Is Second Life the Transgender Wonderland We Desperately Need?
A virtual world where you can explode traditional gender norms.
What would you say if I told you that there was a place where you could become any gender—or combination of genders—of your liking?
And what if I told you that this place is free, except for the cost of a pretty good computer and Internet access, and had been up and running for more than a decade?
A new life In Second Life
We’ve reported on Second Life many times before. We published a guide on how to have virtual sex inside the simulated world and included it on our list of the best massively multiplayer online sex games.
But Second Life has also become a wonderful test bed where genderqueer and transgender individuals can experiment with unconventional gender roles and identities.
Best of all, transgender individuals can do this from the safety of their homes. This is a welcome perk for a group that often faces incredibly difficult challenges such as social and economic discrimination as well as emotional and physical violence.
A community supporting gender expression
The wiki article Transgender People in Second Life, written by Youngjoo of Gender Swapping Online, puts it well:
“Transgender people who are suppressed and scared of discrimination and inequality in the real world may find Second Life world (sic) as apparently different and relaxing because it ensures anonymity and satisfies their ultimate desire without being assaulted or discriminated.”
A quick search of Second Life reveals quite a few groups of people use the game as a way of socializing with like-minded individuals and to embrace various forms of gender expression.
A perfect example is the group Virtual Transgender, which lists itself as being “…for those of us who see gender as something fluid. If you are in Second Life as a ‘male' with a ‘female' avatar, a ‘female' with a ‘male' avatar or someone who does not feel as though they fit the standardized view of one gender in any world, I hope you win find kinship here.”
Gaining empathy in virtual reality
Tangentially, genderplay in Second Life, or other virtual worlds like Red Light Center [NSFW] or 3DXChat [NSFW], are places where people can learn understand the fluidity of gender, and thus possibly grow to become more tolerant in “first life.”
Think of it like this: it’s as easy to create an avatar that comes close to your usual gender and appearance as it is to make one that’s everything you are not. This means there’s the possibility of experiencing virtual life as just about anyone—or any gender. Or even choose and a gender identity. By doing this, it could easily be possible for users to gain personal experience being both another sex as well as someone who is genderfluid.
Then there’s this question: let’s say you have a Second Life sexual experience and then learn the gender of the avatar you are interacting with isn’t the same as the player’s gender outside the game. Is this upsetting or does it open you to new ways of thinking about identity?
For some, it may be the former but for many others it could easily lead to the latter, resulting in empathy and, best of all, a shift in perspective when thinking about transgender rights.
The right to be and to love
One of the greatest tragedies in the current war against consensual sexual expression is the hatred and even criminalization of transgender individuals. Depending on where they live, they may face laws prohibiting them from using the bathroom of their choosing. And more often than not, archaic attitudes and intolerance put them at risk of assault and even death simply for being who they are.
This is why their fight must be an important part of every person who feels that it is an inherent right to be who you are and to consensually love who you care to love.
This is also why having a safe haven in places like Second Life is essential: not only as a place for people to try on new genders but also as a way to expand our minds and concepts about who we are and can become.