In 2007, a young Muslim-American woman tentatively downloaded a new program called Second Life that her friend had recommended. SL was at its peak in media hype at the time, but after creating an avatar called "Strawberry Singh", she hesitated to return. "When I first logged in I was so lost that I logged out and didn't log back in for a week," she remembers. "But a week later I logged back in and was hooked."
This week she's celebrating her 10th year "rezday", and while the media has mostly wandered away from Second Life, Strawberry has since become an mini-media empire in her own right, with an extremely popular virtual fashion blog and a widely-followed YouTube channel. She was recently featured in the top media outlet Vice for the Avatars Against Trump viral social media campaign (on Flickr here) that she launched with fellow SL blogger Cajsa Lilliehook.
As you might imagine, she has a deeply personal stake in protesting Trump -- and very good reasons for making that dissent known through an avatar-based pseudonym:
"I need to restrict myself in so many ways at times in the real world in work and social situations and at times personal situations with family as well," she tells me. "But in Second life there are no restrictions. I can be myself and express myself without caring if i get fired or judged. Also the safety of using a pseudonym also protects me from crazy lunatics Trump supporters that would otherwise threaten or try and hurt me in the real world for my religious affiliations or political beliefs. How many female reporters are attacked and threatened on a daily basis by men's rights activists or Trump thugs?"
It was actually Second Life itself which encouraged her to become more publicly forthright about her political opinions -- not because she's suffered real life anti-Muslim bigotry (she doesn't live in a pro-Trump neighborhood), but for another reason:
"I have always been pretty shy in the real world but Second Life has helped me overcome that a bit," Strawberry says. "I have more confidence to approach people or be more outspoken in the real world because of my experiences in Second Life. I wouldn't have thought about sharing my thoughts on such a global or large platform. It also encouraged me to carry the fight and resistance in the real world as well by going on marches, protests, calling my local officials, etc... I was encouraged by the passion of the other members of the community, like Cajsa."
Similarly, spending so much time in a virtual world has expanded her real world connections in other ways too:
"Second Life has made me realize just how small our real world can be. I can sit here in America and fall in love and make lifelong friendships with people across the ocean. It's also given me the confidence and the platform to stand up for myself and speak my mind about issues that concern me. It's enriched my life in so many ways, but more than anything, it's helped me be a part of a very supportive global community."
Speaking of which, if you haven't already, go here to wish her a happy Rezday.
Top image courtesy Ms. Singh.