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.

Love,
-Cala

8 comments:

Otenth said...

Thank you for writing this, Cala. I'm glad that you're out there (in many senses!), making sure that there's a safe haven for people who need support and encouragement.

The broadness of your interpretation of wiki's definition and your list of subcategories has given me something to think about. I've been s Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, done drag, and have a female alt (who lives in Caledon, primarily). Each of which would appear on your list, but it had never occurred to me that they might be considered TG.

I guess for me (as you say, it's a self-identification!), the salient point is "gender-identity." When I was a Sister or in drag I didn't feel I was expressing a gender identity. I was certainly fooling around with gender expression and gender expectations, but it was a point with me that I wasn't wearing women's clothes, I was wearing *my* clothes. Since this was a political kind of interpretation about gender roles and stereotypes that wasn't very common among the gay bar crowd in the early 1980s, I often had interesting conversations.

My alt, now, is fully expressing a female gender, is fully shaped as a woman, and wears standard women's clothes. (In drag, I've never padded or shaved.) There's no genderf**k going on or political/social commentary being made. The identity I feel I'm expressing is my inward prissiness. I've even had the interesting experience of meeting someone at a Caledon social event and hoping that he'll carefully read my profile in order to find out that I, too, am a gay man. (I would hope that my captivating wit and conversational sparkle might interest someone in a deeper relationship--a relationship based on the RL people behind the avatars, not on the avatar personae.)

Well, as I said, you've given me a lot to think about, and this is still a reflection in process. I will certainly imagine a much broader range of possibilities the next time someone identifies as TG. Thank you for that!

Cala, Wired Faerie said...

Thanks for your kind words and attention, Otenth. I do hope that this is food for thought for a lot of people, and stimulates more supportive conversations. *hugs*

I have another close friend I was messaging with today who is concerned that she cannot post anonymously here but asked that her words be heard:

-- snip --

APPLAUSE

Thank you, Cala, for making me cry as I read this. For saying loudly what I haven't the courage to voice, and not making me feel ashamed.

When we read something, often we have an opinion, occasionally we are touched, and rarely, so very rarely, we feel that joyous and terrifying moment when the very core of our being is exposed in another's words. It's a powerful moment in which we feel very much alive, and connected, and less alone...

We realize that there are others out there that share our confusion, that know our pain, and that accept and love us for who and what we are.

What you wrote is not just good it's right, and that's what makes it powerful. Knowing that we are not alone is part of why SL is home, we can truly live there, and not just exist.

~M

-- end snip --

... and that expresses it better than I ever could. Second Life really is a Better Life- for many people.

VĂ©ronique Lalonde said...

About time you wrote a new entry. :) And an excellent entry it is. There is so much misunderstanding about what transgender is that it's important to have it spelled out from time to time. You have done a great service.

And I am so glad to be your friend!

Will said...

Ah, I'm amazed I didn't read this yet. Fae, as usual you put what I think into words. You are a voice for the voiceless[literally] in SL. I'm glad to know that myself and many others have a friend in you.

I know that I can be truly at home with you, truly myself around you, and that is something I am rarely able to experience in RL. SL is such a better life, and sometimes I feel bitter-sweet, because it's something I'll never be able to experience. If only such a Walden-ish society could exist RL.

Marion said...

Cala, thank you for this, you have helped me to understand my own status in SL, and shown me there is nothing to be ashamed of, encouraging me to "come out" at least to my friends. I am not outwardly TG in RL, SL has been a great stimulus for me to explore my gender identity and to learn more about myself.

IamwhoIam said...

Tell me about it when it comes to hate and abuse. I have a female avatar in second life that is constantly being harrassed by an ex gf in game that did not like my decesion to become a female. Her and her roleplaying friends in the forced fantasy sim's have made avatars to look like me and become prostitutes.Write horrible stories about me being raped and degraded. the clubs i used to go to after being told who i was began to make drag queen jokes from the staff. Come to my property and make comments. Still I walk around like i do with my new GF who knows all about me and dont mind a bit. Its a wild wild world out there isnt it? On the plus side I know who my real friends are as they accept this. there is a silver lining to every cloud. : )

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