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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bending the Boundaries of Gender in Second Life © – Stareyes Galaxy Reporting...

Second Life © has proven to be a powerful platform for people who wish to explore life on the other side of the gender spectrum, as for instance transgendered avatars. For many, play-pretending to be the opposite sex is just a trifle, for others it can be an insult to all avatarkind. It is a common complaint among male avatars that they fear being preyed upon by other males in female avatar form, and many female avatars can attest to the begging of men to “go voice” as it seems to be a common perception that any female avatar could be a G.I.R.L. (“guy in real life”). Stareyes Galaxy went out to interview some avatars who came forward as cross-gender experimenters.

“Jane Doe” does not wish to volunteer her real avatar name. She states good reasons for this: “I have found that not only will people help me more readily when I ask them as a girl, but that they also better accept being helped by a female avatar,” she says. As a real-life male, she has worked as a consultant and helped corporate avatars get up to speed when first entering Second Life. “I once was specifically asked to appear as my female self in a strategy seminar,” Jane continues. “Using local chat, I helped people teleport to the location, find their seats, get started on instant messaging, and so on. I even ran treasure hunts with the goal of getting the newbie avatars acquainted with navigation, object manipulation, and camera control. In the [strategy] group discussion, using voice, it was interesting to hear the reaction toward my robust male voice. I think it opened the eyes of many with regard to the range of possibilities of Second Life.” Another use for going female for Jane has been seeing how other males behave in social situations. ”There is a lot to learn about both honesty and deceit,” she concludes.

“John Doe” heard that I was working on this article and wanted to tell his views on the subject, having experimented on sexual relations as a female alt.

“You might get off to the change for a while,” John said, “but then you bore of it - or I'm guessing there are those that don't...  but I think everyone would settle more comfortably into one gender or another, but that's just my theory.” He also said that it is easy to get a female lured into a relationship, going as a female avatar. “I've done it for that reason, and probably should be ashamed of myself for it ... then I had to fake sex as a woman, which isn't as satisfying. At first it was very exciting, you know, taboo, ‘doing something wrong’ exciting, but then I would really prefer to take a woman as a man, not a woman, so I lost interest.” “John” also said that it is known that about 90 % of SL lesbians are male in RL. “That might be high, but that is one number that is bandied about. And another thing: the ladies say is that you can tell the guys from the girls, by the guys asking to have sex right away. But then, of course the guys wanting the sex will learn not to do that.”

Jennie Sutton

I met Jennie Sutton at a private residence to discuss gender-switching. She had just started to experiment “going male” in Second Life.

SLE: I heard you just started cross-gendering as a male. When was this?
Jennie: That's right. Just last week - I am still looking for a shape and skin that I feel TOTALLY comfortable in, but I'm getting there!
SLE: How could you feel totally comfortable as a male, do you suppose it's possible?
Jennie: Well, it started when I heard so many people DO swap gender in SL. I thought I should try it and see, but I find there is quite a lot of me that finds appearing male is empowering and quite sexy too.
SLE: Are you looking to make sexual encounters as a male, in that case?
Jennie: Well, I have already found that I like having a penis (as a girl) I mean, who'd have thought that “li'l ol' heterosexual me” would like (bleeping) girls??
SLE: Have you found to be able to actualize this fantasy only in SL, or is this a RL thing as well?
Jennie: Most of my switching friends don't tell me at first. We have to get to know each other first, and I do mean JUST get to know. I don't go in for sex much in SL.
SLE: Yes, many people seem to prefer flirtatious demeanor but not go all the way. Is this how you feel?
Jennie: I do NOW have a RL relationship with another woman and she LIKES me being the more active partner, if you know what I mean. I don't think of myself as butch, but I do like doing that with a woman. I'm not really flirty, either, in RL or SL. I'm polite, but all the flirty stuff is not really "me".
SLE: Okay... So, would your partner prefer you to be in a male avatar shape with her, or as a female?

Jennie: She's only seen me as a female with a penis (and it's a small one, by the way) so far. I'm not sure how she'd feel about seeing me male because she IS a lesbian in RL. I know because we have met in RL.

SLE: So, you would need to experiment with a full male shape. Is it all about having a penis, or are there other aspects of importance?

Jennie: For the RL me, the idea of having a penis is quite daring as well as being a weird phenomenon I want to know more about. I get SOME kind of idea about it by seeing myself with one, although I know I get no sensations through my SL one or wearing a strap-on in RL (none worth mentioning, anyway!) Appearing male - fully male - is just another thing I'm interested in. Well, I am VERY much a work in progress. I am not a male, not in my head. I am a woman with a penis. It's why I have been so slow in getting my male appearance sorted out! With this, I present PART of who I am. It's about presentation. Like (I'm told) the guys who present as women, THAT presents a side of them. I COULD wear a pretty dress or tight jeans. It's about presentation... In SL, there are more options, that's all. It DOES present that part of my personality, and it's not all about the sex. I know some guys who present as female in SL but never have sex.
SLE: Okay. As a male, will you use an alt?

Jennie: I won't use an alt. Some do, but I won't. I am just me.

SLE: So, you will be “JennieSutton Resident" dressed as a male?
Jennie: I don't THINK there is a part of me who is Dave, or George, or Jimmy, or whatever. I am who I am. I will be Jennie Sutton, presenting how I present. I may have a male appearance, I may be a girl with a penis, or I may be fully female. I can't see me presenting under any other name unless I suddenly feel like adopting a male name.
Jennie in male form

SLE: How do you feel about males who present themselves as women and do have sex with "unsuspecting males"?

Jennie: I think anyone who has sex with anyone else in SL needs to realize that the person is almost certainly very different in RL. Get one's head around that and I don't see any problem with it. And it cuts both ways. There are SL-only gay and lesbian people and there are girls who go-guy. This is not only a guy-to-girl phenomenon. If people want to have almost any kind of sex in SL, the facilities are there. Appearance, voice… they can be changed. That said, I am not into weird sex myself. Personally, I have no aspirations to be a man. I fancy presenting as a man, just to see how I feel about it.

SLE: So, you are building the male "side of you". What do you see are the biggest hurdles getting toward the "perfect" appearance as a male?

Jennie: I suppose my brain/mind is the biggest obstacle. Well, my mind is female. I know some transgender people who feel their mind does not match their RL body. That's not my situation.

SLE: Do you think you need to change your behavior when you start going about in a male shape?
Close up

Jennie Sutton: I don't know. I'll see. I'll DEF get a different walk! Not too butch a walk at first. Just a pretty basic male walk is what I'll use. I will still be female in my head, I think, so I don't see me doing anything different. Men aren't SO different from us. Men and women vary so much. In that, we ALL vary, so we ALL have similarities. I have known women who are tough and physical and ruthless (like men are sometimes said to be) and I have known sensitive caring creative men (stereotypically "female" characteristics) I like PEOPLE, and try to respect them for their personality, not what they have in their undies.
I contacted Jennie a week later for a follow-up. This is what she had to say about that experience: “I'm spending most of my time female now, though I have access to a male alt through a friend.  I have tried to be more the sort of guy who I would like to meet in RL, just socially. “
SLE: So, it's been a way of self-exploration, revealing something of yourself you didn't know before?
Jennie: Yes, definitely. I have found that there is a part of my personality that likes to experiment and I have had girl/girl experiences in RL and then, later, in SL. Also, I found my fantasies about having male "bits" were explorable through SL.

SLE: In the week as a "male" what was the biggest "revelation" for you?

Jennie: The biggest revelation was the apparent difficulty other people had relating to "this guy with a girl's name". When I appear as me (pretty much as I am in RL) people speak to me, ask me to dance...

Jennie described at length how her initiative is social situations was not rewarded with any interaction when she wore her male avatar under the female identity. She had to switch to the borrowed male alt to be able to interact with other avatars.

SLE: You did experiment with a male alt. How was that different?

Jennie: I felt I was borrowing a shell, whereas choosing my OWN shape and body was more natural somehow. The other appearance was someone else's choices and I felt too muscly, clumsy almost. I suppose I could have bought this skin [for] the alt but I didn't. I just went out as [him] and people spoke to me and I even got a dance at a gay club. The guy dropped me when I said I was female in RL.

SLE: So, concealing your female identity - would you consider that as a better strategy for you to socialize in SL?

Jennie: I think it is the ONLY way to do it, really. Going out as me, as Jennie, in a male body and skin has been a disaster. People just didn't accept me. It WAS interesting, being aware of feeling prejudice (I THINK that's what it was) for the first time in my life. I might still hang out as a guy with my existing friends in SL. THEY have been fine about it, I must say.

Jennie concluded with her thoughts on males going online as female avatars: “I really don't mind guys presenting female at all. I wish them well. If it's just for sex, so what? ANYONE should be aware that the avie they are with may not match the RL reality. If the guys want to get SOME idea of what it is to be female, I'm all for that too. Half and half, WHATEVER! This is SECOND Life, after all. Why be exactly the same?”

Many perceive gender-switching as a form of catfishing (see a recent series of articles [1-3]). It became apparent in my probing into the subject that although this is common, avatars may in fact have well-thought and respectable reasons for switching to another gender online. The articles referred to above provide guidance on how to detect gender impostors and how to deal with eventual conflicts resulting from being ensnared by one. Despite the danger, many still wish to experiment with a life in the other gender. As long as you are forthright about your respectful intentions, why should anyone hold it against you?

Other articles to read:


  1. Good article. I'm aware of males presenting as female, but forgot about females presenting as male. Personally, I have no problem with either as long as they aren't "butch" or "queen". If they are, they're trying too hard to convince others when they aren't sure themselves.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I was equyally surprised to get a willing interviewee presenting this side of the spectrum! -Stareyes

  3. That's a VERY good article and very fairly reflects my experiences and views. Thank you! Jennie Sutton (JennieSutton Resident)

  4. Good Article. SL has really let me explore what it feels like to be a man.


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