least for now.

In my opinion, from my experience thus far, a male avatar is no safer from griefers than a female. But I discovered something along the way during this experiment as a male that I had not anticipated. I began to feel that I was being listened to and treated differently. That what I had to say meant more than it did as a female. I have no data to prove this, it's only a feeling, but as someone who has been around a good many years in a female form, it's a very strong feeling. And since I've never taken on a male identity before in RL or SL, it is unlike anything I've experienced.

A little background on my RL female identity: I am and always have been a bit on the ADHD side (some may say more than a bit). I personally see this as an asset, but the benefits are not apparent to all. One thing I have always had to work on is listening and waiting my turn, especially if I feel passionate about something. As a youngster I was told that my behavior was not appropriate, and at times I was told it "was not lady like." I still remember wondering what exactly that meant.

As a male avatar I have attended and participated in many events - presentations, discussions, and classes in SL (I must admit here that I did little of this as a female in SL. My comparison is more with my RL experiences as a female vs. my SL experience as a male).

At first I just listened and did not participate at all. I had a lot to learn still about SL and about how people interacted in-world. Slowly I began to participate. A question here and there, a comment now and then. Some would bring no response, but others would cause avatars around me to comment or ask me questions. I remember how at first I found that surprising and how, eventually, I began to feel that I had something to say that was worth hearing to some. Eventually I began to receive private IM requests from others to help or to become involved, and even to take the lead in some situations.

This felt foreign to me. It was around this time that I began to feel that I was experiencing things differently and felt it was connected to my avatar being male. And as I began to develop relationships with some of the RL people behind the avatars, I felt more sure than ever that I was being treated differently. With males, I sensed that we were on a more level playing field, there seemed to be a new level of camaraderie, and maybe more respect. With females, I sensed greater acceptance.

I know I have used the words felt or feel a number of times. I know I could be completely wrong in my analyses here. But I know how I feel, and whether my perceptions are skewed or not doesn't really matter.

Posting this info here is partly an attempt to fully disclose my RL self to some in SL whom I have come to know and respect. To attempt to make amends perhaps. I have met some wonderful RL people in SL. Very helpful, smart, and kind people. I never meant to be dishonest about my identity, and I apologize to any reading this who felt I was. I will be linking to this post from my SL profile, under my 1st Life tab, where I also uploaded a RL photo of myself.


Charlie said...

Thank you for this post. I take it very seriously. I am very concerned about the gender issues both in SL and in RL. But I am also interested that you apologize at the end of your post. What are you apologizing for? I think you have a perfect right to be male or female or furry in SL without any apology needed.

Robin Ashford said...

Thanks for your comment, Charlie. My apology is to those to whom I may have misrepresented myself. I think in some situations it is important for us in SL to be honest about our identity. That is the purpose of the 1st life tab in SL. Of course, it is not required. But I have been developing relationships with real life people in-world and I do think, in my case at least, I should disclose my real identity. And I probably should have done it sooner.

Loo said...

Good for you,
I am pleased that you find acceptance as a Male. In communities such as the Christian ones they try and forge RL ID as the only acceptable form especially if yo are in leadership.
I have been told I should not pastor as I have no RL Y chromosome.
which leaves a question of how I should present to be taken seriously

anna begonia said...

We met at ISI, and as usual I peeked into the profile (sorry, I cannot resist it!). And I found your blog and this post. We are discussing just now on avatars identities at Muvenation ( and I opened a thread on gender, above all because I saw that people who are new to second life tend to misinterpretate the fact that one here can be whatever he/she/it wants, even a male or a female! :o)
If you do not mind, I will post there the link to your “about my Second Life Avatar Gender Identity"
By the way, I sadly agree with what you say here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this post; it is insightful and thoughtful. Griefers are the bane of an avi's existence. I am also disappointed (and probably naively so) about the comments/judgements on appearance in SL. (We do bring our RL biases inworld with us.) It would be interesting to experiment with a different gender avatar (and may even a furry alt) to see how the experiences and reactions compare. I normally do feel listened to as a female avatar and if I am not listened to, I chalk it up to personality or the other avatar being busy. You provide some excellent food for thought.


Anonymous said...

Excilent expansion of profile. (I wish we have simular profiles in rl - but maybe that is just a matter of time..)

Why Blue color skin? When I first started sl I felt there was a redicoulus attempt by nearly everyone to be as 'barbie doll' like as possible and felt by being purple I could complain about this to whom-ever asked.

My avatar is now one of the very basic my son helped my construct. I made my avatar a bit on the short side - not a lot, just a bit. This gives me the opertunity to complain about my own shortness to anyone trying to give me fashion advice... This confuses them long enough usually so I may make my get-away.

See you in SL! Best to you.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that people are exploring these issues. However, I do believe that in some cases behavior like this, which is indeed "misrepresenting one's self" actually increases the marginalization of real transgender persons. It has for a very long time been a point of contention of the cisgendered community and the transgendered community that transpersons are "lying" about their gender (both inside SL and outside of it, and in real life, such has been used as justification for murder). This contention is typically used by the cisgender community to demand that transgender persons reveal themselves to be so. I ask, what right does anyone have to demand that someone reveal their medical history? This is what such amounts to, Gender Identity disorder and its treatments, are by the standards of multiple nations, clearly and adamantly considered Medical issues. I also see no reason why when someone fully identifies as a member of one of the two genders that this information need be known, what other purpose does it serve but to allow the cidgender person who knows it to discriminate against or marginalize the transgender person, based on their gender identity? Demanding knowledge of one's transgender status is rude (as well as really only serving the purpose of allowing one to assign stereotypes to the person), and the notion that transgender persons are "lying" serves only to allow that demand. Many transgender people, particularly MtF trans woman, are afraid of being stereotyped as sexual deviants and marginalized as non-human 'abominations of science'; it is their right to take action to avoid this treatment.

Jamie said...

I have to agree with the last poster in large part. There are many transgender people for whom SL is a place to express themselves in alignment with gender identity. Often the interactions are more comfortable and natural than what they experience in RL. How you express yourself in SL is nothing to apologize for no matter what gender, species etc if its a way you want to express yourself. People who "misrepresent" themselves are doing something deliberate to harm another in some way. Once you cross into RL interaction, then you should let those people know your RL avatar (which in a sense it is). It is interesting how many people I have seen establish genuine romantic emotional relationships in SL and then let RL gender disrupt it.