Thursday, June 7, 2007

Out, and Proud

My first SL wife and most fabulous best friend Tatsuko Hayashida, recently and publicly decided to out herself as bisexual, two-spirited, and TG, to all of her second life friends. She did so in a very novel method- a group IM to everyone on her friends list, and a change to her 1L profile to point this out, and to point to me and this blog. This may be a TG outing first. It's also IMHO a very brave and direct way, and one that is only possible in a social network system such as SL. I am proud of her for it, and for her.

Tats and I have known about each other since very early on, she was direct and honest with me right away, and I've had my TG Pride flag and tg identity declared on my 1st life profile tab since pretty much my 1st week in SL. She has always been the most amazing and beautiful woman, and has never failed to make me feel like the lady I am. Our love for each other was and always will be legendary. Tats is a very sensual woman, many of you know her from all the time she worked and managed at the Kitty aka Brew, and then on to found Anarchy. She is incredibly outgoing and I'm sure has a *massive* friendslist.

We had talked quite a bit about why I am so Out and direct- much of this has to do with lessons of Pride and community that I've learned over the past 10 yrs. It's about not being invisible any more. When we're invisible we're feared, misunderstood, ridiculed, and excluded from the communications and the community. If someone I get to know, knows directly and up-front, then they are likely to not only think "wait I have a friend like this... what would she think about this conversation?" but in fact help raise awareness overall. I can speak freely, and publicly, as a single member of a large and mostly silent community- but we're ending that.

We also talked about the problems and fears around being Out. The friends and family that we can lose, the misunderstandings and nuance and details that our friends and family suddenly have dropped in their laps. This is not an easy time for everyone, there's a lot of misunderstanding, partial-truths, and bad information out there. Not all of these tales end happily- some people just can't handle the truth.

Relationships grow and mature at faster paces in Second Life than they do in "1L". Case in fact: Only a few months after Tats and I decided to call it off between us, I actually officiated the wedding between Tats and her subsequent wife Amber (Peas). I learned to love them both and trust that they would be great together faster through SL than I would have otherwise. Likewise, relationships between avatars, while feeling the same intense emotional cycles, move through them faster and we learn understanding and new growth faster, simply due to the immersive situation that we use for our avatars and communication. We can express ourselves in multiple dimensions simultaneously, as well as absorb them multidimensionally as well. This has affected our friends' ability to adapt to new situations- they can absorb, react, interact, and gain better understanding *faster*. The addition of the web/blog media around us makes this immersion more thorough and efficient.

In the end, I'm proud of Tats, and so happy to have an out sister waving the flag with me. You, and all of our friends through the TRC, earn a major curtsey from me, and I hope to see a lot of us at Pride this year- let's show the grid that we're here, most of us are pretty queer, and most of all, we're Proud.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What does being Transgender in Second Life Mean?

Transgender is such an overloaded term, and interpreted by many people in so many different ways, that it's worth an investment of time to explain what I mean by the term "Transgender in Second Life".
First, let us examine what wikipedia has to say on the topic. "Transgender is the state of one's "gender identity" (self-identification as male, female, both or neither) not matching one's "assigned gender" (identification by others as male or female based on physical/genetic sex). Transgender does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation" (Bold and Italic highlights added by myself)
To clarify - Gender Identity "describes the gender with which a person identifies (i.e, whether one perceives oneself to be a man, a woman, or describes oneself in some less conventional way)".
Put simply, to feel or express oneself *in any way* - dress, mannerisms, up through physical body modifications, other than what is expected by society based on one's birth gender, is Transgender. Transgender is an inclusive term that covers a very broad set of subcategories, from Crossdressers, Transvestites, Drag Queens, Genderqueer, Transsexual, and a million shades of grey in between. It is not a term reserved solely for people who have such strong needs to change their body that they go through Hormone Replacement Therapy and Sexual Reassignment Surgery.

Note: expressing oneself as Transgender *in any way* in our First Lives takes incredible bravery, or desperation, or both. Generally, only someone who cannot live without it will go through it, because of the massive public revulsion, ignorance, fear, and hatred associated with this massively misunderstood category of people. Transgender people are regularly disowned from their families or had their children removed from their homes, fired from their jobs, refused housing, refused medical treatment, physically abused, and tortured and killed with no notice or care from the public or authorities. The struggles for basic Human Rights, much less acceptance and understanding, have not progressed very far even in these supposedly very liberal times. In the United States, only 10 states include language inclusive of Gender Identity in Hate Crimes legislation. Only 5 States include Gender Identity in anti-discrimination legislation. Because of this, an incredible majority of people who are driven to express themselves as another gender are forced to completely hide their needs or desires for fear of any and all of these repercussions. We are usually referred to as imposters or posers or liars. In the best case, we are ridiculed and made the subject of humiliating and dehumanizing jokes. In the worst cases, we are killed and tossed aside by an uncaring public.

Enter Second Life. Suddenly, an incredibly high number of people who otherwise would never consider expressing themselves as the opposite gender suddenly have been provided a safe, anonymous, healthy way to meet this desire- or in many cases- need, that they never would have otherwise safely had. Now, with the entrance of voice, and now identity verification, the potential for public exposure and outing of one's Second Life gender identity (freely self-chosen) and having it associated with one's "assigned gender" (society's expectations of us) becomes an incredibly high risk. For anyone that is frightened by this, or would choose to hide closeted again, or lie and feel ashamed again, this is not a joke or a subject to be taken lightly. Families, careers, and lives are at stake here.

Because of the negative connotations of the Transgender term, the vast majority of people that I would include in my definition of TGs in SL would absolutely deny that they are part of that category- and that is their perogative, as Gender Identity is *SELF* chosen. And absolutely NO ONE ELSE can define for you whether you are "really transgender" or not- the very thought is ludicrous, as there is no test for transgenderism, and no one can actually read your mind and know your heart's hidden desires. I would simply point out that these are real people expressing themselves in real ways with real (though digital) identities that are critically important to them, and that the Transgender definition and community certainly includes all of them, if they so choose. One does not have to actually physically crossdress, or be public about your feelings, or go through the costs and perils of transsexualism to be a part of this community.

If you or someone you know or love is facing this fear, there are groups of us out here looking out for you and will happily join you in solidarity and support. You can continue to enjoy your Second Life in anonymous privacy and still join private support organizations and gain understanding and a willing ear - and when needed, a shoulder to cry on. There is a HUGE diversity in this community, and all of us have different stories and background. The vast majority of the TG community that I know is completely closeted in First Life and would never even consider admitting their desires or needs- for precisely the reasons I outlined above. I and my friends understand this, and I aim to be public enough to have more people understand and end the humiliation and abuse, and to continue to help all of you.


Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Crisis of Voice

Well I knew it would be coming, though I didn't expect it so soon. SecondLife is going to support voice chat, like did some time ago. I wasn't sure what I thought of the idea at first. SLFountain wonders what it means to transgenders in world. I asked one of my dearest friends last night how she felt about it, and her one word answer "Terrified" woke me up. Terror- a feeling I've understood well over the years.
The public typically find the situation amusing - Erbo Evans, an intelligent and progressive scripter who I admire off-handedly remarks "but all those guys playing as female avatars must be quaking in their boots (or stiletto heels, as appropriate :-) )" With all due respect, Erbo, it's a little worse than quaking.

In the CNet article about the voice feature, my friend Noche, editor of Pixel Pulse magazine, "is concerned that some people are not ready to divulge their real-life gender"- and that is very much the truth. The impacts to outing ourselves are massive, and the constant feeling of rejection from a non-understanding public eventually wears the most positive of us down.

For many of us - the TGs in Second Life - it really does mean an end to an era, where we can truly immerse ourselves in our chosen gender expression, and it feels natural and our entire avatar *is* our entire expression of ourselves in this new world. Now if we choose not to participate in voice, we are cutting ourselveLinks off from communication, and we'll be percieved as hiding something (again), and the shame can settle back in - and with it the depression, and with the depression...

Jan, a Transsexual resident replies to the Linden Blog that:
"This announcement is the beginning of the end for me and i’m scared…
For a fleeting moment i knew happiness. Now…..Goodbye SL and as i cant see a way out….possibly goodbye RL"
Here is another TG frightened by this move in the comments of the same post.

The internalization and shame of 1st Life transgender expression are literally killing us. Human Rights Office reports "the rate of attempted suicide among transgender youth is estimated at 50 per cent" . You find suicide all throughout our tg culture- it's especially visible with our youth. In the 8 years since I came out "In RL" I have seen 1st-hand the rate of depression and further suicide attempts in adults, should we survive our attempts in our youth. Because of my very "out" and public profile for my avatar I have been contacted privately by many many transgenders in SL and I can say with confidence that it saves lives. I know dozens of people for whom it has been a literal lifeline- myself included.

Being outed as a transgender person also raises fear and even hatred from a non-understanding public- we know this well, thank you very much, CoolKama. November 20th each year we remember those transgenders that have been violently murdered thanks to that hatred. This is also terrifying. Will you hate me so much that you'll track me down and kill me because I dare be public and out and proud? That I have embraced SL and within it I have found a Better Life?

So what can we do about this crisis- those of us who are transgendered, and all of the people around us who do love and support us? Many things. Encourage your friends to understand this as well.

We can support each other and continue a lot of the immersive Second Life experience we've known and loved on non-voice sims. Certainly on my roleplay sim- which is grandfathered at the old tier level - will not be paying extra to add a feature that separates our communication, and detracts from the immersion. Ask your island sim-owning friends to also keep their land voice-free. Renters and buyers in the islands, ask your simowners to keep your land voice-free as well. If they disagree, vote with your feet and move. I do predict that voice-free will be a *feature* that is valuable for a large contingent of residents. Ordinal, as always, has a wonderful and positive way to express her concerns about voice, and is positive about *not* using it.
We can reach out to and support each other. Join the Transgender Resource Center group and come to the open houses and support meetings. Yes, we do have many "friends and family of" members as well who help and support and love us who join. (SLURL to the TRC) Pay attention to each other- make sure your friends are okay, and if you're one of us who suffers from depression, make sure you're getting effective help.
Also, windows users can certainly use voice filter software that is *somewhat* effective. Several packages that I have looked into actually seem fairly promising, including AV Voice Changer and MorphVox Pro, but I do hear mixed reviews of the success of these products, and unfortunately cannot find anything for Mac. Any suggestions from readers welcome!

To be continued...