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.