New Category: Second Life

I spend entirely too much time in an imaginary world. Second Life is what they call a virtual world, which is to say that you use your computer to see people and talk to them, visit different places, listen to music and watch movies all from the comfort of your la-z-boy recliner. You use the arrow keys on your computer to control a little animated cartoon representation of yourself, aka an avatar, around this fictional world.

The world itself looks like whatever the millions of players want it to look like. Apart from a few basic meeting places the game developers installed to get things started, everything else you see is player generated. That goes from the tiniest detail like your avatar’s eye color to entire cities — computer simulations of Paris and Beijing and space stations and deserts.

Why would anyone want to do that? Well, you can get as much out of it as you want to. For those of us who grew up in the era of text-based chat rooms where you had conversations with invisible people by typing everything out, it’s a giant 3D chat room where you can meet millions of people from all over the world and see what they look like (or at least what they want to look like) while you talk to them; you can walk and dance and fight with them and smile and wink and bow and curtsy to emphasize a point. It’s also a world tour — as I said, people have created detailed simulations of famous places, real and fictional, that you can walk through. I took my wife dancing at the Eiffel Tower recently since it’s unlikely we will ever afford to go there in the real world. When I’m in the mood for music, I go to clubs that play the kind of music I like; I also get to meet others who share my taste for the same music.

I started playing Second Life primarily as a way to go out in the world without having to hide an important part of my life: I can mingle in public with my dresses and be safe behind the cloak of anonymity. “They” (whoever “they” are) say that between 20% and 50% of the female avatars in SL are actually played by men, but nearly all of them present as fully female. Very few actually admit to being male, much less crossdressers, so for all intents and purposes they might as well all be genetic women. That’s fine; a big part of the attraction of SL is that you can become whatever you want without the constraints of reality interfering. If a million men want to pretend they are women for a few hours a day, they’re no different from the thousands of players who pretend to be unicorns or dragons or horses or cats or toddlers or vampires.

For me, however, it’s a chance to show the world that crossdressers exist, and to do that they have to know that I’m a crossdresser. So I show my avatar just as it really looks at home — male body, shaggy beard, and nice dresses. I am kind of a self-appointed spokes-tranny. In both mainstream areas and transgender hangouts my unusual appearance opens conversational doors so I can explain a bit about the difference between transvestite, transsexual, and gay. I get a chance to tell them that some men like to dress like women without wanting to become women. In turn I’ve learned a lot about the transsexual life — their desires, their goals, their fears, their struggles. And whenever I do meet up with other crossdressers, we enjoy the bond of fraternity (sorority?) that comes from shared experiences.

If any of that intrigues you, follow articles tagged Second Life. Create your own account at www.secondlife.com and look me up. I go by the name RalphKramden Putzo (note that RalphKramden is all one word). Yeah, it’s a goofy name; I didn’t think my interest would last so I created the account as a joke. By the time I realized I was hooked and wanted a name that better represented me and my interests, I had too much time and effort and money invested in this account and I didn’t want to start over.

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About Ralph

Male. Straight. Married.
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2 Responses to New Category: Second Life

  1. thorin25 says:

    So are you a female in the game, or a man dressed in women’s clothing?

  2. Ralph says:

    That’s odd, I thought I replied to this a few days ago but my response seems to have disappeared. It was my usual 20-page epic reply, too, so I’ll have to think back on what I said.

    The short answer is, I go through SL as a man dressed in women’s clothing. Obviously a man — my avatar looks very much like me with full beard and hairy legs and beer belly (well, more a coca-cola and ice cream belly). I even scanned a picture of my favorite dress in and used it as a template for clothing to wear in SL. That was the original appeal for me, to be able to freely go out dressed as I wish behind the cloak of anonymity so I could be safe from any negative social repercussions. I also went out looking for others like me.

    As it turns out, I’m finding that I spend less and less time as Ralph in Second Life. The novelty of striking up conversation with people curious about the way I was dressed wore off with the ten thousandth person to assume I’m gay (tempered somewhat by the humor factor in people who pointed out that I’m wearing a dress, like I might not have noticed, and offering to help me either put on a female appearance or male clothes). And while I met dozens of crossdressers, they were all, with one or two exceptions, really transsexual either in the process of doing the full surgery or wishing they could but are unable for whatever reason. They are nice folks, to be sure, but we literally have nothing at all in common; they’re all about hating the Y chromosome and matching appendages and coping with hormone therapy and family acceptance and whatnot and I’m all about finding nightgowns that fit my gorilla-like arms and preventing runs in the pantyhose on my hairy legs.

    Which brings me to the longer answer about my other account, the one that friends and family know and is openly tied to my real name and location. That avatar used to switch genders and species at will, always making it clear that I am not really female — or a wolf or a dragon or a LEGO minifig. I originally spent a lot of time with a female avatar that friends said looked pretty much like my male self with larger breasts. Why? Because the social interaction changes when people view you as female. Men are not trusted or liked much in SL, because most men there have nothing but sex on their minds. So I created a character that was about as nonthreatening and nonsexual as you can get: dowdy, overweight, with thick glasses and a noticeable overbite, always dressed conservatively. If anyone flat-out asked or tried to flirt with me I made it clear that I was male, but for the most part in the places I hung out gender was not an issue. Who questions whether you’re really female when there are also small furry anthropomorphized cats and gerbils in the group?

    Anyway, that all changed when I convinced my wife to join me. She’s physically handicapped and we haven’t been able to go out on a real date in years, beyond me pushing her up to the table in her wheelchair at our favorite restaurant. In SL we can dance and skate together; we can tour cities all over the world or go fishing or skydiving or even joust one another. Although she doesn’t complain about my dressing, I wanted to make this a special time for her where all the emphasis is on her so I always use a character that physically resembles myself and wears male clothing only, trying to match whatever mood or era she is wearing at the same time.

    I still enjoy Second Life and acting out roles from history and fantasy, but in a totally different context than when I wrote this post last year. Then it was all about Ralph the crossdresser trying to shake up perceptions of gender roles. Now it’s all about Ralph the husband rekindling the romance from the early years of my relationship with my wife.

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