Written by Vax Sirnah, a longtime Second Life Resident
As Residents talk about how to save Second Life, discussion inevitably comes back to the albatross around Second Life's neck: "overweight men pretending to be fashionista women". But what does it mean to be that social boogeyman? Instead of being an embarrassment, maybe it is really an example of what is best about virtual worlds.
In real life, I'm in my thirties, overweight, balding, married with children. I'd blend in flawlessly at Penny Arcade Expo or any renaissance faire of your choice. In Second Life, I am a flirty cyberpunk chick who hangs out at clubs and has hundreds of folders of clothes.
Yes, I know I am a stereotype. I am THE stereotype.
Many people in Second Life consider me the sort of person that they should be ashamed of. Whenever people talk about the weirdos in Second Life with "twisted sexualities", they are talking about me. I'm what “serious” Second Life users try to gloss over when making pitches to potential investors. Here's why:
I am gender dysphoric. That is, I'm not comfortable with the gender I was born with. I look in the mirror and am always surprised that the guy staring back at me is actually me. I've been in and out of therapy over the years. But I live in a liminal state -- half in my body, half detached from it, half male, half female.
Second Life is a haven for me. I can look at the screen and actually see a part of me that I always knew existed, but could never point at. I can sit and talk with other women and be treated as a sister, not a potential predator. I can enjoy being beautiful (a feeling I've never had in RL), because even if that beauty isn't real and I bought all the parts off of XStreet, the combination is something that I created and expresses me. It's a "me" that cannot exist in any other sort of environment.
I'm not trying to deceive anyone. I am not trying to live a lie. I am trying to live the truth, in its entirety.
Because Second Life is an immersive environment, it affords me a respite from cognitive dissonance that I cannot fully get in RL. From that point of calm, I can engage in a little hands-on cognitive therapy. It's a crucible in which I can use the tools given to me by my therapist, my family and my friends. My progress in RL builds on what I learn in Second Life.
I have been able to take lessons I have learned as a female in Second Life and apply those to being a male in Real Life who isn't too thrilled about it. My confidence has grown, even when I'm the guy at a RL party who isn't sure how to socialize. I have a supportive wife, understanding family and a therapist who is just happy that I found a place to learn skills I can apply to real, every day life. Overall, being the overweight man pretending to be fashionista woman has been a stepping stone on my journey, not a stumbling block.
But I still find myself in the SL cultural ghetto. I'm there when I read this blog and it says I am an image to be combated so Second Life can get wide-spread adoption. Every time I see a comment about it on the forums, I sigh and know it's time to move to the back of the virtual bus so I don't disturb all the nice folk just by existing.
SL is full of these ghettoes - furries, Goreans, shemales, etc. Others point, whisper and take potshots. But we have taken these virtual worlds and carved out places that enhance who we are. For some people, it's just a few cheap thrills. For others it's bigger than that, even vital. We find homes, communities... maybe even happiness and peace.
Second Life's power is not in the mass market. It's not in the lure of profits fueled by microtransactions. Sure, there are bills to be paid. But the real power of Second Life is in its role as a transformational tool. Second Life gave me another tool to make my life better. Isn't that an example of the best of what SL can be?
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