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...