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.