First just to clarify: yeah, that’s Cathy, in AVATAR FORM
So shameful confessions dept: I have, in the past, spent a reasonable share of time on SECOND LIFE. In part this was due to sick fascination at its creepy Ayn Rand meets Uncanny Valley aesthetic — the Orwellian NO NUDITY propaganda posters when you leave the training area, the endless shopping malls full of different articulated wings, gigantic stomper boots of the kind I will never find a reasonable pair of ever unless I commission some kind of artisan to make them, and creepy “sex skins.” I spent an hour once in the entrance to a Star Trek sim that I crashed just to steal a cool Starfleet outfit trying to explain to a really officious sixteen year old station commodore why I didn’t want to actually join Fake Starfleet and spend sixteen hours a day following the orders of other teens whilst slowly working my way up from fake ensign to fake admiral. I have practiced dance moves with a Halo character who had a skull for a head and fended off ten thousand improperly spelled advances from horrible European men, and one time guardedly cultivated the advances of a girl in a nightclub dressed as a really accurate Power Girl. I took a class on how to make 3-d models of Halloween ghosts. The whole thing is so visually offensive, over the top, and UTTERLY COMPELLING.
Like, LOOK AT THIS. LOOK HOW GROSS THIS IS. It is the beginning of the new world.
So why, why would someone expose herself to this totally nuts world that people create when there are no physical restrictions on their behavior whatsoever? Answer: it’s a really good place to hang out for trans people who aren’t particularly out yet. Because on the Internet, all gender representation is I think generally assumed to be false, no one actually looks for the physical “reality” behind whatever you present yourself as. This is pretty much what I did, gawking at the bizarre hideous products of people’s worst impulses while enjoying a for-once totally unambigious social response to my gender presentation. I could talk to people and think about whether I was “coming off as female”–which I don’t think is actually a useful thing to do, in the end–it’s terrible to try to think about HOW TO PRESENT YOURSELF SOCIALLY, and the chips ought to fall where they may–but I wouldn’t have developed the confidence to figure out that it’s not a useful thing to do, in the end, without at least putting in some serious effort at practicing that useless thing.
There is also value beyond Sociopathic Laboratory. I spent hours hanging out at the maybe-still-around Transgender Resource Center (which is where I first read a portion of She’s Not There that someone had helpfully scrimshawed onto some kind of in-game PDF object), sitting on couches and talking about social anxieties, asking medical questions, and generally just Being Honest For Once with people dressed as pharaoh wizards and/or sex bats. It was great, provided some sense that there was a real community of People Like Me in existence before I ever had the guts to seek out such communities IRL, and you could even fly. There were closeted kids in weird fundamentalist religions, sex workers, busy corporate types, generally fun socialites and literary nerds, all of us meeting behind weird polygon masks. I can’t describe it if you haven’t tried it: it’s another order of remove from the basic internet. It’s kind of terrifying and useful and I think probably more trans people than one would expect have had this experience.
So clearly now that I’m writing a trans character, which I’ve been afraid to do for years, she has to own a messed up nightclub hollowed out of a whale. I went back and forth about how insane to make this look–like including a bunch of weird JPEG artifact clip art and little tags in bad Verdana font above every object–but I figure that for various Complicated POV Reasons it was probably best to just present the Second Life weird stuff in this comic at face value. So I’m sorry this whale nightclub is maybe more tame than it ought to be.
I don’t go on Second Life at all anymore because it’s KIND OF DEPRESSING TO ME NOW. (It’s interesting that Cathy is like, a lot braver than me about gender stuff, yet she still spends an unwholesome amount of time online. I guess theoretically she treats this as some kind of actual business? I don’t know!) But I would like to take this opportunity to RAISE A GLASS to what’s inadvertently maybe a pretty useful thing for the trans community, as well as the ideal haven for the worst products of human imagination that reality can offer.
(Further reading as to my reactionary and curmudgeonly opinions regarding this simple software program that probably brings lots of people basic happiness, that has even done the same for me: here)